succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kids these days

My initial reaction to this article was "You've got to be fucking kidding me!" but then this blog post pointed out the potential different interpretations of these quotes:

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“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.”

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

Robert, over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money does a good job of parsing the language.

I think what this all boils down to for me is that there are just some things that you are not going to be good at. And that's ok. No matter how often mommy and daddy told you how special you were, there are going to be some things that even with hard work you just may not get. In college, and especially in graduate school, hard work and conscientious effort should never automatically translate into a good grade.

Depending on the subject at hand I have worked my ass off to scrape by with a B- and similarly slacked my way to an A+. Both grades were earned, and both reflected the amount of work that was required of me in that particular subject to earn that grade. Just because I worked really, really hard in my theory class - attended every lecture, completed every homework assignment, attended office hours (i.e., met the standard requirements of the course) does not change the fact that I could not successfully derive higher order taylor series expansions of some expressions. Or that I struggled to keep the properties of various members of the exponential family straight. Awarding me with a higher grade, because I worked really hard, would not only be a totally inaccurate reflection of my comprehension of the course material, but would seriously undermine the higher grades legitimately earned by my peers, who more successfully mastered the material.

Think for a moment what you're asking for when you claim that effort should be rewarded with higher grades. Do you want a doctor who passed his/her boards because she studied diligently but still couldn't diagnose appendicitis? Do you want an airline pilot who works really hard, but struggles with spatial imaging and therefore can't land a plane? Do you want to send your kid to daycare with a teacher who attended every cpr class but couldn't pass the final exam?

Hard work is a necessary component of success, but it is not sufficient. You must also be talented. And you aren't necessarily talented at everything you try. That doesn't make you a bad person. It just means you haven't found the right fit yet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff here... I think this gets back to success... I'll wander a bit here but stick with me and I think it will tie in the end. I recently was thinking on the definition of success. Things fell into place once i realized that success is accomplishing your objectives. If your objectives are to amass a fortune, then doing so is definitely achieving success. If your objective, however, is to have 3 children and not get divorced, achieving that is equally successful. Likewise, if you want to surf every day, well.. you get the idea. SO.. on to this grading dispute. Same deal. Grades should reflect the desired and stated objective of the class - ideally stated in the syllabus. It is entirely possible for the objective to be focused on effort. In that case, the 'hard-working' student will indeed be justly rewarded with a higher grade. That said, I personally don't see that objective aligning with my vision of the purpose of adademia (I purposely avoided the word education there, because it blows everything apart.) Where there is an expectation of aquiring abilities, it definitely does not jive.
With regard to entitlement, I've come to really epouse the idea that 'everything is my fault'. It is true, and it works. I have had instructors, for example, that did reward rote effort and not actual comprehension. This caused issues for me not only because I was more focused on noble comprehension, but also because I was focused on working as little as possible. That said, I took it upon myself to give the impression that I was 'working' hard, caring, interested in the material etc. I thought these were irrelevant tasks that had nothing to do with actually learning, but I gleaned that this is how I would be judged, and responded appropriately. You have to play the cards you are dealt.


10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since we went to the same college and therefore, I also know what it's like to work hard for C's I felt I deserved, I mostly agree with your points. However, here are some things to consider:

1) Struggling to do well in a class doesn't necessarily mean the subject material shouldn't be part of your life's work. Conversely, doing well in a class doesn't necessarily mean you've completely grasped the material. Sometimes the students who struggle and do poorly, who aren't considered "gifted" in the subject, can bring a new perspective to the field once they finally do grasp the material the second or third time around.

2) While you have to take responsibility for your own grades, and that's hard, there is some onus on the professor to teach you the material. Sometimes, they fail because the academic system doesn't allow them enough time to help you. Sometimes they fail because they weren't hired based on their teaching ability and they just don't have a clue how to teach. And rarely, they play favorites and/or don't completely understand the material themselves.

I realize these points fall under the banner of "life's not fair". I also am sympathetic with the plight of professors. But the real problem is a focus on grades, especially in advanced courses.


2:30 PM  

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