Schools without Grades
September 26, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

This post was deleted for the following reason: your post needs to not just be a link to a metatalk thread. please try again tomorrow.

The most famous is Summerhill in England (founded in 1921). Summerhill has often been at war with the British government but in 1999, Summerhill won a major battle in court, allowing it to stay open. According to this Wikipedia article, "The pupils who were attending the hearing that day took over the courtroom and held a school meeting to debate whether to accept the settlement, eventually voting unanimously to do so."

Summerhill has been plagued by some non-PC statements made by its founder, A.S. Neill, such as "Summerhill has not turned out a single homosexual... because Summerhill children do not suffer from a guilt complex about masturbation." (but remember that he was saying these things in the 20s), so Neill's daughter has worked hard to soften his statements.

As a young man, one of my ambitions was to become a teacher at Summerhill. Neill's book -- warts and all -- changed my thinking about education (the previous link is to Amazon's page about the book, which is out of print. The reader posts are illuminating Here's a link to the new version). Alas, I never realized my dream, but I still hate grades and requirements, both of which make true learning difficult in my opinion.

I know of at least two well-respected universities that don't grade: Evergreen in Washington State (Wikipedia) and New College in Sarasota, Florida (Wikipedia). I went to New College for three years, but I consider it a failure. It may not have traditional grades, but it has a pass-fail system that might as well be grades.


A 1949 Inspection of Summerhill.

"Summerhill: education for democracies" an essay by a former student and teacher at the school.

Myspace page of a Summberhill grad.
posted by grumblebee at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2006

Shouldn't some of this stuff be in the FPP?

That said, I'm off to explore these links.
posted by papakwanz at 2:38 PM on September 26, 2006

Maybe. I just wanted to keep the FPP short.
posted by grumblebee at 2:40 PM on September 26, 2006

Well, Drumlake may have worked, but that doesn't mean it isn't absolute guff.
posted by stammer at 2:41 PM on September 26, 2006

Okay so let me just say that while I have not yet completely explored these links, that guy's Myspace led me to this link where he recreates sprites from Mario and stuff with those leet legos.

That rocks.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2006

Normally this kind of thing would elicit a GYOFB, but this is really interesting.

So when the haters do finally find this thread, ignore them. This is a well constructed post.
posted by quin at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2006

*hates on*
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:44 PM on September 26, 2006

hmm link seems broken above...

try this
posted by lazaruslong at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2006

I had taught at a college some years ago in which we worried over changing the grade system to pass/fail. Just about all the students thought that a nice idea but a few thought that there should be a special distinction for those who passed but were "extra" good in their passing! The great American anarchist/writer Paul Goodman once saild that if you want to change the system, just give all the students A grades.
posted by Postroad at 2:49 PM on September 26, 2006

posted by orthogonality at 2:49 PM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Huh. Too little outside on this one. Interesting enough, but maybe another sentence on Summerhill on the front page would have made this clearer. Interesting though.

Now if only A.S. Neill could have taken control of eBay feedback...
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on September 26, 2006

What about hampshire?

Also, I know of at least one school (UC Santa Cruz) that switched from narrative evaluations only to evals + grades in the last 5 years or so. The reason (well, one reason)? Evals in most hard science, engineering and math classes, especially large ones, consisted of thinly disguised grades. I don't really see how this can be avoided, actually, at any larger school (i.e. at most state schools).
posted by advil at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2006

Thanks, quin. I will elaborate a bit on my New College experience here, perhaps urging the GYOBers on even further:

At New College, there are no letter grades. Instead, each student has a Faculty Advisor. You don't choose your FA, he gets assigned to you. It IS possible to change your FA, and, in fact, I did so, but it was very awkward and it backfired on me in a number of ways. There are only 500 students at NC and a small number of faculty, so such a move definitely goes noticed and can win your enemies. The school is highly political (by which I'm refering to intra-personal politics, not students who are activists).

In any case, you and your FA create a Contract which spells out what you'll be doing that Quarter. In theory, that could be anything you both agree to. It COULD be taking a traditional course load. But it could also be traveling to Europe and visiting museums. Or writing a Novel. I wanted to study theatre, and NC didn't have a theatre department, so one Quarter, my contract allowed me to volunteer at a regional theatre. Another Quarter, it allowed me to direct a play. In spite of the possibilities, most students (while I was there) just took traditional courses.

At the end of the Quarter, you and your FA both draft writeups, outlining how the Contract was fulfilled or not fulfilled. And both parties mark the Contract as SAT or UNSAT (satisfactorily completed or not). I'm not sure how this is different from pass/fail, but we all pretended that it was.

In theory, both you and the FA have to give you a SAT in order for you to have passed the Quarter (and you MUST pass four years of Quarters in order to graduate). In practice, no student ever gives himself an UNSAT, so your "grade" is under the complete control of the FA. And you only have ONE FA. So he's in complete control of whether or not you graduate.

If you're lucky enough to get a good, fair one, all goes well. If not, you're screwed.
posted by grumblebee at 2:57 PM on September 26, 2006

That is similar to (one way) Empire State College does things. You have a choice of receiving letter grades.
posted by Skorgu at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2006

:...Neill's book -- warts and all -- changed my thinking about education."

I had a similar experience after I read a book by John Holt

I like the idea of a no grades, both the A, B, C, and the First, Second, Third kind.
posted by jaronson at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2006

I came to mock, but I leave converted. Good setup and nice delivery.
posted by boo_radley at 3:09 PM on September 26, 2006

posted by orthogonality

Oh, you treacherous, clever, magnificent bastard!

Well played.
posted by quin at 3:09 PM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

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