Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Student Entitlement or the Usual Whining?

Interesting article in the National Post, "'Entitled' Students Expect Better Grades". The thesis of the piece is that students today widely believe that in college moderate effort ought to necessarily translate into good grades:

Most university students believe that if they're "trying hard," a professor should reconsider their grade.

One-third say that if they attend most of the classes for a course, they deserve at least a B, while almost one-quarter "think poorly" of professors who don't reply to e-mails the same day they're sent.

Those are among the revelations in a newly published study examining students' sense of academic entitlement, or the mentality that enrolling in post-secondary education is akin to shopping in a store where the customer is always right.

The paper describes academic entitlement as "expectations of high marks for modest effort and demanding attitudes toward teachers."
It is, of course, the birthright of every generation to complain that kids these days are a bunch of lazy slobs who don't work as hard as I did when I was their age and had to (fill in the blank with absurd task happily engaged in under great duress). The right to whine, however, does not mean that the whine is legitimate.

But, is it?

I'm not sure I would say that this generation is any different from mine, but then maybe we were entitled in the same way. At the same time, taking up the crotchety side of the argument, there is no doubt that many students expect to be spoon-fed and not have to work much outside of the classroom. They think that explicitly assigned readings and homework are all they are expected to do on their own. Further, lectures are not only expected to be miraculous in conveying the information, but also edutainment as lively and engaging as a live theatrical performance.

I've taught at nine different schools including community college, state universities, a Catholic college, private liberal arts schools, and a military academy, so I've seen a wide sample of students from any number of demographic categories and pretty much across the board study skills, by in large, seem not to be terribly good anywhere. Students where I am now, for example, complain bitterly about having to take foreign language classes, something that is purely a matter of putting in the time and slogging through the hard process of rewiring part of your brain. "I'm not good at languages," I hear more times than I can count. Of course, pretty much no one is good at them; it just takes the discipline to put in the time, practice, and drilling. Perhaps that is anecdotal evidence for the claim? Of course, it is not terribly good evidence and I'm not convinced that the sense of entitlement is as drastic as portrayed in the article. The phrase "gentleman's C" goes back a long way before this current crop of students.

so, is this a caricature of this generation, just the newest instantiation of "those whippersnappers", "those kids with their rock and roll music", "those dirty hippies with their drugs and free love" or is this inflated sense of entitlement real and unique to this generation? Is it new? Is it a result of the institutionalization of grade inflation? of an unreasonable tenuring process? of high school preparation? Or is it all just the curmudgeonly kvetching of bitter old people?