Education

An "A" for effort

This just in, America’s youth are a bunch of narcissitically self-entitled little snots.  I’m thinking of an anti-drug commercial right now.  Can you guess which one?

The paper of record (Max Roosevelt), tells me that universities are dealing with “grade disputes” and that the probable cause is “student expectation”.  In other words, “My grades aren’t as high as I think they should be, so we have a dispute.”  Really, it isn’t fair.  You work, like, really really hard all semester.  Ya know, like, going to every class and even reading all of the books that the professor assigns.  You couldn’t possibly, like, receive, like, a C for that.  You even took the time to learn how to use an apostrophe and everything.

We’ll get Grampa Bud’s statement out of the way early, “Who ever told you that life was fair?”

Jason Greenwood of the University of Maryland sums up the student perspective:

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

If you didn’t get an A, it’s because you didn’t do everything that the teacher asked – and more.  Or maybe it’s because you really have no business being in a university…but i don’t want to sound elitist or anything.

The professors didn’t weigh in much.  This is not surprising as it’s hard to quote someone kicking over the trash can for the tenth time that day, or convey what it looks like when someone pulls out a handful of his/her own hair.  What little they said boils down to, “there’s a problem with the sense of entitlement among students,” and, unfortunately, the mutterings with which they fleshed out this thesis did not get published.

What a professor did do was launch a study to quantify just how much snot runs out of the noses of the student body.  Ellen Greenberger found that two thirds of students surveyed said that explaining to a professor that they were trying hard should count towards a better grade.  It will be great fun to see this horde descend upon the workplace in a few years time and tell their bosses that trying hard should be factored into getting a raise.

Professor Greenberger ends up making a bunch of excuses for the kids.  It might be a “heightened sense of achievement anxiety.”  In which case we can only hope that there is a pill in the pharma-pipeline that can ease achievement anxiety.  Competition and pressure may also be major factors in the whining temper tantrums about what’s deserved and unfair.  To this end, some institutions are attempting to ease the students into learning for the sake of knowledge rather than the end result of a grade.  Another theory posits that the students became high efficiency test takers through high school and just can’t handle professors expecting them to think and express their thoughts.

Bullshit.

They’ve been coddled and told that they’re special for their whole lives.  Here’s a lesson for the youth out there reading that won’t even cost one credit hour of tuition:  you’re not special; you never will be special…at least not any more special than anyone else.  A few of you are actually special, but you’re not bitching about how you should get an A for effort because you’re special.  It’s a big, mean world out there and you’re going to have to take off the diapers someday.  Or maybe you don’t think that you’ll have to take off the diapers, and that’s a more serious issue than whether or not a professor gives you the grade you expect.

The professors, however, don’t get the worst of it.  From what i can gather, the administrative offices at universities spend a silly amount of time dealing with this issue.  Worse than the students are the parents who call to set things right for their baby and have been known to go so far as threatening legal action when the university isn’t being “fair”.  If Mommy is still making phone calls on behalf of baby when baby reaches his twenties, we can safely assume that teachers throughout baby’s academic career have been hearing from mommy about how the family expects their baby to be treated.

Did you guess which anti-drug commercial i’ve been thinking of?  It’s the one where dad bursts in on little boy smoking pot and gets off the handle enraged, culminating in his screaming, “Where did you learn to do this?”  The boy, who had found his dad’s box of fun paraphernalia, looks up and says, “I learned it from you, Dad,” tearfully, “I learned it from you.”

And so we conclude another chapter of The Decline and Fall of Western Snivelization.

56 replies »

  1. You’d be amazed at how much kids gripe and argue over test questions with a professor… the worst part is that it’s usually about how a question wasn’t worded ‘fairly’ — except that’s not the case, either. It’s because the student is generally a jackass and can’t/won’t read very well.

    Is this what we end up having to deal with when more kids enroll in college?

  2. I remember reading an article on another perversion, this time in MBA classes. It’s called grade inflation. That’s where everyone gets an A, but some people get AAAs.

    Because, when you’ve spent as much money as that signing up for an MBA, you sure-as-shit ain’t going to get less than an A.

  3. I left an adjunct position at my alma mater due to the unbelievably poor student talent. Federal aid counted more than talent. The straw that broke my back was a young woman bawling because of a B on an Accounting final. (The nice thing about teaching accounting is that test scores are objective, not subjective.) At the extension of a state university where I am currently teaching, the discipline to read an assignment is non-existent. “Dumb it down” dominates our classrooms. Foreign students are almost always the best students. This country is in trouble.

