NYTimes article: student expectations with grading


Grading is the bane of teaching.

As a young instructor, I believe that partaking in grade inflation is almost a question of career survival, or, at the least, a way to avoid annoyances from students and administrators. This quarter I switched the grade dispersal to get rid of non-performance credit, i.e. no points for sitting in the seat, with no change in student behavior. Attendance has actually improved.

Only a handful of students are grade-driven, I think, although if one uses the old style "C is average" model, many will complain. A fellow graduate student once described the most defensible reason to give low grades to students, saying, "I give low grades for my amusement -- nothing else." The comment describes the pointlessness and arbitrariness of grading systems.

That said, students have a lot of entitlement ("I'm paying for this!"), as shown in the excerpt below:

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.”
Yes, that's your future doctor. Would you rather have your doctor gain knowledge and decision-making skills with minimal effort, or have him (as above) put in extra effort, not necessarily gain the skills, and still get the high grade and its benefits? Some peoples' reading comprehension is so bad it's like they're not even reading. Some people are not intellectually capable or curious. Effort is no use; this is where the "work smarter, not harder" cliche comes from.

As a person who always did well grade-wise, I tried to put in as little effort as I could into getting "A" grades. This allowed me time to pursue intellectual questions for which I had ample curiosity (usually in literature, history, philosophy, music, and film). Of course, I believe that this model made me more capable and/or creative than "worker bee"-style students. In high school, I surmised that their type-A personalities would be a detriment in their professional lives. I don't know if this has been borne out or not; it's in bad taste to keep tabs on "Oh, he's doing better than me" and so forth.

Effort is overrated. In fact, this is one of the premises of rational choice theory: it's rational to try to gain the most output (reward) from the minimum input (effort). Some act like this is immoral; an intelligent man once told me that it's the best way to keep one's sanity, especially when it comes to work and career, and I do my best to follow this advice.

Consider the rhetoric of disgraced President Bush:

Leaving office with the highest disapproval rating since Richard Nixon, Bush said, “You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”

G. BUSH: When you make big decisions and tough calls, you're going to get criticized. Yes, I -- during the course of this presidency, of course, I've been disappointed at times by the silly name-calling that goes on in Washington. It's really not necessary that it happened. But I've done my best, though, to make sure I didn't bring the presidency down to that level.

Sometimes one's best really sucks. "Hey, I did my best! So what if a few thousand people got killed and people are jobless?"

As an article in The Onion said:

Years Of Networking, Glad-Handing Sabotaged By Coworker's Good Idea

February 6, 2009 | Issue 45•06

SEATTLE—After devoting nearly a decade of his life to brown-nosing and back-scratching every person who might have the authority to promote him, 38-year-old Westlake Electronic Supplies employee Benjamin Golliver saw his professional ambitions shattered Monday by a coworker's single good idea. "I feigned interest in people's children, I took squash lessons, I went on a three-day kayak trip to Puget Sound, and for what?" Golliver asked. "So goddamn Bill Belgiorno could swoop in with his sound, resourceful plan to reduce corporate travel costs and snatch the assistant manager of operations position right out from under me? What a sick, backwards world we live in."


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