Students’ Sense of Entitlement

Paul Conley on flteach kindly provided us with this link to a good article on students’ sense of entitlement to high grades at the university level:

The upshot of the article is that students believe that if they put the effort in, they have to receive at least a B or even an A. The notion that the instructor might judge the outcome of two people’s work differently even though they put in the same amount of effort seems unjust to them.

The origins of this belief are pretty obvious to me. I don’t doubt its existence, I just think it is the expected outcome of years and years of drumming into children that they have to get a college education or they will be failures. When huge numbers of students hit the colleges and universities, there is bound to be an adjustment in what can be expected from each individual amid such a mass of people.

Not that pre-WW II students were of a higher caliber but they did often have the advantage of getting the better education available since not so many went to college and the ones who did were usually from fairly well-off and educated families. We are now getting students from families that have migrated in from other cultures and many are barely literate. The students may be perfectly bright but went to poor schools and had no reinforcement at home for gaining a good fund of knowledge or student skills.

Faced with these students in their classrooms, instructors must have made adjustments. I really doubt they were downward; I just think they had to approach topics in a different way from the old Euro-centric and upper-class bias. That bias was not necessarily unproductive but it did leave a lot of people out. The backlash is seen in the rage of the Neocons, former liberals who found themselves under attack in the 60s b/c they represented that privileged group to those students determined to change society.

A good many of those professors were themselves of working-class and immigrant background and had taken advantage of the loosening of restrictions on entrance to college e.g. the use of test scores over family connections. To their mind, they WERE the fighters and revolutionaries and they were enraged to find themselves cast as privileged and upholding the status quo.

Faced with this backlash, the university lost some of its cohesion; certain departments became welcoming to the newer sort of student and others grew inimical, determined to hold on to the old standards, as they conceived them. To make a poor analogy, it’s like one person telling another that they can enter the house as long as they behave and clean up, while the other says, “The hell with you! It’s my house, too.” The first feels attacked and the latter thinks only aggressiveness will work.

By now, those culture wars may be lessening, but students are feeling more and more desperation to get that degree. For many of them, what is standing in their way is a lack of familiarity with the world of academe: its values, its goals, its standards. Another weak analogy: the kid in high school class who objects to the teacher using a “big word” he doesn’t understand. The teacher says, “But you’re here to learn those words,” and the student replies, “No, I’m here to get my diploma and you’re getting in my way by not communicating with me in a way I can understand.”

Very different viewpoints. I think the article offered some interpretations of this phenomenon that are very thoughtful and not the usual tossing around of epithets like “lazy” and “spoiled”. These students’ idea of hard work is often getting through a course without reading textbooks that anyone in his right mind recognizes as horrible and still passing the tests and writing the papers, all the while working a job and dealing with family issues unknown to the more privileged youngsters in suburbia. They have absolutely no patience with anyone who wants them to see the value of a sound grounding in Greek philosophy. They need a job and the degree is the path to it – end of story, as they would say.

Fortunately, many schools see that purpose and design courses that will allow these students to get their degree and still enlighten them to some degree along the way. The notion that the more privileged students coming into college with a solid prep school education are a better sort than these students is nonsense, given the execrable behavior of our “best and brightest” over the years.

High schools sometimes forget to tell their students who are excelling in that school how different are the standards in suburban schools. The kid who stands out among his classmates at a rural or urban school will struggle mightily in a college environment. More and more schools are finding themselves enrolling large numbers of students of a certain social and ethnic background. The trick is to make sure that those students exit with the same education as at other institutions. But most likely what will happen is just what happens at high schools: those in need of a boost up will get the worst schools, worst curriuclum, worst teachers, and worst administrators.

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