  4. I walked away from academia for many reasons, but among the Top Ten Reasons was, you guessed it, my unwillingness to cater to my students’ extraordinarily well-developed sense of entitlement.

    But: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and place blame where it’s due: the dumbasses at the nation’s colleges of education. You know: the people who teach the teachers.

    They’re the ones who decided twenty or so years ago that K-12 ought to revolve around making students feel, ya know, special. That it was more important to have students express their “feelings” than it is for students to, gulp, learn how to think.

    No surprise, the philosophy of “teaching” is producing one generation after another of young adults who believe first and foremost in their specialness.

  5. Wasn’t that a reflection of the culture, Maureen? Not that educators at all levels weren’t guilty of catering to the cult of unearned self-esteem, but if we’re looking for first causes, I think there’s a much broader pool of candidates to share the blame.

    You might be interested to know that in public schools the pendulum, fueled by the well-meant but equally poorly thought-out accountability movement, is swinging the other direction and running smack into itself. Now the fundamental conundrum is this:

    If too many students fail your class, your numbers will hurt the school’s reputation and ranking. So lower the bar.

    If students leave your classroom to take a standardized test and cannot meet its requirements, your numbers will hurt the school’s reputation and ranking. So raise the bar.

    But don’t let anyone fail. But hold them to higher standards. But don’t set up any consequences. But make them apply themselves. But don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Personally, I can’t wait to get back to teaching. I’m a little crazy like that.

  6. Oh, yes, Ann, I do think it is/was a reflection of a larger cultural surge.

    Historically, the “moment” for that way of thinking can be traced back to Harvard’s college of ed. back in the 1960s, no surprise.

    And it’s also no surprise that the pendulum is swinging another direction. Near as I can tell, as a historian, philosophies of education run in about 30 year cycles. Eg, the “feel good” philosophy replaced the c. 1940s and 1950s philosophy in which teachers focused on geography, outlining, spelling, and good manners.

    That’s the one I grew up with. To this day, I can remember how to make formal introduction,and I’m a helluva good outliner!

    And yes, now it seems as though the educational pendulum has swung entirely too far in a different but equally goofball direction.

    Although again, it’s not surprising: kids who learn grow up to be adults who turn their backs on what and how they were taught….

    As for teaching: I miss the in-classroom interaction — but it’s sooooooo nice not to have to deal with it every day.

    (And I tell myself that even though I’m no longer directly “teaching,” I’m still doing something good for the world with my one-woman crusade to persuade people that history is interesting. Really, it is!)

  7. Lex,

    Great article.

    You made me think of when I signed my son up for little league and was told that they didn’t keep score because “every child is a winner.”

    He didn’t last long in that league because of his natural competitiveness.

    Jeff

  8. Maureen, wouldn’t it be lovely if enough people with enough clout could jump off the pendulum, take a breath and just think for a while? Bandwagon Syndrome: caters to fear, kills rationality.

    I love history, all kinds. I used to tell my classes the story of Henry VIII and his wives and children as a Western, “Hank and the Six Lonely Gals,” as a lesson in graphic notetaking and an introduction to Elizabethan life and literature… in fact, I’m not certain if you can teach anything effectively without history and context.

  9. Wow, i was sure that at least one person would tell me how misguided and wrong i am.

    I have no idea what philosophy my teachers were operating under, but i know what philosophy my parents were operating under: an A is the baseline; the teacher is almost certainly right; and school comes first. I don’t remember my feelings entering into the equation at all.

    I taught in Korea and was astounded by the level of respect paid to even English-monkeys like myself. VP’s at Korean Air would bow to me on the street, because i was considered an integral part of raising their children. Once, i thought i was going to be in serious trouble because a mother walked by the classroom while i was punishing her son (not hitting him, making him stand on his tip-toes with his nose in the center of a circle i drew on the white board…i’m applying for work at Guantanamo). After the class ended, the mother came to thank me for disciplining her son…thank me!

    Jeff, that’s the silliest damned thing i’ve ever heard. Winning isn’t everything, but it’s fun and there’s a lot to be learned in both the winning and the losing.

    Maureen, no need to convince me that history’s interesting.

  10. Oh, no, Lex, we’re all going to tell you how wonderful you and then insist that you express your feelings — right after we give you a prize just for showing up.

    (That was, ahem, sarcasm and supposed to be, ya know, funny….)

    I long for the day when someone, anyone, will just say STOP! I need to THINK for a minute.

    I’ve been amused lately by the media, who seem truly baffled by Obama’s insistence in taking the long view of the current economic situation. As in “We can’t fix this in five weeks. It may take five years.”

