Today was the first time that the grading system in our class made me rethink how I approach our work.

My wife and I have a busy weekend ahead of us (two concerts, one baby birthday, trip to Grand Rapids and back), and given all that, I thought, “What if I don’t do the reading reaction this week? Would it really affect my grade? Will I get anything less than my goal if I don’t get that 5K points?” As someone who attended a mid-level state school in another part of the country and largely squandered his undergraduate GPA on less-than-academic pursuits, I feel incredibly lucky to be at UMich, and initially, the thought of not doing all the work that is assigned makes me feel as if I am not appreciating (respecting?) the opportunity I have in being here. On the other hand, don’t I do this already? Do I not invest relative amounts of energy to assignments and readings based on their importance to my grade and to my learning. Is it possible that our grading system in this class simply instantiates or formalizes the impulses that we are already engaged in regarding prioritization of workload?

On Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fame) said that he attempts to locate his characters’ emotional core and then use that core as a guide for the character’s motivation. For some characters, this is fear. For other characters, it could be rage. I operate out of guilt, and the guilt of not doing all the assignments to the best of my ability sometimes weighs heavily on me. But our grading system in this class obviates the need for guilt as a motivator and instead focuses on utility. I’m just curious how much utility stands at the center of individuals’ emotional core as a guide for motivation.

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