I recently stumbled upon an article visiting the idea that today’s students are not “coddled,” but “defeated.” The professor asks his freshman writing class a hypothetical question: If offered an A for not doing any work, the only catch being they would learn nothing, would they accept? 80% of the class said yes, they would forego the opportunity to learn for the sake of an A.
The Student’s Perspective (Mine)
I struggle with this idea. I don’t want to offend the High School English teacher that taught me to love writing and forced me to think constantly and critically. I’d also prefer not to insult the Economics professor that introduced me to a topic I’m passionate about. How do I write this without discrediting the teachers that changed my life? The only answer is by being honest. So…
Honestly, I can’t believe 20% said they wouldn’t take the A. My first instinct was to side with the other 80%. I get an A, a gen ed credit, AND have more time to focus on my other classes? Where do I sign-up???
I asked a few of my friends this same question just to see if I was wrong here. Their answers: A free pass for one class? That would be a nice break. Would it be awful to say yes? My thoughts exactly. I then sent the article to a teacher. The response was somewhat surprising. This teacher did not complain about the experiences in their own classroom. Instead they suggested this poll be given to adults. “School is a microcosm of life,” he told me. Most humans would take this deal because we want maximum reward.
This professor recognizes that today’s student is under pressure to maintain a high GPA, but feels little pressure to learn anything. I challenge myself to get good grades, and to succeed, but typically understanding the material is not my priority. Sometimes as I am stressing out about the exams and papers in front of me, I wonder if I can go back and retake these classes as an audit – getting no credit whatsoever. It would be so nice to learn the material without the pressure of it impacting my GPA. Although, thinking back, I can’t remember the number of A’s I have received, but I can tell you which classes impacted me strongly. The classes I most enjoyed were typically the ones that did not come easy. During my first semester of college, I struggled through an Intro to Microeconomics course that seemed destined to ruin my GPA, yet I am writing this two years later as a Junior majoring in Economics.
So why would I, and clearly others, decline the opportunity to learn? After all, I am paying for this privilege. Students in other countries are literally risking their lives for the opportunity to learn, while I am willing to PAY MONEY to NOT LEARN, if guaranteed an A.
I can’t blame the education system. The school system I went through is fantastic. I cannot begin to express how much I learned there. I love my university, the professors have helped me succeed in learning and becoming career-ready. I do not in any way want to discredit the opportunities that have been given to me. I am lucky and cannot blame the people who have inspired me and shaped me into the person I am.
So Whom Do I Blame?
I could blame the school system for using a scale to imply that a single measurement can convey that one student is more advanced than another. I could blame parents for raising students to be selfish enough to take an A for no work, or the students themselves for not respecting their work enough. (There are also plenty of students who are lazy and don’t care, but I’m not including them here). I am inclined to blame society for creating the idea that an A on a report card is more important than the satisfaction of learning, and to blame students for believing it, myself included.
College applications don’t require you to have worked hard in high school, they do require a certain GPA. Transcripts just show the grade. A – That could mean anything, but it doesn’t matter what is behind that letter. That letter defines the student’s performance for the lifetime of the transcript. In high school, we were occasionally taken out of class to learn best tips for building a resume and getting into college. What message does that send to students about priorities? I do have to say though, it was helpful.
If my Microeconomics professor allowed me to take an A and not do the work, I would have missed out on one of the best classes I have ever taken. I would have done myself a great disservice and wasted my own time and my professor’s. How could I walk into a job interview confidently with a GPA I didn’t deserve? How would I be able to function in the real world if I got through school in this way? I couldn’t.
I still might take the A. Not in every class, that would be a waste. However, for a gen ed requirement that I had no interest in? I might. Thankfully, I have never had a professor actually offer this. I like to think that if I were truly given the option, I would think it through and do the right thing, but I can’t make any promises.