    The talking-head-anchor types sit at their desks and scratch there heads trying to figure out how to assess an event or idea from a perspective longer ago than yesterday.

    Only way to get everyone off the short-term-fix-it-fast bandwagon is to march everyone back to school and indoctrinate them in the historian’s mantra: Take the long view of the big picture.

  11. I’m happy because i’m special.

    Stop and think? Take the long view of the big picture? I’m nearly ready to question your patriotism, Maureen.

    I’d wager that at least 80% of our problems stem directly from short-term thinking, which is almost always a product of the “me, me, me” self-entitled thought process. For example, our refusal to change our environmental ways pretty much boils down to being unwilling to sacrifice any short-term “happiness” for the benefit of the long term. Funny how willing our society is to pass the buck to our inherently special children.

  12. And I’ve told my students … well, I don’t actually have any students, but if I did, I would tell them, “It’s not my job to turn you into intellectual weaklings. If you want to do that on your own, help yourself.”

  13. When I returned to school to get my Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I was surprised to find that the day before the test we went over what was going to be on the test. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was in school anything mentioned in class, written on the board or in any book assigned was fair game for the test. I never showed up for the review class again. I always thought that a test was to determine what I knew not what I had crammed for.

    The next year our anatomy teacher (an MD) quit due to student complaints. It seems that her tests were too hard and required too much detail in the answers. As the student representative people asked me why study classes weren’t offered. I responded that the school assumed that since you had graduated from college that you knew how to study.

    Absolutely unbelievable. I graduated at the bottom of my class with a 3.69 GPA and one of the few who had finished patient requirements. Just because you can pass a test where they give you the answers the day before doesn’t mean that you know what you are doing.

    I fear for the future of this country.

  14. My father once told me when I brought home a mediocre report card, “Your not in school to earn grade recognition your in school to learn what you need to know to move forward in life. Do your very best that is all I ask.” That advice served me well indeed.

  15. Lex,

    You learn many more lessons from losing than you do from winning. That being said, winning is pretty important. I wouldn’t want to come in second place in a 2 man freeze out poker game:)

    Jeff

  16. Darn those no-good kids with their i-pods and their Nickelback and their hula-hoops and their fax machines! In my day we had to walk to school, by gum! In the snow! Up hill! Both ways!

    Really, granpaw Lex, put your teeth in before you start shouting “Get off my lawn!” You’ll scare the neighbors again. And while you’re at it, grab a seat on the clue train, dad. Students are just like everyone else – they do what works. And when these parents are shelling out big bucks for a sub-standard education, you can expect a little yelling from them, too.

  17. Student:

    I could try to teach you how to think, but it would take a long while, and this forum isn’t best suited for it. My suggestion is to read anything and everything by Plato that has Socratic dialogues in it. Then move on to the rules and mathematics of logic and explore logical fallacies. Then take some rigorous science and math courses. Then, perhaps, a course in semantics and one in motivational psychology. When you’re done with that, you’ll know how to think, you’ll know when you know enough to draw a conclusion and when you don’t, you’ll know enough to avoid falling into old thinking traps, and you’ll understand the effect of language and psychological tendencies on your own thinking process.

    Good luck.

  18. AlanSmithee:

    Yeah, I think you’re right to point out that Lex could have fit the word “whippersnapper” right in here and no one would have noticed. But that doesn’t make him wrong. Coincidentally, I had coffee with a mom whose daughter is at the flagship university here in my state, and is in the honors program taking almost all honors courses. Her daughter recently said the same thing to her: “The people in my classes don’t know how to think. How is it possible to have any sort of meaningful classroom conversation if they don’t know even the basic rules of logic?”

    So, that’s a comment from a well-educated young lady who’s currently an undergrad at a major university. It would seem that old codger Lex isn’t the only one who has noticed this phenomenon.

  19. AlanSmithee,

    An education is the result of what one puts into it, not what one expects to take from it. You could go to a fourth tier public university (or no university) and come out well educated. But if you expect to be “educated” it won’t matter if you go to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale; chances are, you’ll come out an idiot.

    I have no need to yell at the damned kids to get off my lawn. That’s what the punji pits and bouncing betties are for. Some lessons are best learned the hard way.

    That’s a good syllabus, JS. I can make it even simpler: read, read, read…find people to discuss what you’ve found in books…if you don’t know something, look it up.

    Valkyrie: Grades are not everything, and you’re correct that questing after grade recognition does no real good. But that’s the problem here: people expecting grade recognition. It is one thing to know and operate under the knowledge that the effort and process are what really counts; it is another to suggest that the effort should be quantified for the sake of grade recognition.

