Every Student an A Student: The NYT on Entitlement and Grade Inflation

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.”

Stacy Hagen
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.

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9 responses to “Every Student an A Student: The NYT on Entitlement and Grade Inflation

  1. Pingback: Intersected » Blog Archive » Every Student an A Student: The NYT on Entitlement and Grade Inflation

  2. Larry Geiger

    Effort is generally irrelevant. Actually, lots of effort can be profoundly counter-productive.

    This is an adage in software development. The more people that you add to a project (after a certain number like 4 or 6), the longer the project takes.

    Aimee’s problem is entitlement. She’s entitled when she puts her all into a class. Whether she gets it or not. There is a lot of math, science and engineering that a lot of people can “puts one’s all into” and they still won’t pass. Appropriately so.

    There are a lot of English, Greek, Literature, and Art classes that I could put my all into (and I have on occasion, though not always) and I will still earn a D+ or C-. Appropriately so.

  3. russellandduenes

    Great post. I teach at a Christian high school and the expectations of kids and parents lead them excuses that I could have scarcelyl imagined at my non-Christian high school twenty years ago.

  4. BC


    I actually disagree in places. I do not mean to dismiss the aspect of pride present in grading complaints, or advocate grade inflation, etc., but there is, I think, something more substantive in students’ objections. Your argument seems to require that grading is or, at least, can be fully objective. But I don’t think that it can be. For example: say I’m teaching you Greek, and I’ve to develop an exam. I can make the exam more or less difficult as I see fit – it could be so difficult that every student fails or so easy that every student receives an A. Of course, if I’m doing things properly, neither of these possibilities will happen. But that’s just my point – that the subjective evaluative choices that the instructor makes affect students’ grades.

  5. owenstrachan

    Larry–this is a very provocative topic you’ve led us to. I often think about the idea you suggest, and I think you may be right. Thinking that brilliance–or even just productivity–will come from an automated schedule seems reductionistic to me. Is there something sacred about eight hours of work a day? I think not.

    I don’t want to enfranchise laziness, of course. The Bible condemns it. However, the Bible also doesn’t spell out exactly what productivity in labor looks like. So I think that there may be more room on this question than some might think.

    I haven’t fully developed my position on this, but I want to do so in days to come. I think of people like Andrew Carnegie, who worked for a few hours a day, but nonetheless became the world’s richest man; Winston Churchill, who had an unusual work schedule and took long naps despite an incredible workload; and David McCullough, who writes only for a short period every day.

    These and many other examples, along with one’s personal example, perhaps, seem to suggest that we might have productivity all wrong. Perhaps we’re dumb to equate it with the mere logging of hours. Perhaps it is has much more to do with how one works, though of course some tasks and jobs do call for long hours at different times.

    I think we could probably stand to reexamine this, and to focus more on working smart than working long.

    BC–appreciate your thoughtful response, as always. Grading is subjective, you’re right. But does this mean that students should be able to negotiate for grades, as many of us seem to think we can? Is there not significant good in accepting the standards given us, and in working with them, and seeking to learn through them? Is this not what life requires of us on so many fronts?

    Subjective standards are everywhere around us. Some are better than others, but surely many students have far too heightened a sense of the subjective element of grading and far too low a sense of submission to authority, the duty to work hard, and the poison of an entitled mindset.

    Russell–thanks much for your words. They are encouraging.

  6. lewsta

    Consider how things were before the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th Century. There was rather a direct connexion betwixt the work of one’s hands and what one’s mouth had put in it in way of food. It was the IR that led to the warped practise of paying one for the amount of time one “gave” at the manufactory. Of course, the dawdlers were soon enough let go, the hard workers kept on. I do believe this change has led to the present day “entitlement” mentality. I clocked my eight hours, I get my pay in full, never mind I’ve fobbed off the half of my alloted production to others. This has been further enthroned within our culture by a near-universal abdication of the command “Fathers, TEACH your children”. Nothing about scoring, all about teaching them all they need know for a successful life. And if the lads don’t “get it”, the Dad has failed. It all rests on the students becoming equipped for life, not on how much “seat time” they’ve got in the local school. Of course, none of this answers HOW to get clean of the obsession with small letters in column on one’s grade card. Perhaps the beginning would be a return to FATHERS, teach your children. Time was, the later conduct of the children were a source of joy or shame for the Fathers. No more, and this is the saddest bit.

  7. Pingback: In the Blogosphere « Kingdom People

  8. Pingback: Resources for Teachers: Inflated Grades? « Heritage and Destiny

  9. Pingback: Students feel entitled to good grades | The Alief Post

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