Let Us Fail, If We Want To

If, rare as it is, Andover students conclude that taking classes they care about is more important than getting good grades, then the administration will praise and support that decision, right? Wrong. Under current policy, students who have not made honor roll are not permitted to push themselves further by electing to take a sixth course. Students miss out on classes they are passionate about, simply because of a weakness in a particular subject or a single bad term. “No student with a grade of “3” or lower in a discipline in which s/he is continuing will be allowed to take a sixth course,” states the Andover Course of Study, emphasizing this decision with bold and italics. “A sixth course, whether for credit or as an audit, is considered a privilege and not a right,” it goes on to say, citing as reasons, “the rigor of individual courses and the Academy’s commitment to limiting class size.” An uncompromising Advising Council, chaired by the Assistant Dean of Studies, enforces this rule with unfair rigidity. If taking six courses is such a privilege, why don’t more people do it? That is one ‘privilege’ that comes with a great deal of responsibility, in the form of additional hours of work a week, not to mention the sacrifice of a precious free period during the day. Despite this, there are students who want to take on that challenge, and the school is saying no. The Council will look at this person and say they need to get their grades up and that they clearly can’t handle the work they already have. The Council will listen to pleas that photography seems more like an enjoyable pastime than an extra course. The Council will listen to the student beg for this Rel/Phil elective, which they have wanted to take since they saw it in the Course of Study Junior year. The Council will then refuse the request, not giving the student a chance to prove him or herself. The student can’t even pick up the course and drop it if his grades don’t improve. The reality is that some people will get a 3 in math whether they are taking five courses or six or eighteen. It’s a question of ability, not of effort. Occasionally, people will get depressed winter term, put less effort into classes, and escape history with a low 3. But mindset and motivation can change, and that individual could resolve to work harder. That student knows he or she could handle six classes, history included, if the opportunity was available. One term’s grade average is not indicative of the student’s abilities. Instead of considering improvement in work ethic, the Council flatly declares that getting higher grades takes precedence over taking classes that the student cares about. Higher grades certainly look better on college applications. 5’s and a several 6’s in five courses looks better than taking six courses and getting 4’s in all of them. But which makes a better experience for the student overall? If for a moment we assume that this is not about college, as hard as that is to believe, if it really comes down to what is best for the students, what could possibly be the rationale? One explanation is that if you are taking too many courses and doing poorly in any of them, that probably shows you don’t understand as much; while if you are taking fewer courses and doing better in all of them, then that is evidence of effective learning. Yet there is nothing that says you don’t get a more varied and thought-provoking term when you take six classes with inferior grades, as opposed to acing five. There is no evidence that kids who take fewer courses absorb more. In some cases, grades are not an accurate reflection of learning. Granted, that still leaves the issue of class size. If there were a sudden influx of students adding to their course loads, classes would fill up more quickly, and teachers would have more work. Maybe that is a necessary side effect. The school can still maintain relatively small groups, but let the classes be filled to that modest limit. Let the classes be filled with students who are active and interested, who made a conscious decision to take the courses on their schedule, and everyone will be happier for it. The answer is about choice. The Advising Council should change its mindset and advise instead of regulate. The student should have the choice whether they want to give up a course they’re interested in, in the hopes of getting better grades, or whether they want to take as many as classes as they think they can handle, knowing that their grade average might be affected. Students at Andover catch on quickly. We don’t need a council to tell us that it would be easier to get good grades if we dropped a course. Everyone here wants to do well; everyone places a high value on gaining knowledge. Sometimes there’s a trade off, and students accept that. In fact, we should be encouraged to. The school should stop getting in the way of that realization. We’re over-reachers at Andover. Let us try to over-reach. Let us try to take all the classes that can fit into a single, too-short day. Taking six classes should be a right and not a privilege. When the school takes away that right, it is making a decision that places too much emphasis on grades and not enough on the student’s own ability to decide where our priorities lie.