    I never had much use for grade recognition, because in the house i grew up in an A was expected and anything less than an A- was not tolerated. But when the A’s came without any real effort, it became clear that they meant very little.

  20. wow. pretty harsh. anyone who feels that much contempt for their students would do well to find another line of work. Lex’s article seems to gesture at establishing a cultural context for the issue of ‘entitlement’ but it’s merely that: a gesture, nothing more. a thoughtful response to the situation might include some reflection on the influence of an ADHD culture of consumption which craves nothing so much as superficial passivity.

    there’s a fair amount of ‘sniveling’ on this thread as well– which is instructive. the suggestion that education really ought to be reserved for those who appreciate it. life is a zero sum game, it appears. shades of Herbert Spencer!

    let me suggest that if you are employed by a university in the US today you essentially work for a corporation. the neoliberalization of the university is complete. students are sucked into the system, tagged with a number, and fed into an apparatus that has little regard for their worth. if they’re lucky they’ll run into a teacher who isn’t a burn-out or a crank, someone who, against the odds, will attempt to provoke them. but because the process of education is largely a matter of providing for the needs of capital– the transmission of baseline technical skills for a thrilling career in ‘financial services’ or ‘sports marketing’– many students will simply jig that bankrupt system, get their piece of paper and do the best they can. blaming them for this reasonable-enough strategy is not only sanctimonious it’s counter-productive. the source of the problems besetting college education in the country lies with those who run it– an admin managerial class who think the term ‘human’ indicates a resource and a decadent professoriate who can’t be bothered to get off their tenured asses to interrupt a process that with a few momentary pauses ( ex. the attack on Clark Kerr’s mulitversity) has been grinding on inexorably.

    • equiano: I know nothing about you from personal experience, obviously. But I’d bet the house that you’re not a teacher.

      I say this because you’re right on in principle, but your perspective extends not a millimeter into the realm of the lived experience of those who are teachers. Let me tell you why I say this.

      For starters I was a professor. The time, energy and sheer pain I devoted to preparing for this career is mind-numbing. And once I got there, I realized that the game had changed in ways I simply couldn’t deal with. So, as you recommend, I got out. Which is perfect, except for one little thing. I was good. I was committed and dedicated. Ask some of my former students – I was engaging and challenging and I’m still in contact with a number of them.

      But this isn’t about me. Obviously a number of my former students – and I’d include here probably a majority of those I dealt with in my last year teaching – would tell you that I wasn’t very good. So the question is, I guess, who do you believe. The average freshman or every single teacher I’ve talked to about the subject?

      I know we tend to exaggerate. We say “all the time” when the truth is “sometime,” and we say “everybody” when we mean “three or four people who share my opinion.” So I want to be clear that I am NOT EXAGGERATING HERE. The “entitled student” argument that Lex lodges, and that I concur with, is something I have talked about with a lot of teachers and professors (and former teachers and professors), and I’ve also talked about it with a lot of business people who manage employees from this same cohort.

      EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, WITHOUT EXCEPTION – 100%, not 99.9% – have noticed it and have had problems trying to understand it and deal with it. Not all have despaired as I did, but all of them talk about what it has meant trying to adapt, or cope, or whatever they have felt they needed to do.

      If they were saying the opposite, I’m smart enough to conclude that it’s just me. In fact, I conclude that something or other is just me every week or two. But this isn’t just me. Lex isn’t just right, he’s gospel.

      No, we’re not talking about every single student. Even in my last year, the one that caused me to run screaming, I had a few outstanding students, and I’m grateful that I still hear from them on a regular basis. But compared to the classes I taught seven years earlier, there were fewer of these outstanding exceptions. And the ones that made you wish you’d chosen another line of work were more numerous by far than before.

      You’re half right about whose fault it is, though. It’s absolutely true that we can’t blame the kids for what we’ve done to them. And your “admin managerial class” has constructed a system, for brutally cynical political reasons, that seeks to annihilate critical thinking in favor of job training. But laying the blame on a professoriate that was doing a far better job less than a decade ago, that just tells me that you know precious about what actually goes on in a college.

      Unless you believe that thousands and thousands of highly educated, dedicated professionals just got stupid overnight. In that case, we should talk. I’ve got some bottomland in the Everglades that I’m looking to sell…..

  21. a thoughtful response to the situation might include some reflection on the influence of an ADHD culture of consumption which craves nothing so much as superficial passivity.

