Today I had the opportunity to hear Jakusho Kwong Roshi speak. Amongst other things he mentioned briefly digital age we are now and observed, that we as humans are being reduced to objects. I agree, we become objects that can be quantified by numbers – I wrote about this already in the context of hiring. But, why we even think it is possible to describe a human being with a set of numerical, processable parameters? Where did we get this idea in the first place?

School. That’s the place when we first encounter the system, in which an essay or an oral response to a teacher’s question or even overall behaviour can be simply graded on a relatively short scale of 2-5, 1-6 or F-A. After a few years of this the conditioning is so effective, so deep, we actually believe almost everything can be described by numbers. In some places it filters through even to popular culture as in the custom of judging other people’s looks on scale of 1 to 10 (like on this site). In most corporations we have now evaluation of employees with, yes, numerical scoring of achievements and performance. True digital age.

But, thought it is hard to believe, it wasn’t always this way. And it all started long before the invention of first microprocessor. The whole idea of grading students’ work with numbers, of ascribing numerical value to it, is fairly new. It all begun only in 18th century, I think. (I’ve spent last two hours digging around the Internet, but I haven’t found a source or data about the history of school grades. However, I remember reading somewhere in a book they were invented by a concrete fellow and applied first in one, known educational institution. Then, it spread.)

Now, a mental exercise. Try to imagine how the schooling and learning functioned without numerical grades. Try to imagine you never knew them. Try to imagine this world. Try. It’s hard. Very hard.

But, wasn’t it a more humane world in some way?