Professor Calls For Throwing Off The Yoke Of Grades As A Tool Of Capitalism

Professor Richard Wolff of the New School is calling for the banning of grades as disrespectful to students and advancing a capitalist agenda. Wolff penned an op-ed entitled “Grades Are Capitalism in Action. Let’s Get Them Out of Our Schools.” I confess that I fail to see the oppressive or disrespectful elements of grading, even though it is the worst part of this job. However, Wolff has a broader objective in denouncing “meritocracy” as a concept and grades as merely an outgrowth of that system.

Wolff has long promoted Marxism and returns to that theme in asking, given all of its failures, “[h]ow, then, has capitalism survived? Its persistence can best be explained in terms of ideology . . . One key example is the concept of ‘meritocracy.'” He goes on to explain how he has “suffered the imposition of grades” which take up much of his time.

He writes:

“While capitalism’s imposed limits help explain the practice of grading, they do not excuse it. It is a very poor substitute for far superior educational practices thereby foregone.

Grading is not only a mechanism designed to save money spent on “education.” Grades also function as a major foundation and support for the meritocracy. The merit ideology functions as a crucial defense mechanism for capitalism given its failures.” 

When I started teaching at Tulane Law School, I was told by a senior faculty member “Jonathan, we teach for fun, but we are paid to grade.” Like all professions, performance is measured in the law not only to determine the relative merit of students in school but an indicator for firms in selecting the best candidates to represent clients. I often stress to students that these grades are not the final word on their careers. Indeed, some of the best lawyers in the profession bottomed out their classes. Performance matters in this profession, but until a lawyer has an actual record, grades are a necessary — if traumatic — indicator.

As for capitalism, some of the toughest grading schemes are found in socialist or communist regimes. China has long been notorious for its cruel and unforgiving ranking of students (which largely determine your ability to go to college). Like other aspects of life, we excel or fail according to our skills and talents. When it comes to grades, students can turn around their GPAs and often do after shaky starts in law school.

Thus, I am afraid that I am just another running dog Meritocrat. The key to be sure to get it right in grading but meritocracy has . . . well . . . its merits.

62 thoughts on “Professor Calls For Throwing Off The Yoke Of Grades As A Tool Of Capitalism”

  1. GW Law School, as well as many other law schools, should have take-home, “grade-it-yourself” quizzes 1L that are required. That way, you can actually gauge what you “think you know” vs. what you “actually know,” pre-100% final exam at the end of the semester. The quizzes should start week 4, and be given every week until the end of the semester.

    Again, it is “grade-it-youself” @ home, but a least you can correct yourself if there is something you’re missing as a student, and correct the issues.

    I would also suggest FRONT loading classes, with Black Letter law from week 1 until week 7, and then spend week 7 through week 14, applying the Black Letter law to ALL the cases, in application format.

    1. So, if I was a professor, I would lecture Black Letter law week 1-7, and then hit the students with a hard cold-call week 7-14, with the case application, 2nd of the semester. And I would get it everyone multiple times over, I would jam through the rows of students, multiple times over until the semester ends.

      A lot of students know they can ZzzzZZzz once they’ve been called on 1x…that’s not helping them out.

      1. Also, completely random cold-call. One class, the students figured out the cold-call, so I knew a week before I was going to be cold-called on, another student had a chart he passed around to all his friends with the cold-call list, which was spot-on, and I knew which case too, so I just read that specific case 3 ways over, until I knew it back and forth.

        So, random cold-call….nothing that can be figured out by students. And the students do try to figure it out.

  2. “Debunking Jordan Peterson’s “Cultural Marxism” with Richard Wolff”

    1. i wonder if this clown wants to know what grades his doctor got in school or if his auto repair guy actually passed any of the repair classes

      what a complete idiot masquerading as a “deep thinker”

      1. robertgreenweb says: August 8, 2019 at 6:17 PM: “what a complete idiot masquerading as a “deep thinker””

        i think you might be projecting, robergreenweb

  3. Capitalism is a kind of meritocracy, and so is grading.

    it is logical, therefore, that anyone who would support the inherently unjust governance of socialism would also oppose grades. Let everyone earn a “C”, regardless of effort. You will immediately see a complete lack of studying, test preparation, and class attendance. This will illustrate to the ignorant the problems inherent in socialism, and perhaps we will see wiser graduates. As universities who enact socialism in its grading, it will lose money and prestige. Their degrees won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on. Perhaps that would provide the impetus for universities to ensure that professors keep their personal politics out of the classroom.

    1. Karen S – everyone gets the same grade as the lowest graded student. Fs all around. 🙂

    2. As soon as I figured out after 1L-Semester, that I was not going to be a “stand out” student, and that I didn’t have to study all that much to receive anywhere from a C+ to a B, with a mere 2 days (yep, that’s right, and sad, 2 days) of studying per topic before the finals, with little to no effort, I just stop studying all together. Open book, could def b.s. something together….its qualitative…the better writer you are, the more easy to b.s.

