At the end of each year, I pack away my kids’ school work into boxes. It takes me hours to sift through, mainly because there’s so much that catches my eye and I can’t help but read it. I’m always surprised, and often astounded, by what they’ve studied and learnt because they don’t tell me much and rarely show it to me, especially now they’ve reached high school.

For example, I was unaware they’d learnt about the physics of flight and experimented with gravity, or that they’d studied DNA and chromosomes. I knew they’d read ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, but I didn’t know they’d studied Asperger’s Syndrome as they went. I didn’t know they’d watched ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and discussed American gun laws. I didn’t know they’d learnt about Martin Luther King and Aboriginal Land Rights either.


Each year it happens—I’m blown away by what they’ve studied and learnt, because at the end of each year, all I get are a few lines in a report and a mark.

That’s what all their hard work gets reduced to—a mark—and it doesn’t seem to represent what I hold in my hands and pack away in the boxes.

Each year, I feel sorry for them as I pack it all away—that they’ve been so busy and worked so hard, and all I’ve been concerned about is the mark written next to their name.


Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if teachers didn’t assign marks—what if they gave feedback only. I wonder what changes that might bring:

If some kids might keep going with subjects they enjoy because they’re not told they aren’t good at them, and if they might become better at those subjects without the stress of worrying about a mark.

If it might encourage more experimentation and creativity.

If kids might work together more collaboratively because they’re not in competition with each other.

I especially wonder if their stress levels might be lower if they’re not aiming for that elusive ‘A’, or if they’re not comparing their mark with that of their friend.


And I wonder if teachers might enjoy their jobs more if they just had to read their students’ work and give helpful comments. I wonder if they might encourage more creative exploration if they didn’t have to worry about marking and ranking kids according to a standardised rubric.

We protect kids from things like graphic sex and violence until they’re old enough to cope, yet we don’t seem to mind putting them under stress to achieve well at school. Year after year after year. And it seems to be getting worse.

It’s something I worry about, the stress we put our kids under, and not just academically but in almost every area of their overly scheduled lives.


I’m not wise or knowledgable enough in this area to know if we’re doing it the best way we could. I just wrote these thoughts as they came, that’s all.

What do you think?