In any class, you will find a wide variety of opinions regarding the letter “A” among students. Some students don’t care for grades nor hard work. Some make it their sole objective. While others care about learning more than the grade itself. An important concept that must be taught is the meaning behind the letter “A.” In this post I will address the meaning behind grades, divine perfection and the importance of having good akhlāq.
What is an “A?” – Some kids and adults think that the letter “A” on a transcript or report card is indicative of success. In fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A good grade itself does not mean a high paying job. It does not mean knowing how to deal with peers and co-workers. Especially among parents, the pressures from certain cultures exerted upon students to obtain an “A” are overreaching. Too often, parents and students are taught to derive self-worth from grades. This is not only dangerous but extremely unhealthy. Some parents shame their kids for getting an “A-“! No doubt, a parent should push their kids to strive hard. But don’t let this get out of hand go overboard. An unhealthy view of grades feeds the inner critic within the student to have a negative self-image as well as an unhealthy, and dare I say, “idolatrous” view of grades. Grades are only a mark of what the students knows based on what has been taught. Many students think that achieving an “A” means that they are excellent in the subject. Insofar as they did get an “A” on what was tested, it doesn’t mean that they know everything and anything pertaining to that subject.
Divine Perfection – With particular emphasis on Islamic Studies, even if a student achieved an “A,” students must remember that they are imperfect in the face of The Perfect – Allah. As they say in Arabic, “Al-Kamāl lillā,” or, “Perfection belongs to God.” Hence, as much as it is commendable to achieve an “A,” students can learn humility from knowing that no matter what they get, they must continue to learn, be humble and apply their knowledge. Additionally, students need to be taught that the human enterprise is incompatible with perfection. Since we did not create ourselves, we are naturally imperfect. The goal of this life is not to be perfect, but to bounce back from our mistakes. The hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) states, “All children of Adam are sinners. And the best of sinners are those who repent.” In other words, humanity is united in their imperfect existence. But their existence is made meaningful when they repent.
A is for Akhlaq – I always tell my students that a student who achieves an “A” but with no moral compass, or, “akhlāq,” has rendered the grade useless. In this time and age, so many students care about their grades but do not care about how they behave. So long as they please their parents, even if it means cheating, they are indifferent to the subject. Not only is this counter productive to learning, it also begets arrogance and hypocrisy. How can it lead to hypocrisy? A student who learns about a hadith but only studies to get an “A” and not care for is application, over time, will separate action from knowledge. Similarly, a student who only cares for an “A” for their parents and not for a higher cause misses the importance of sincerity. Finally, a student who obtains grades for a prestigious “A” might fall into the mistake of treating others who fail to achieve an “A” rudely and with arrogance.