How to Read a Report CardReport card season is upon us. Teachers are busy writing them, and soon parents and students will be busy reading them – at least that’s the hope. But have you ever thought about how we should read report cards? I didn’t give it much thought until I was involved with building the templates for our report cards at Harvest Classical Academy. We had some good examples to follow, but we still had to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about what should be included in a report card – what should be measured – and then also how we hoped that parents and students would read them. Here’s what I’ve discovered in the process:

How you read a report card reveals what you are looking for in education.

Everyone who reads a report card has a reason for reading it. While they are unlikely to consciously think much about that reason, their reason for reading reveals what they are looking for in education – be it their own education or the education of their children. When we take a glance down the page, something is going on in the back of our minds, and that something is quite important. Let me explain with a few common patterns of thought.

The Disinterested Reader

The Disinterested Reader has a reason to read the report card; however, it usually amounts to simply making sure their life didn’t just get more complicated. Did I avoid another meeting with the school administration? Where do I have to sign so I don’t get more phone calls? Do I really have to write comments back to the teacher? Aren’t I the one these reports are for? Oftentimes their goal for education is simply to have free childcare. It is quite unlikely any of them would read this article unless it somehow makes its way into the required reading for parents… which they probably wouldn’t read… so, as I said, not likely.

The Defensive Reader

The Defensive Reader doesn’t waste time in opening and reading the report card. And when they do, they read it as the all-knowing judge who already has a perfect assessment of their child (or themselves). Reading the report card, for them, is merely to ensure that the teacher has come to the proper conclusion – namely that of the omniscient recipient. Rather than a tool of partnership, each report card is actually a test that the teacher must pass. The defensive reader may forgive minor differences thinking “No one is perfect (like me)”; however, if the letter grade begins to drop lower or the comments contain anything remotely critical, the natural conclusion is that “The teacher has made a mistake” or “It’s the teacher’s fault.”

The Defensive Reader most often ties education (theirs or their childs) to their identity. This is why they so fiercely defend any perceived criticism – because it threatens their sense of worth. It is as though the letter grade communicates their value as a person. A+ = You are significant; you are special. F = You are a failure; you are worthless.

The Defensive Reader may also view education as a means to an end, often a high-paying, respectable job that they believe is deserved. Anything or anyone that dares to derail the perfect plan must be confronted and brought into conformity with the pre-ordained plan. Ultimately the defensive reader views education as a means to glorify themselves.

The Discouraged Reader

Another common response is that of the Discouraged Reader. When they read the report card, everything is read in a negative light. An A is not an A+; a compliment is analyzed for what it didn’t include knowing that “Teachers have to say something positive”; a criticism is taken as confirmation of the failure they assume themselves to be. The Discouraged Reader, like the Defensive Reader, often ties education to identity; however, instead of assuming the teacher has failed to notice their brilliance, they wonder whether the teacher is just stringing them along trying to make them feel better about themselves. They often toss the towel in too early, taking any road bumps as a sign that they will not improve or possibly even make it to the finish line.

The Discouraged Reader will often read their report in light of the strengths of others, especially in the areas that they themselves are lacking. They get caught in a comparison game fueled by covetousness and discontentment not realizing that those they compare themselves to have their own set of limitations and flaws and that God has distributed different capabilities according to his design.

The Dependent Reader

The fourth kind of reader is the Dependent Reader. The Dependent Reader is faithful to read the report card, but naively reads it only at the surface level. They are unaware of or unwilling to see the reality that behind every report card is a value system. Certain things are included and highlighted. Certain things are not. The school they are enrolled in has a reason for education and the Dependent Reader automatically adopts that reason and the accompanying value system – often without even realizing where they are going or that there is an alternative. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” They blindly trust the system to have their best interest in mind.

The Dependent Reader will gladly seek to improve wherever the teacher instructs even if the teacher is peddling a curriculum filled with falsehoods. Dependent Readers falsely believe that an A+ is always more desirable than a B+ even though sometimes a B+ or lower reveals a brave refusal to bow to cultural lies. Not only that, but the Dependent Reader wouldn’t pause to consider the difference between an A+ gained through cheating and a B- gained through diligent effort so long as the system does not catch them or seem to care. The Dependent Reader does not wish to think for themselves but merely goes with the flow and is immaturely tossed back and forth.

The Diligent Reader

There is, however, a fifth kind of reader. One that we should all aim to be: the Diligent Reader. The Diligent Reader comes to a report card with a pre-existing worldview and set of values. They come with a fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7), a thirst for wisdom (Prov. 4:7), a humility to receive advice (Prov. 12:15), and a wariness about being taken captive by worldly values (Col. 2:3). They carefully assess the worldview and values of the school they are partnered with and filter their reading of the report card accordingly.

The Diligent Reader understands that a report card is a valuable opportunity for insight from another vantage point and that there is great wisdom in having another person assess them or their child. They understand that flattery is a mark of enemies and that accurate and constructive criticism is a precious gift (Prov. 27:6). They realize that report cards do not reveal the whole picture of a person and often cannot comment on the most important part – what is happening in the home and, even more importantly, what is happening in the heart.

Ultimately the Diligent Reader understands that the purpose of education is to glorify God not self. They seek to develop in wisdom and virtue so that they are better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God.

Conclusion

So what type of reader are you? Many of us will be tempted to one of the first four categories: Disinterested, Defensive, Discouraged, or Dependent. They are natural responses of our fallen human nature. But naming them helps us to spot them and to put off those old ways of thinking and to embrace the Diligent Approach as we seek to steward education for God’s glory. Remember, how you read a report card is important.

#insightinaminute

Keep your eyes on Christ! (Hebrews 12:1-2)