Do Grades Matter For Presidents? Better Question: Do They Matter For Anyone?


Over at Raw Story, Megan Carpentier is making the case that neither Obama or Romney’s grades matter.

Academic grades are a load of crap.

Sorry, but it’s true. (And, if you’re going to argue that I only say that because I got bad ones, then I encourage you to try and prove that.) Grades – especially outside of hard science and math – are an entirely subjective assessment of one’s work on a subjective determination of what is important to take away from a field of study. They’re not a measure of intelligence (another flawed assessment), the very measures used to determine grades are as flawed as the people who develop the measures (significantly), and they literally count for nothing once you’re out of school.

Unless, apparently, you are running for President. The latest right-wing line of attack against Obama is that his college grades weren’t very good – a line of attack some say is valid because the Boston Globe published one of Mitt Romney’s report cards in 2007 and the Huffington Post reblogged it this week.

Now, let’s be clear: these attacks aren’t really about either man’s grades. Romney’s report card surfaced as a way to paint him as an entitled but not-very-bright rich kid; the Breitbart writer leading the charge against Obama’s supposedly poor grades has a reasonably long history of declaring that all of the President’s academic accomplishments are due to affirmative action (and declaring the President to be anti-white, which is a charge one too often sees white conservatives make without much in the way of supporting evidence). The grades are simply a stand-in for a charge neither side can truly prove, and there are just enough people who remain obsessed with their high school and college accomplishments – academic or extracurricular – that they enjoy the dick-measuring nature of arguing about someone else’s grades well into adulthood.

With all due respect to Megan, if Barack Obama liked white people — or for that matter, Jews — he wouldn’t have voluntarily chosen to sit in Jeremiah Wright’s hate-filled church for 20 years any more than someone who likes black people would have sat through 20 years of KKK meetings. Additionally, it’s hard to show that Obama’s “academic accomplishments are due to affirmative action” when he’s refusing to release the transcripts that would allow anyone to definitively prove or disprove it.

That being said, grades in high school are important for two reasons.

1) They help you get into college.
2) Making good grades keeps your parents from yelling at you…as much.

As to college, the grades there are also important for exactly two reasons.

1) Good grades will help you get your very first job.
2) If your parents are helping you pay for college, they expect you to bust your behind.

Personally, despite the fact that I took honors classes and was on the Math Counts, Quiz Bowl, and High-IQ Bowl teams in high school, I had a high C average. It wasn’t much different in college, where I graduated with a high C average as well.

Why?

There was a very simple reason for it: I could never force myself to bust my behind in classes that I perceived as a waste of time. Take Calculus, for example. I’ve never used Calculus in high school, college, or since. The only point of requiring it for business majors was to screen people out. They might as well have screened people based on whether they liked goat cheese or not because it’s about as relevant to the business careers of most people taking the course (Yes, there are exceptions, but they’re few and far between in the real world).

Moreover, once you get past that first job, the situation changes. Yes, certain jobs may require a degree. There are also SOME people who care if you went to a prestigious college like Duke or Harvard, but your grades? Nobody cares anymore because in the real world — and college most definitely is not the real world — it’s all about performance and personality. Personally, I’ve hired and recommended a number of people for jobs over the years and I’ve never even inquired as to whether they went to college, much less asked about their grades.

Last but not least, my high school education was mediocre. There were only a handful of teacher’s I’d consider “good.” The quality of instruction went up considerably in college, but even there it was uneven and rudimentary compared to what I deal with today. I remember sitting through math classes taught by professors with accents so thick you could barely understand them and a professor telling me and another kid in our class (We were the only two that didn’t suck up) that we scored as “Fascists” because we supported America’s refusal to give up its “first strike” policy with nuclear weapons. Because of that, most of my learning was picked up from books and the school of hard knocks AFTER I got out of college. In other words, if I’d made straight A’s, would I be any smarter today? Honestly, I doubt it.

So, grades? In the scheme of things, they’re just not that important.

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