Friday, June 1, 2012

There's more to life than black and white.

I recently read a couple articles on grade inflation.  It's something I've seen a lot of, and something that I fight against in my own classes.  A lot of it is prompted by professors who frankly don't give half a shit about their students actually learning something, but just as much is prompted by the students who believe that sitting in the classroom is enough to get an A for the class.

You get students come in (like those detailed in this article) who don't know anything, but have been patted on the head and told that they're brilliant, and fart rainbows for so long that when a college professor gives them an F on a paper because it was an unfocused, disorganized, undeveloped rambling piece of crap that didn't follow the assignment guidelines.  I had one this semester--the paper was a causal argument, but the student turned in a freakin' biography of their niece, all to show her what an amazing person she was.  Touching, but...I don't teach anything that paper would fit the guidelines for.  The third paper was no better.

One of my colleagues told me of a student who, when he was handed back a failed paper with remarks on how to do better on the next one, the student (male) actually started crying, in class.  During my colleague's office hours, the student told him "I don't understand what happened...I've never had problems with writing, before." 

My colleague replied, "Shit, boy, you've always had problems.  Nobody ever told you you did."

Then they take it to your department head.  If they don't get the satisfaction they want there, they take it to the dean.  And then higher.  Until you've got a university administrator breathing down your neck.

If you've got tenure, you've got some security in situations like that.  However, a surprising number of us teaching lower level courses not only don't have tenure, but are at-will employees on semester contracts.  My most recent contract included a new clause saying that my job could be terminated at any time without notice--something that my old contracts written within my department never had. 

So, you get the bright ones that think your class is too easy, and not worth their time or money (about four or so, per 20 students per semester); the ones who are bright, find your class easy, but have never had someone explain how to structure a paragraph or a paper, and are glad they took your class (about 10 out of 20 per semester); and the rest think you should give them an A for turning in unedited vomit that's half the required length, because they're just that fucking brilliant.  And if you don't, God help you.

Almost half my class points (320) come from the blogs.  About a quarter of the rest come from the class forum threads on the class website.  The rest comes from the papers (400-450).  It is not hard to pass my class.  Since I permit one revision on each paper that overrides the first draft's grade, it's not hard to pass my class with a good long as they keep up with the "piddling little point assignments" (and that's a quote from my RateMyProfessor rating).

All these piddling little point assignments are clearly marked in the grade book.  Each student can clearly see how they're doing, and what they have and haven't done.  This is for my protection.  Complaints about busy work aside, nothing beats being able to pull up your grade book, demonstrate why the whiny little bitch of a student has the crap grade, and give the person they went whining to a copy of their paper, and the sample A work I include in the textbook. 

So, yeah: there's grade inflation happening.  Yeah, some of it is done by professors who just want to inflate their own pass rate/average grade to make them look like they're better teachers than they are.  Some of it is done by those who don't want to be bothered by the "but why?" whiners. 

I would be willing to bet that much is done by those like me who like their jobs, and would like to keep their jobs.


  1. Hell that is how high school was out in LA Ca in the 70's. idiots would sit in class not do a damn thing. Get a f at midterm and a d to pass at the quarter and semester. Complete BS. I did my work kept my mouth shut and got a/b. no sweat.

    1. Did they work to get the D to pass, or was it just handed to them? There are school districts out there that don't permit the students to earn an F--the lowest grade a teacher is allowed to assign is a D-, even with absolutely nothing handed in.

      And that's the way the "bonehead English" works at my local university, but the director doesn't allow teachers to give less than a C.

  2. For me it would depend on the subject........I sat on my ass in PSYCH 1-A (College level) and got a C with out buying the text book.

    One's basic intellect dictates what you learn--unfortunately too many students have no intellect and if the teacher has no intellect, the problem gets worse!

    1. A report card post.......

    2. Courses like that, the teacher usually lectures straight from the book: boring as hell, and I'd rather read the book.

      I try very hard not to be that teacher.


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