Also check out: 5 More Things in Education We Need a New Name For
Words are important. If we are smart, we choose them carefully. But mostly we just repeat or recycle them. We claim words as our own original thoughts, but how often have you looked at the words you use to describe what you do?
Here are the words for tools we use to leave our mark on our students.
From the Latin “Scola”. The Romans got it from a Greek word used to describe leisurely discussion and recreation. To Ancient Greeks, scholastic pursuit was a pass-time like going to the gym. The Romans kept the word after extracting it from their educated Greek slaves. It then spread by invasion to its European barbarian off-spring. It now dwells in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Swedish and even Slavic languages. Sadly, today’s version is more in keeping with the Roman manipulation than the Greek.
We use this word when a wrestler is placed in an inescapable position and can no longer tolerate the pain. This word is also used when applying for a job or to government apparatus. It is what students do when they have completed an assigned task to be graded.
The Romans were obsessed with classification. “Gradus” was a way to keep order and meaning in a world riddled with chaotic violence. To grade is to value something relative to others. When we give something or someone a grade, we indicate a position in comparison to others. Higher grades are obviously superior to lower grades. The Latin meaning has changed little. Strangely, today it is also the primary means of motivating students by assessing the merit of their schoolwork for classification.
One method Romans used for grading social stratification was “Classis”. During a crisis, people were divided into groups for appropriate taxation or duty. This temporary system worked so well that it outlived the Empire. Eventually even their barbarian conquerors/descendants established social “classes”. The resulting privilege-based articulation exists today in all aspects of life. Starting at infancy, the class system is taught by example in schools. Everything from resource access to the number of students in each class is determined by social status, geography, wealth and scarcity of knowledge. Students earn knowledge based on age, means, behaviour and marks are divided into exclusive groups. These “classes” serve as a model for determining value and organizing systems later in life.
Most dictionary definitions describe it as a distinctive sign or impression of identification. Other etymological sources suggest that it indicates a boundary or limit. Either way it is typically affixed or imposed upon its bearer to identify certain characteristics. It is used today in schools to officially identify students by their highest success and lowest failures for others to classify them appropriately. Marks serve students as extrinsic motivators and can be redeemed for the reward of more education in higher institutions. They are also tangible indicators of the bearer’s overall ability to meet expectations.