Why you shouldn’t care about either Obama’s or Romney’s grades

By Megan Carpentier
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 16:33 EDT
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["Elementary Boy Proudly Wearing His Graduation Cap And Gown" on Shutterstock]
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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 Brietbart 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.

Just look at just a few of the presidential candidates from this decade: John McCain admitted to being at the very bottom of his class at West Point. George W. Bush admitted his grades at Yale were far from stellar. Al Gore’s grades were nothing to write home about, nor were John Kerry’s, or Joe Biden’s. Politicians — who spend their careers winning grown-up popularity contests — don’t often get the best grades in school. Is that really in question? Do the nerdy kids ever win the popularity contests? (Hint: no, we never did.)

But are grades any indicator of future career performance? Unless there’s a career out there in successfully taking exams — in which case, I’m in the wrong profession — the answer to that is no, too. Grades are just a way of motivating some students, weeding out others and providing external examiners with a manner to judge students’ progress and their teachers’ prowess. They’re not a measure of anything important, and the only people who think that grades are important in adult life are the ones who have something to prove, and no other way to prove it.

["Elementary Boy Proudly Wearing His Graduation Cap And Gown" on Shutterstock]

Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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