      Call it whatever you want to call it….lazy, depression, anxiety, all three, so on and so forth…Now, looking back I regret my attitude problems, but no crying over spilled milk now.

      And I knew a lot of students doing exactly what I was doing getting (C+ to B)…as well as a lot of students doing the exact opposite and still only getting (C+ to B)…and then some studying a lot and getting better grades (B+ to A)…and then some not studying at all and still getting (B+ to A).

      I felt like there was zero rhyme or reason to the grading…exception being the few multiple choice exams, which actually were quantitative, which I miserably bombed one, and I aced the other one. You can’t hide the fact you didn’t study on a multiple choice exam.

      1. Sorry, I can’t relate. I hardly studied at all and graduated with honors. Many offers at white shoe firms. And I’m very beautiful as well. Oh, and wealthy.

        1. I live in a VAN down by the ocean, and have over 1 million followers in less than 4 days. And I make way more $$$ money than an attorney off my YouTube ad revenue. And I am super smokin’ hot. Oh, and extremely wealthy. I didn’t graduate high school. GED, who cares! Lol!


    Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City.

    Earlier he taught economics at Yale University (1967-1969) and at the City College of the City University of New York (1969-1973). In 1994, he was a Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Paris (France), I (Sorbonne). Wolff was also regular lecturer at the Brecht Forum in New York City.

    BA in History from Harvard College (1963);
    MA in Economics from Stanford University (1964);
    MA in History from Yale University (1967); and a
    PhD in Economics from Yale University (1969)

    Over the last twenty five years, in collaboration with his colleague, Stephen Resnick, he has developed a new approach to political economy. While it retains and systematically elaborates the Marxist notion of class as surplus labor, it rejects the economic determinism typical of most schools of economics and usually associated with Marxism as well. This new approach appears in several books co-authored by Resnick and Wolff and numerous articles by them separately and together. Common to all of Professor Wolff’s work are two central components. The first is the introduction of class, in its elaborated surplus labor definition, as a new “entry point” of social analysis. The second is the concept of overdetermination as the logic of an analytic project that is consistently non-determinist. Professor Wolff was also among the founders in 1988 of the new academic association, Association of Economic and Social Analysis (AESA), and its quarterly journal Rethinking Marxism.

    Since 2005, Professor Wolff has written many shorter analytical pieces focused chiefly although not only on the emerging and then exploding global capitalist crisis. He regularly published such shorter analytical pieces on the website of the Monthly Review magazine and occasionally in many other publications, both print and electronic. The wide circulation of the shorter pieces coupled with the deepening crisis brought many invitations to present work in public forums.

    Especially since 2008, Professor Wolff has given many public lectures at colleges and universities (Notre Dame, University of Missouri, Washington College, Franklin and Marshall College, New York University, etc.) to community and trade union meetings, in high schools, etc. He also maintains an extensive schedule of media interviews (on many independent radio stations such as KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York, National Public Radio stations, the Real News Network, the Thom Hartmann show, and so on). He has spoken at Occupations and local high schools, churches, and monthly at the Brecht Forum in New York.

    Professor Wolff’s public speaking engagements and media interviews usually focus on one or more of the following topics:

    a. The Current Economic Crisis: Origins and Consequences
    b. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism
    c. The Current Economic Crisis and Globalization
    d. Economic Crisis and Socialist Strategy
    e. The Difference Among Economic Theories (Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian)
    f. The History of the Marxian Theoretical Tradition
    g. The Contemporary Relevance and Unique Insights of Marxian economics
    h. A Class Analysis of the Rise and Fall of the USSR

    Professor Wolff’s weekly show, Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff, is syndicated on over 70 radio stations nationwide and available for broadcast on Free Speech TV. Please contact the show’s Media Director if you are interested in syndicating the program:

    1. Wolff is a great teacher. He taught UMass, Amherst for 35 years.

      “Wolff taught Marxian economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from 1973 to 2008.”

      “He was granted tenure there when he was just 27 years old.”

      ‘“The enthusiasm of the American people for fundamental economic change has never been greater than it is today,” Wolff declared. “The window for real change is open.”’

    2. i am not sure how you can be a marxist without being a materialist and thus a determinist. in philosophical terms it seems impossible to me to consider. you are not a marxist if you are not a materialist and materialists are almost by definition, determinists

      but im sure professor wolfe has a book aaaaallllllll about it.

  5. The poster says: “To have more, it is necessary to produce more. To produce more, it is necessary to know more.”

  6. If the educational grading system doesn’t matter, then does any grading system matter? How are we to measure quality in anything? Aren’t graduates of some system of education a product of that system? What is the measure then for graduation? Money spent? Time spent?

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