    Right. Of course. But that would be a different post for a different purpose, wouldn’t it? This article strikes me as a visceral, immediate response to “wrongness” – and initial anger can, in the right kind of person, become the impulse to dedicated action. Surely there’s room for a multitude of perspectives on this subject?

    I have no tenure, nor the prospect of any, in my chosen profession. And yet I still miss it terribly, every day, and hope to spend many more years toiling in the mud huts beneath the ivory towers because the intrinsic rewards are so great – for me. I know the cranks and the burnouts and the clockwatchers don’t feel that way and possibly never did, and I agree that there’s no place for them in a healthy educational system. I hope you understand that those same cultural imperatives you feel weren’t adequately addressed in the original post (and by the way, someone in the thread mentioned them) are accelerating the burnout rate among the teachers and professors who do care, immensely and passionately.

    If parents, as manufacturers of the results of that “ADHD culture,” send their shoddy products to me for refining, there is only so much I can do with them. Do I blame the product? Of course not. I blame the manufacturer. But there the product sits, alive and human, and I have to try.

  22. Profs don’t test knowledge or creative thinking or originality or analysis. They test ability to do format presentation. Universities are just supply depots for corporate drones. To get high marks in liberal arts courses, just structure your essays according to the format prescription. Don’t bother thinking or taking any interest in the subject. The students getting the high marks don’t care about the subject; they’ve learned the one lesson: format presentation.

  23. That’s right, blame the students. As far as entitlement is concerned, THE RICH, not the students, are people who believe they do not have to earn what they get. They believe they deserve what they get or what they want: They are owed it because of who they are, not because of what they do They get billion dollar bonuses because they believe they are entitled to them, damn the economy.. Students at university are not your future drones that you can exploit (imagine them telling their bosses that trying hard should be factored into getting a raise.) Damn straight, they should get a raise. Universities are not there so business can fill up with exploited and overworked graduates. After paying $30,000 for a graduate course you’d better believe they should be getting “A”s. If universities were tuition free you might have a point, but railing “against entitlements and for the meritoracy” makes you look spectacularly foolish. The only people who believe they are entitled are corporate CEOs, and they have made such a mess of things because of their greed and stupidity it is unbelievable that anyone should even think of a meritocracy to justify their criminal acts. It is only lousy teachers who blame the students for poor performance.

    • Yes, Antonio, student = consumer. You should be able to buy a degree (and the great job that you get upon graduation). This is exactly how our nation’s elite thinks, I’m sure, and if there’s an American who agrees with you more than George Bush I can’t imagine who it would be.

      Congratulations. You just won our dumbest comment of the week award. Which is commendable, given some of the Illuminati silliness that we’ve had from Ubertramp.

  24. I bet I could make a fairly accurate estimate of the relative ages of the various commenters by now.

    And if JS offers to teach you how to think, you should take him up on it. You should also sign up for my adjunct course called “Every Barfight, Every Time: Post-Debate Survival Tactics.”

  25. Here in Mark Sanford’s Sloth Carolina, sometime back there apparently was a secret educational experiment tired out on gthe high school population: tell every bipedal, non-drooling, non-knuckledragging student that his/her IQ is around 140, and maybe they will start acting like they have some brains. It worked. Now, sans the actual brains, they act like they are almost geniuses and demand to be recognized as such, sans proof (the tests–ahem–certify attainment.). I have dated quite a few people who tell me that this is their IQ level, or who tell me that their drunken, monosyllabic, party-dog brother or sister possesses such a high IQ. The incidence is too high for me to think that they are knowingly lying, so I have concluded that someone actually did tell them this BS in an attempt to shock or ‘power of suggestion’ them into what amounts to an evolutional quantum leap forward. But only the attitude changed and the ‘dumbth’ became petulantly entitled to good grades and success. Sanford must have been in the pilot group.

  26. You know, Sam, I think student DOES equal consumer, but not in the way most think. When you go to a hospital, you are a consumer, but what you expect for your money is health/life or, at least, their best effort at producing that. You don’t expect, or even want, to be allowed to lie around in bed all day without any painful procedures if that means being sick or dying.

    I think a college education should be the same way. You pay to come out a better, more powerful, more creative, more logical, better thinking person, right? I think if colleges don’t do that for you, you’re being taken for a ride, even if what you THINK you want is to run up a $200,000 bar tab on daddy.

  27. An education is the result of what one puts into it? You got that right, grandad. No one is gonna learn jack from the tenured morons moldering away in our oh-so elite universities. You gotta go in there and FIGHT for an education, and that INCLUDES GRADES. Figgur it out yet, granpa Lex? It’s a freakin’ TACTIC, like when you publish some crappy text book and require all your students to buy it.

