Are grades an artifact of a failed pedagogy? Do we need grades to force students to do a minimum amount of work because we suck at teaching? At the college-level, we are all technicians driven in our fields because we are enamored to point of obsession with what we study. Are we really that bad at motivating the questions that enthrall us?I learned early on from my greatest professor, John J. McDermott, that grades were simply a matter of course (where they are truly indicative of quality work), when the class was well taught, exciting and engaging, and students felt a sense of "ownership" in the class. I can hardly match up to John's teaching, but the lesson for me was that, when done well, it is possible to eliminate grades as a central issue in a course and have the final grades reflect true quality of work.
I'll just leave it at that,... but in a context in which, at my university at least, there is pressure to hover at a certain average of grades for each class for administrative reasons.