Image courtesy of Kimberly Kling

Quickly think of the mark you received on your grade 10 math midterm. Can’t think of it? Okay, another one. Think of a trendy piece of clothing you purchased in 1999. If you can think of one, how much did you pay for it?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about value and worth. Yesterday, I read an interesting article about the the use of grades in education. I also read this thought provoking post found on Inside Higher Ed that talks about our worth as professionals. The argument here is that we should be compensated (ie. paid) according to our worth.

So what does it mean that something is of value or worth? A dictionary definition would most certainly include something of monetary significance, but is there more? A quick look at the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) resulted in these common associations with the word worth:

  • worth the money

  • worth the investment

  • worth the time

  • worth pursuing

  • worth trying / a try

  • worth discussing

  • worth considering

  • worth noting

  • worth mentioning

  • worth examining

  • worth talking about

As you can see, not all of these uses include a price. Some are internal values that put the worth on things that are impossible to put into numbers. Going back to my initial comment about grades and price, these put worth squarely on something that can be quantified. Our ‘worth’ is put down to our marks and to financial compensation. This is what society has decided as the norm for us as far as worth. I think it is time we take back the other definition of worth.

My point about the money and grades at the beginning is that these things are fleeting. We might get immediate satisfaction from a good mark on an exam or the admiration of my peers for wearing expensive, trendy clothes, but it never lasts. What I remember from grade 10 is my music teacher giving me the chance to be on the jazz band, even though there were others who I felt were better than me. Who knows why he did that, but it made me feel better about myself as a musician. What do I remember about 1999? That was the year I was given a chance to give my first public seminar on digital cameras that would eventually lead me into more and more opportunities to help others make the transition from film to digital. Did I make a fortune as a speaker or as a musician? Not even close, but it did give me a purpose and worth that I still carry with me today.

The article about grading explored the reasons people still use letter grades as a form of assessment. It was interesting to read the rationale some people use for the continuance of grading at all levels of education. I believe there is more to grading than this article is able to dig out, but the essence remains the same, people are looking at grades as a measure of worth. We value grades in the same way we value money.

I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but I think it is important to stop and think about why we do the things we do. Are we valuing the proper things, or are we simply looking at the numbers? It happens in other areas of life as well. Look at Twitter and Facebook for example. How many people look at their worth based on the number of followers or friends? Klout is an example of this taken even further. I joined Klout when it first came out to see what all the fuss was about. It was interesting at first to see what happened to my Klout score based on posts and conversations, but it wore thin very quickly. Why? It had no lasting value. And what about those friends? There are some who worry about who is following or unfollowing them (see the use of sites that tell you who has stop following you). I for one, don’t care about the numbers. I care about the people.

I believe that our worth comes in community. Invest in others and you will start to see things of true value. Pour yourself into your students’ lives, help other teachers without looking for compensation, add to the lives of those who are struggling. That is where real worth resides.

5 thoughts on “Valuing

  1. I like how you liberate the word ‘value’ from mere monetary or quantifiable measurements, making it a much more neutral term. It can better relate to experience. Thus, a question like What’s the value of this pencil? doesn’t ask what amount of money can we exchange it for, but how can we use it based on the situation. These types of values look less to rank and compare, and more to choose and suit.

    This perspective is especially useful in thinking about knowledge and information.

    1. Your comment about knowledge and information is spot on. I know that I have been guilty of failing to think this way, but I am trying to make a conscious effort to change that.

      Thanks for commenting. I enjoy hearing from others.

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