  28. I don’t know that colleges can do that for you. You’re paying for an environment. The student still has to make the most of his/her environment. Sure, the university will take daddy’s $200,000 and let junior leave as not much more than a bi-pedal ape, and that may be a problem…but it’s a separate problem.

    Junior has to apply himself and want to learn. He has to make the most of his environment. And if Junior really wants it, he can get it from a much less expensive university…or even from the local public library. In effect, that $200,000 is supposed to go into Junior via the university.

    So if the concern is not getting your money’s worth, the anger should be focused on the student who was given every opportunity and did nothing with it.

    P.S. I’m not that old…just practicing for nothing to do but rock on the front porch with an old sawed-off full of rock salt. I’ll grow out my beard to unimaginable lengths…something to stroke during misanthropic musings between firing on kids who mess with my garden. Ah, those will be the days.

  29. @Dr. Slammy: Thanks for your reply. Actually, I am a teacher. I don’t doubt you know many other teachers who are frustrated by their students’ apparent lack of engagement and sense of privilege. But it seems to me that this frustration is largely a response to a symptom of a much deeper problem. Look at the posts that have followed my own: almost without exception students are identified as consumers. The University is a kind of glorified Burger King– have it your way; take it or leave it. And why wouldn’t students respond to the educational system in this fashion? Every aspect of our lives is now quantified and considered according to a a debased economic model. Did we get our “money’s worth”? How much has the Iraq war “cost” in terms of “blood and treasure”? Ad nauseam. The methodologically suspect study produced by UC IRvine then becomes an opportunity to sing the praises of “individual responsibility”– that social conservative’s talisman which magically erases structural determinants and unacknowledged ideological commitments. Ann had it right when she used the phrase “shoddy products”– exactly the language that Mario Savio uttered in his gears-and-levers speech in Sproul Plaza during the FSM. The difference is that 40 years later– saturated by a culture incapable of expressing itself as other than an appendage of capital– students no longer seem as inclined to resist. They call this passivity “realism.” Student “entitlement” is a function of a society built by people who have been trained to think like grocery clerks and don’t even know it.

  30. It’s what kind of tactic, AlanSmithee? What, are the “moldering morons” trying to keep the kids down? You don’t have to fight for an education; you have to put a lot into it, but that’s not the same as fighting. And if the student is smart, he realizes that it’s a crappy textbook not worth owning and borrows it from the library…some fighter you are, doing what you’re told to do and then complaining about it.

    By the way, what am i supposed to figure out? Furthermore, your grandpa schtick doesn’t offend me. And Alan Smithee is a very apt moniker considering the quality of your comments.

  31. Lex:

    I disagree. The Marines do a very nice job, I think, of turning out semi-elite soldiers, and only a small percentage of their enlisted recruits fail to make it through basic training or, for that matter, more advanced training. I think colleges should just flunk the AlanSmithees of the world right out, the way the Marines would wash him out of basic training IF he doesn’t buckle down and work his butt off.

    If the Marines fail to turn out good soldiers, they do a disservice to both the soldiers (who are more likely to die in battle if they don’t know what they’re doing or aren’t physically up to it) and to the nation, which needs good soldiers. If our colleges fail to turn out highly skilled intellects, then they fail both the students and society as a whole — in other words, both their customers.

  32. I can’t believe someone caught that. Savio’s analogy is as valid today as it was forty years ago.

    My rather vague point was that even the people who search for the first causes of social conditions tend to frame them in the language of their current environment, either unconsciously or in an attempt to establish common ground with a wider audience. While some commenters here are certainly the “passive realists” you describe, I know that many of the ones discussing education as a form of economic exchange are not, nor do they see the world (at least consciously) in those terms … but they are using the language and currency of the diseased construct, aren’t they?

  33. Aside from the…’I deserve it all’…attitude the current economic situation will come as a real shock to many students. This will be the first generation of graduates for a while that will not be able to walk straight into a job. They will find out how ‘unspecial’ they are.

  34. Regarding higher education- I believe the problem is we have too many kids who haven’t been given the chance to “grow up”. That means tasting work and its consequences (good and bad).

    At my previous job in the military I was an Academics Chief at a schoolhouse for Sailors working with the Marine Corps. While there were still a few entitled kids that expected good grades just for showing up, we had largely broken that thought process in boot camp.

    Point is- not everyone needs to go to college at 18.

  35. You’re right, Bob, and your comment @39 dovetails nicely with your comment on the GED/PHD thread…where you were also correct.

