Phi Beta Cons

Read the Material, Deserve a “B” (At Least)

I’d like to highlight this NYT article about students’ expectations that they’ll receive an “A for effort.” In the category of “important research that confirms our own observations,” researchers at UC Irvine found “that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.” Nearly two-thirds of students in a different study said that the extent of their efforts in the class should be considered when determining their final grade. The article chalks up the sense of entitlement to a variety of factors:

Professor Greenberger said that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offered another theory.

“I think that it stems from their K-12 experiences,” Professor Brower said. “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’“

It’s hard to improve on Michelle Cottle’s almost gleeful scorn, and I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment that “at least part of the blame lies with all those well-intentioned self-esteem-boosting messages that anxious parents, educators, and coaches feel compelled to spout in this era of making every child feel like a winner all the time.” As a parent of school-age children, I see first-hand the onset of “my child can do no wrong-itis” and note its horrific effects on their children’s behavior (believe me, kids know when they are “empowered”). In fact, I pray fervently that I don’t fall victim to the same disease and preserve the ability to see my children as they are — and not as I would like them to be.

It will be interesting to see how much the entitlement mentality persists even in the face of a potential long-term economic downturn. Entitlement mentalities are much easier to maintain when most people seem to be doing well and when companies can sometimes seem downright eager to overlook flaws in their quest to meet the ever-expanding demand for their goods and services.

In an era of cutbacks, the mentality shifts dramatically. Instead of looking for a reason to hire, companies look for a reason to fire — a reason to cull out the worst of a swollen workforce. One response to this new reality may be an increased pressure for inflated grades, as students do all they can to boost themselves on paper. But I think it is also equally — if not more — likely that students are reminded that the work world they aspire to enter is a bit more harsh than they thought it would be and that actual achievement may increasingly be a prerequisite to success.

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