Background information from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
"....He'd be having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that it wasn't. They just couldn't think of anything to say." pg. 190.
"As a result of his experiments he concluded that imitation was a real evil that had to be broken before real rhetoric teaching could begin. This imitation seemed to be an external compulsion. Little children didn't have it. It seemed to come later on, possibly as a result of school itself."
"That sounded right, and the more he thought about it the more right it sounded. Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, or course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand could get you anything—from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it."
"He discussed this with a professor of psychology who lived next door to him, an extremely imaginative teacher, who said, "Right. Eliminate the whole degree-and-grading system and then you'll get real education."
"One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, 'Of course you can't eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that's what we're here for.'
"She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude."
"The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for knowledge the grade was supposed to represent."
"Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit.... But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or desires would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment in."
"....Eventually he would see he wasn't learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feeling guilty about this and stop attending class."
"But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody's part, would have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. He wasn't there for a real education in the first place and had no real business there at all. A large amount of money and effort have been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life."
"The student's biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and-whip grading, a mule mentality which said, 'If you don't whip me, I won't work.' He didn't get whipped. He didn't work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him."
"This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the system," is being pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view, but it's not the Church attitude."
"The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the system" or "society" or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide in which that mule can turn into a free man." pgs. 195-196.
Last Modified: 13 October 2006 EST