  36. I don’t know why my previous post was deleted, but if I offended the S&R gods, I apologize. But I can’t for the life of me think what I said that would offend them.

    So, let me try again. I responded to Lex’s saying that he didn’t know if colleges could do that (“that” meaning insist that grads come out with certain meta-skills) and I disagree. I used a Marine Corp analogy. The Marines insist that the people who go through their boot camp and combat training course end up as semi-elite soldiers. AND, they manage to get a very high percentage of recruits through boot camp. If you don’t happen to make it, you flunk out.

    I don’t see why colleges can’t be the same way. If, at the end of your four (or 12 or whatever) years there, you can go through a rigorous battery of written and oral examinations to prove that you have acquired and can apply high-level thinking skills, you get a degree. If you can’t, you get a certificate of participation. If you want to go to college and treat it like a buffet, spending all your time in the desert section, it’s not unlikely that a certificate of participation is all you will get. If, on the other hand, you take a curriculum designed by the faculty that has rigorous standards, then you are extremely likely to get a degree.

    And, whaddaya know? The degree, in this case, might actually mean something.

  37. Way back when (you know, when we still trudged six miles through the snow to get to a job), in the 1980s, I decided to go to college (I was in my 30s) and then to grad school, where I paid my way, as is typical, by working as a “teaching assistant.”

    I thought it was all pretty weird: I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and was expected to learn on the job. And yet there I was, “teaching” undergrads, who would pay for the privilege of listening to me for an hour a week.

    Two weeks in, and a couple of fundamental truths slammed down hard:

    1. About a third of the students had no business being there. (Not a criticism of them, by the way. I’m not cut out to work on airplane engines or cook in a restaurant.)

    2. Professors and students landed at the university with diametrically opposed goals and aspirations. Neither was “wrong.” They just weren’t in synch.

    Professors are professors because they want to devote their lives to tackling various “intellectual” problems (physics, philosophy, chemistry, whatever).

    The students, however, were there to get a degree, which was, in their minds, a step toward a job.

    There wasn’t anything wrong with either goal — but they didn’t and don’t have much to do with each other.

    The philosophy professor wants to explore “ideas,” and wants the students to do the same thing.

    For the most part, however, the professor’s students aren’t in the class because they’re interested in philosphy; they’re in the class because they need the class in order to complete a course of study that will lead to a degree that will lead to a job. (Again, nothing wrong with that.)

    No surprise, the twain rarely meet. And the result is, well, a less than satisfactory structure for “higher education.”

    But stepping back to look at this “conflict” from a longer perspective:

    The “university” is essentially an intellectual and social construction that dates back to the middle ages (with some alterations along the way).

    The “student,” however, is a social and intellectual construction of the 20th century.

    Whatcha gonna do?

    (Answer: revamp the social, intellectual, and professional construction of the “university.”)

    (Who wants to go first? Professors? Administrators? Legislators?)

    Finally: I don’t think us old farts are necessarily blaming today’s students for their sense of entitlement. I’m sure not.

    As I noted earlier (waaaay back in this comments thread) , the dumbasses who run colleges of education. (Who, by the way, are people my age….)

    But if we subject a kid to 12 years of a goofball educational philosophy that totally out of whack with the adult world, what we get are a bunch of old farts who are frustrated with the young whippersnappers, and whippersnappers who feel (rightly so) misunderstood.

    We oldsters can hardly expect the youngsters (god, what an awful word) to get with OUR program, when they’ve been raised according to a different program.

  38. JS: I said that they couldn’t do that for you, not that they can’t do that. The Marines sign up voluntarily for boot camp; they know that they’re going to get their asses kicked but accept it for what they become through the process. We’re delving into the dissection of words here, because i admit that in a very real sense the university (or the Marines) does do it for the student (enlistee) through the process, but i maintain that the student must commit to the process.

    I don’t expect to see universities failing people out who don’t commit, if only because they’ve fallen into the idea that higher education should be run on a business-like model. I don’t think that they should operate that way, but i do understand why they operate that way. And here we are again at the student as consumer (or parent as consumer, depending on who’s paying the tab). It’s a terrible word for the situation, as you don’t really consume an education and the using the word enables a thought process where-in going to college is similar to a trip to WalMart…and that’s ugly.

    If it makes you feel any better i’ve had a few comments disappeared on this thread too…and i wrote the piece.

  39. Lex and JS, both of you have comments in the spam filter waiting to be approved. No disappearing, just delay. Our unspammer may be busy with, you know, a life or something. 🙂

  40. Ann:

    Mine and Lex’s comments go through a spam filter? Wow.

