Motivated by Information, not Grades

The Church attitude is that civilization, or ‘the system’ or ‘society’ or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not punish mules or get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.

The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he’d abandoned, in what used to be called the ‘school of hard knocks.’ Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that’s what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d found his level. But don’t count on it.

In time – six months; five years, perhaps – a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shop work. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now be reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He’d think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn’t have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he’d now find a brand of theoretical information he’d have a lot of respect for, namely mechanical engineering.
So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He’d be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no eternal pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He’d be a free man. […]

Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn’t stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he’d see he needed them.
Pirsig, Robert (1974) Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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