Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Bad Grade

Last week, in my Geometry course, we had a homework assignment consisting of 5 problems, 4 of which were proofs. I spent many, many hours on it. I probably spent at least 10 hours writing the proofs up, plus numerous other hours thinking about them, discussing them with Ed, working on them in my head, scribbling notes on pieces of paper, drawing diagrams, and so on. There were mornings when I woke up with a clear sense of having worked on a proof all night in my head. (And indeed, in one case I was able to wake up and quickly resolve my remaining issues and then write the proof. All before the alarm went off.)

I got 78% credit on the assignment.

I'll grant you that the class median was 64%, and the average grade was even lower. Most of the class did worse than I did, which comports with my experience of generally being an above average student in my classes.

But I worked fantastically hard on that assignment. What I turned in was six very neat pages of proofs, handwritten, with diagrams. All but one of the proofs was, as best I can determine (I haven't gotten the homework back yet, just seen the grade online), correct, and the incorrect proof had only a trivial section that I wasn't able to complete. The professor's solutions take up 3 pages of single-spaced type, so it was a long assignment, and not just for me.

It's not that I think I should get high grades just because I worked hard. (I certainly don't want other people who work hard to get the same grades as me if I outperform them. That may be uncharitable but I also think it's not good for grades to work that way.) But it's disheartening to have spent so very many hours producing so very much good work and get a C.

What I have to remind myself of is that this class is an elective. I signed up for it because I thought it would be fun, interesting, a challenge, and good on my transcript (assuming, you know, I don't get a C in the class, which I most likely won't). And right up until I got that stupid grade, I was enjoying the whole thing immensely. I had a wonderful time doing that homework. I was fantastically engaged. I talk about this stuff with Ed all the time for pure fun, and my understanding of it is pretty strong (relative to what I think is reasonable for being at this point in the course). The geometry is beautiful, clean, and thrilling.

I need to use the grade(s) only as motivation to keep stretching because I love the stretching itself. I can't let myself be demotivated by some sense of futility when I'm only doing this for the joy of it anyway.

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