    Lex: But universities have more than one consumer. Society as a whole, and businesses especially, are consumers. In my perfect world, businesses would track skills and progress of grads from colleges, and simply refuse to hire from those schools that turn out grads who don’t think well. That would cause a bit of a stir in college faculties, don’t you think?

    In my less perfect world, colleges that currently are “McColleges” and are forced to scrounge for students would, as a competitive move, offer a special degree that certifies high-level thinking skills, and perhaps even offer a money back guarantee to businesses that hire a grad but find that he/she does not have the special thinking skills the degree guarantees. That special degree would then devalue the regular degree, driving more students into the rigorous, special degree program. Eventually, other colleges would be forced to follow suit.

    • Our spam filter can be a mystery. It has a blacklist function but no whitelist, and some people it simply refuses to let through no matter how often we’ve approved their comments. I’m sure there’s a logic in it somewhere, but we haven’t deciphered it yet. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  41. Inconveniences happen, like having to deal with a prof who asks “way too much” of you. That’s just life. Besides, getting caught in a spam filter is hardly as bad as, say, being banished to Siberia or getting a C even though you went to class every day.

    • Inconveniences happen, like having to deal with a prof who asks “way too much” of you.

      I gotta tell you, about 99% of my classwork was an inconvenience. Like this one intro class where I was assigned 14 books in a semester. This was a HISTORY class, by the way. During the same semester I had a lit class with about the same reading load. And then there were the other three classes I was taking…

      Very inconvenient.

      If I’d assigned that kind of load to my students I’d have had parents of half the students on my ass by sundown.

  42. Dr. Slammy hit it right on the spot: There are many, many talented teachers out there who aren’t teaching anymore. They walked away. And this is a HUGE part of the reason why.

    In 10 days I will turn 50. Last year I had an epiphany and decided that it is never to late. I have a 2 year degree I received after coming out of the United States Army (1977). I am the oldest in my classes. I have a 4.0 GPA. and was told by my the university, oh we don’t pay attention to that, because I missed too many classes serving my country in AmeriCorps. My psyche teacher gives us videos to watch which are ALL dated in the 1950’s and walks across our desks screaming like a banshee (and i Love his classes) but the content has taught me nothing but that I can SURVIVE the BS.

    My advanced English classes for each semester gave us books that were outdated (subsequent text books were already published and available. But the instructors were instructed to get rid of the books.

    Except for Algebra, every class I am in – the content is subject to interpretation. My instructors are r ALL under 30 and receive their curriculum from some place on line and (in fact) have no idea what it is until the first day of class when it is handed to them.

    As your student, you damn well better explain to me why I did not receive the grade I thought I should receive. If you can give me an acceptable explanation, i.e., I never showed up for class, then I will accept that, but don’t hand me a damn test to decide my fate.

    Incidentally, one algebra instructor told us to buy a scientific calculator. Then would not let us use it in class. However, he used one every minute that he stood in front of us (and suggested we forget what was in the 200 dollar book he required us to purchase.

    Its a damn racket!

  43. MsSnooty:

    I read this three times, and I’m still not quite sure about the point you’re trying to make. It would seem that you’re blaming your teachers for something; perhaps suggesting that they’re bad because all the good ones have left, and yet you love your psychology teacher’s classes. But you say his content is BS. But you don’t say what the content of the course might be (there are many, many branches to psychology, and it’s arguably the best developed of the social sciences).

    You go on to say that your English books are “outdated,” yet most English classes are literature classes, and they’re really just a matter of reading primary texts, many of which are quite old, and perhaps one or two secondary sources. Age of text really means nothing in a literature class. So, I don’t understand what you’re getting at, here.

    As for the “content being subject to interpretation,” this is true of most of life. As you know (since you are nearly 50), life rarely presents cut-and-dried issues we can subject to algebraic logic. Tests are there so that the instructor can figure out whether you’ve learned much, and in better schools, where your skill levels (logic, writing, analysis, etc.) might be relative to where they should be. That is the instructor’s means of evaluating what you’ve accomplished. Surely, not all tests are equally useful, but in an “interpretation” situation, they usually provide the only useful data available. To rage against a grade because you didn’t measure up on a test … well, I have little patience for that.

    It sounds to me as if you are not attending a very selective institution. I think you would find that things in the classroom can be very different at one of the US’s higher-ranked institutions of higher learning. If your rant was about the poor quality of education at colleges and universities that are serving students who probably should never be seeking degrees in the first place, then you have my sympathy.

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