Last Friday I blogged about a New York Times story by Max Roosevelt on student entitlement and grade inflation entitled “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes”. The title has to go down in history as one of the most obviously true headlines in a while.
The Times printed a number of letters received in response, several of which I found interesting and wanted to share.
First, a professor weighs in:
“Students from the earliest grades are encouraged to work hard and told that the rewards will follow. Students must realize that a grade is earned for achievement and not for the effort expended.
Yes, some students can achieve at higher levels with far less effort than others.
This mirrors the world beyond college as well.
In my experience as dean, when students complain about a professor’s grading, they seem to focus more on their “creative” justifications (excuses) rather than on remedies. Most faculty members stress the remedy that leads to achievement of instructional goals.
The time-honored mastery of the material should remain paramount. After all, this is what our society expects!”
Alfred S. Posamentier
Dean, School of Education
City College of New York, CUNY
New York, Feb. 18, 2009
Next, a student responds:
“What is so irrational about believing that hard work should warrant a high grade? I would argue that the very core of the American dream is the sentiment that one can achieve any greatness that he or she aspires to if he or she works hard enough.
When one puts one’s all into a class, it’s not shameful to hope that grades reflect that. The same applies to professionals and their salaries. Instead of psychoanalyzing their students, perhaps these professors should ask themselves this question: If your students are all really this despicable, why are you teaching?”
Aimee La Fountain
New York, Feb. 18, 2009
The writer is a senior at Marymount Manhattan College.
Finally, a straightforward response settles the matter:
“To the Editor:
If I follow the students’ logic that effort should be rewarded with high grades, then I should be content to have the heart surgeon or airline pilot who worked really, really hard in medical or flight school — whether or not that individual shows exceptional expertise or talent, not to mention mastery of the requisite skills. No thanks.”
Gig Harbor, Wash., Feb. 18, 2009
The two non-students clearly have the upper hand here. It’s interesting to read the student’s response, because it gives us a snapshot of the thought process of many students, confirming that many (most?) students believe that if they work hard, they automatically deserve the highest grade possible. The student quoted above fails to realize that to achieve the “American Dream” one must not simply work hard, but work well.
I see anxiety about grades everywhere, including seminaries where people should worry far more about the things of God and the approval of God than they do about grades and the approval of professors. Now, I’m not immune to this attitude. I’ve had to work hard to not have an entitled mindset. I still have to grit my teeth when I get a grade I don’t like. But the discipline of accepting the grades I get–even after much hard work–has been a good and profoundly spiritual one for me.
It is embarrassing to see adults praising the professor, shying away from convictional statements, phrasing all thoughts as a tenuous question, and worrying a great deal about their performance. Surely these are not good things. Our doctrine of education, I think, needs a healthy dose of good old-fashioned courage. We need to bring character into our education not merely on the front end, in the form of hard work, but on the back end, in the form of submission as a general policy to our authorities.
We should work hard when we receive a lower grade than we wanted to not gripe about it to friends. This is not mature, and it’s fundamentally prideful. It’s snarky, and ungodly, and it demeans our instructors. If absolutely necessary, we should ask the professor or teacher if we can talk over the grade. Otherwise, though, we should work to detach our identity from our grades. This is hard, but necessary, to do, and it will kill much pride in the process.
Furthermore, we need to dynamite this ridiculous notion that we, possessed with luminous, blinding brilliance deserve an A or even a B. Many of us don’t. For hard professors, very few students should expect to earn high grades. Would that we had more hard, demanding, excellent professors who taught us well and who didn’t cheat us out of a satisfying educational experience by rewarding laxity, whining, and wimpy classroom behavior.
Parents of children, accordingly, need to work very hard not to find pride in the academic performance of their children. Making this mistake will teach their children that results matter most and that effort need only be mediocre to warrant high achievement.
A Christ-centered approach to education, in sum, seems to be an approach that, above all else, prizes Christ, not grades. We don’t need high marks; we need our holy master, and far, far less of our whining, weak, proud, tremulous, man-centered natural hearts.