Are good grades a right?
Unfortunately, college isn’t sixth-grade P.E., where you get an A for effort, though many of us wish it were.
The academic-entitlement complex isn’t anything new. Professors and teachers have been complaining about it for years. But UCI’s study looks at its causes and effects.
The researchers found academic entitlement most prominent among students whose parents expected them to outperform their peers and provided material incentives for academic achievement. Academic entitlement was also associated with an extrinsic orientation toward education that emphasized getting good grades over the joys of learning.
No surprise there. Students whose parents preach and teach the intrinsic values of learning are less likely to feel preoccupied by, and entitled to, good grades. Yet, students who are less preoccupied by grades are also less likely to take high-powered colleges. How many students at top-tier universities didn’t get good, if not perfect, grades in high school?
Four-year colleges tend to have a high concentration of students who want and strive to get good grades. The problem, however, is not wanting or striving to get good grades, but rather believing that good grades are a right.
When students or their parents pay up to $50,000 a year for an education, they expect certain things, not least of which are good grades. For most of these students good grades have always come naturally.
Many high school teachers fear giving honors or Advanced Placement students anything below a B because a lower grade could hurt students’ chances of getting into a good college. Giving lower grades might also hurt a teacher’s popularity. Besides, teachers may rationalize, if the students were in nonhonors classes, they would probably receive A’s. Similarly, professors may rationalize that if their students were at lower-tier universities, they would probably receive A’s for the same effort.
Most bright high school students have to put forth only moderate effort to get a B. Many students at my high school joked that one would actually have to try to get a C. That has become the prevailing attitude at colleges as well. If you work moderately hard, you normally get a B. If you work really hard, you usually get an A.
And if you do absolutely nothing, the worst you will probably get is a C. According to a 2002 study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fewer than 20 percent of all college students receive grades below a B-minus.
With good grades coming with less effort, students begin to believe that good grades are a natural, unalienable right. But really, it’s the right to pursue good grades and the freedom to succeed or fail that are natural. Further, it’s not natural going through school (or life) without experiencing failure or mediocrity, despite one’s best efforts. As my sister says, C’s build character.
When everything comes easy, students become complacent. They believe that everything should come easy, and when things don’t (because they inevitably won’t), they resent it.
As William Damon, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Adolescence, said to Newsweek, “Kids who’ve been given too much too soon grow up to be adults who have difficulty coping with life’s disappointments.”
Researchers have found that feelings of entitlement are associated with maladaptive traits like greed, aggression and lack of forgiveness. The UCI researchers also noted a high correlation between academic entitlement and cheating. Easy grades, in fact, may build poor character.
If students don’t learn how to cope with failure and mediocrity in college, when will they? When their businesses go bankrupt, and they’re pleading to the government for money?
No doubt that our current bailout troubles are partly due to our society’s failure to handle failure.
But when failure is not a possibility, as it no longer seems to be, then success means little.