Tag Archives: Grade Inflation

How the secular left made a generation of public school students unteachable

I’m totally swamped with a release deadline tonight, but I noticed that Stuart Schneiderman linked to this article earlier today and I thought you might like it. I chose an excerpt that talks about the well-known problem of students attacking TAs and professors after they get poor grades in order to make them change the grade – without doing any make-up work.

Excerpt:

This pedagogy of self-esteem developed in response to the excesses of rote learning and harsh discipline that were thought to characterize earlier eras. In Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind, the teacher who ridicules a terrified Sissy Jupe for her inability to define a horse (“Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth … ”), was seen to epitomize a soulless pedagogical regime that deadened creativity and satisfaction. Dickens and his readers believed such teaching to be a form of mental and emotional abuse, and the need to protect students from the stigma of failure became an article of faith amongst progressive educators. For them, the stultifying apparatus of the past had to be entirely replaced. Memorization itself, the foundation of traditional teaching, came to be seen as an enemy of creative thought: pejorative similes for memory work such as “rote learning” and “fact-grinding” suggest the classroom equivalent of a military drill, harsh and unaccommodating. The progressive approach, in contrast, emphasizes variety, pleasure, and student interest and self-motivation above all.

It sounds good. The problem, as traditionalists have argued (but without much success), is that the utopian approach hasn’t worked as intended. Rather than forming cheerful, self-directed learners, the pedagogy of self-esteem has often created disaffected, passive pupils, bored precisely because they were never forced to learn. As Hilda Neatby commented in 1953, the students she was encountering at university were “distinctly blasé” about their coursework. A professor of history, Neatby was driven to investigate progressive education after noting how ill-equipped her students were for the high-level thinking required of them; her So Little For the Mind remains well-worth reading. In her assessment:

The bored “graduates” of elementary and high schools seem, in progressive language, to be “incompletely socialized.” Ignorant even of things that they might be expected to know, they do not care to learn. They lack an object in life, they are unaware of the joy of achievement. They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product.

The emphasis on feeling good, as Neatby argued, prevents rather than encourages the real satisfactions of learning.

Of course, the progressive approach has advantages, not the least of which is that it enables university administrators to boast of the ever-greater numbers of students taking degrees at their institutions. Previously disadvantaged groups have gained access to higher education as never before, and more and more students are being provided with the much-touted credentials believed to guarantee success in the workforce. Thus our universities participate in a happy make-believe. Students get their degrees. Parents are reassured that their money has been well-spent. And compliant professors are, if not exactly satisfied — it corrodes the soul to give unearned grades — at least relieved not to encounter student complaints.

I can remember when I was doing my Masters in computer science a few years back when I was taking a course in Network Security. Somehow, I botched the midterm so badly that I ended up with a 14 out of 20. I was disgusted with myself, and pleaded with the professor to give me something – anything – to help me get my grade back up. He gave me a programming assignment that was harder than the midterm, and it took about 20 hours to do. I gave up my weekend and got it done. He raised my grade. Professors are usually willing to give you a break if you want to demonstrate that you have the knowledge. But when you just go in there and complain to get the grade changed without learning anything, it’s just not right.

When you get out into the real world, either you have the skills, or you don’t. Your transcript doesn’t really matter. It’s rare for interviewers to even look at transcripts anymore. Instead, they want to see what you’ve actually done. I once had to do a 20 hour implementation of a multi-user clustered cache for one interview with a CRM company. I had to pass several interviews before they gave me that independent study, and they looked at my code line by line. It was a lot of code, too. Grades don’t matter in the real world. What matters is what you can do. If you can’t do the job that companies expect, they will find someone else – maybe in another country – who can do it. That’s why students should not put so much emphasis on grades. You’re only cheating yourself if you really can’t do the work.

English professor decries the radicalization of the liberal arts on campus

From Pajamas Media, a post by a Canadian English professor at the University of Ottawa.

Excerpt:

When I finally landed a tenure-track position at a Canadian university, I was ecstatic and full of hope — exhilarated by the opportunity to teach students about literature and ideas and to have conversations with colleagues equally in love with literature and ideas. I didn’t realize that my experience as a university teacher of English would have much less to do with these passions than with the distortion of the university’s core mission in the name of pedagogical and political orthodoxy.

To begin with, the student writing that came across my desk left me aghast. I had taught before, but I was unprepared for the level of illiteracy, the stunted vocabularies, near-complete absence of historical knowledge, and above all the extraordinary apathy of many English majors. The most basic of expression rules — the difference between it’s and its, the incorrectness of “would of” for “would have,” the role of the apostrophe or semi-colon, the fact that “a lot” was two words — were beyond the grasp of the majority, no matter how often I reviewed grammar or devised mnemonic devices. And the sheer sloppiness and muddled thinking in the essays, where the titles of poems and authors’ names were frequently misspelled and dates were wildly inaccurate, suggested a fundamental indifference to the subject matter.

Not only was my students’ writing appalling, but I soon encountered their resentment at being told about it. “Who are you to tell me I can’t write?” was the attitude — once expressed in those very words. More than one student insisted that her other teachers had always rewarded her with high marks for her “creativity.” Most believed themselves more than competent. After sitting with one young woman explaining the cause of her failing grade, I was befuddled when her only response was a sullen: “This doesn’t exactly make me feel good.” When I responded that my job was not to make her feel good, she stood haughtily, picked up her paper with an air of injury, and left my office without another word. In her mind, I later realized, I had been unforgivably cruel.

I was up against it: the attitude of entitlement rampant amongst university students and nurtured by the utopian ideology that permeates modern pedagogy, in which the imposition of rules and identification of errors are thought to limit student creativity and the fostering of a hollow self-esteem takes precedence over the building of skills on which genuine self-respect might be established. In the Humanities subjects in particular — and in English especially, the discipline I know best — such a philosophy has led to a perilous watering down of course content, with self-validation seen as more important than the mastery of specific knowledge.

With this philosophy has come a steady grade inflation. The majority of students in English courses today can expect a B grade or higher merely for warming a seat and handing in assignments on time. The result, as I soon discovered, was a generation of students so accustomed to being praised for their work that when I told them it was inadequate, they simply could not or would not believe me. They seemed very nearly unteachable: lacking not only the essential skills but also the personal gumption to respond adequately to criticism.

I wonder what will happen when these students find out that the jobs they feel they are entitled to have have been shipped off to some country where young people don’t have all of this attitude, and where business owners pay a corporate tax rate less than half of what American businesses pay. My guess is that they will blame the very capitalists who warned them not to do what they did.