The ‘invisible religion’ of the grade-conscious | Inquirer Opinion

The ‘invisible religion’ of the grade-conscious

SO YOU think that student with lower mental abilities are the ones who usually cheat in school? You’re wrong! Researchers have suggested that students who have higher goals and experience higher pressure to succeed are more likely to cheat.

Cheating in itself is a form of religion if one follows Kierkegaard’s definition of the “religious.” For cheating suspends the ethical demands of a student in the name of a higher “cause.”

Of course, that’s a perverse rendering of Kierkegaard’s analysis of Abraham’s faith. But cheating is just the tip of the iceberg. For it is being grade-conscious that is the “true” religion.


If we define religion, in the manner of Paul Tillich, as “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life,” then, indeed being grade-conscious is a form of religion. (This is just the existentialist way of paraphrasing Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”) Religion demands martyrdom. Students are willing to commit suicide because they would rather be dead than live a meaningless life with a grade point average lower than 95.


Like any religion, being grade-conscious has its doctrine: Grades are objective, and a teacher’s personality does not count for she is just an instrument for dispensing the sacrament of grades (Catholic doctrine of ex opere operato).

It has also its myths: Grades are the ticket to success, grades define one being, and they predict one’s income later. Next, rituals: Students collect their class cards, compute and compare it with others, and they are signed by parents.

Prayer is the most important element of ritual. Students offer supplications to their teachers and school administrators. Countless letters and appeals pile up in the principal’s office before graduation. Why? Because students believe that miracles can happen (who knows whether the graduation committee will allow a student to graduate with honors even if she has a grade of 3 in PE or if it will let a pregnant girl graduate with honors?).

Grades also have an experiential dimension, transforming the lives of students and making them competitive, aggressive and ever watchful of the behavior of their classmates and teachers. It affords them what Abraham Maslow calls the “peak experience” or ecstasy.

Grades can either be depressant or stimulant. But like any other entheogenic drugs that induce a religious high, they can become addictive as a stimulant. Their depressing effects usually lead students to detach themselves from the rat race of the academic jungle to avoid further pressures (the nominal or the ritualist students). The grade dependents or the “religious” however cannot live without the competition and the rewards.

Finally, grades have their own community dimension: families celebrate their children’s success, special gifts are given to students with honors, trophies and medals are dispensed sacramentally, and the “chosen ones” are recognized through elaborate rituals at the end of the school year.


All religions have an Apocalypse or stories about the end times. Students only find out about the true meaning of grades when they graduate and they are already working. They realize, quite painfully at first, that grades are not as important as the skills they have, the social networks they are connected to, and of course the kind of schools they went to. And yet, ironically, these same students who have gone to the other side, who have seen the obnoxious face of the promised “beatific vision” continue to indoctrinate their children into the “invisible religion” of their great ancestors. Thus, passing successfully the “memes” of the grade-conscious.

As a Marxist Christian educator, I have to struggle against this kind of idolatry that obliges students and teachers to embrace this false “invisible religion.” But as a Marxist, I see this “invisible religion” as a mere “imaginary flower” in the chain of contradictions that is generated by the primary contradictions in our society. Our competitive society is becoming more and more obsessed with being on top so that many young people are very willing to make the “leap of faith” to any religion that can promise them “cheap grace”!

Happy graduation to all the believers!

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Gerry M. Lanuza is an associate professor at the Department of Sociology, University of the Philippines in Diliman, where he teaches Sociology of Religion, among other subjects.

TAGS: children, education, religion & belief, schools

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