Sunday, October 5, 2008

College students are SO CUTE!

Salon magazine has a great article about Sarah Palin and the dumbing-down of the GOP (and America) here.

If this doesn't frighten you in preparation for Halloween, I don't know what will.

America has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism, borne, perhaps innocently, of trust in democracy, in the wisdom of the commoner, and the importance of hearing all voices in a country that strives for freedom. Or perhaps not. Maybe disdain for elitist smart people comes from a tragic belief that smart people are not like "us" (which means....hmmm...who? Dumb people?) Or maybe there's suspicion that well-groomed, college-educated, high achievers do not belong in positions of leadership in society. (Danger! Capable person in decision-making position! Danger!)

Even my adult, post-graduate university students, (whose admission GPA, by the way, hovers around 3.8) live under the delusion that utter equality is both achievable and desirable. Taken to the extreme, they think being equal (a noble ideal, to be sure) means being identical. It does not; it means celebrating the differences among us and not considering them signs of inferiority. It means providing for identical opportunities, not identical rewards.

Assigning grades is a notoriusly contentious example of the fine distinction between equality and identicality. Grading, some students believe, is akin to judging them on their score in a rigged game of dice. All who play, they say, deserve an A!

Forgive my ignorance, but who ever told you that college grades were a measure of how hard you worked?

The mistaking of semi-objective measures of achievement for global judgments of suitability, acceptability, (or just about any kind of ability) turns otherwise well-intentioned students into little monsters clawing at my office door, pleading for me to turn back time and to even out all the messy, random, unfair, individual disparities that forced them to mark choice C instead of choice A, as their best friend did.

"You didn't return all my papers on time, so I should get an A." "Other students had better clinical schedules; it is hard, you know, working and going to school. (So I should get an A.)" "None of the other professors gave me a B. (So I should get an A.)" "I was raised speaking another language. (So I should get an A.)" "Well, you know that I was sick during midterm. (So I should get an A.)"

One student actually asked me how she is expected to get the material if it's not written on the slides and she does not listen in class!

WHAAAAAAATTTTT??? Help, Lord!!! I am abandoned in the cruel and savage land of hostile non sequiturs!!!

---- several deep breaths later ----

Peppered with such nonsense from packs of hungry 20-somethings, foaming from mouths full of perfect teeth, what is a professor to do?

For one thing, we should admit it: tests stink as measures of mastery. In nursing practice, or any other profession/job/trade, your effectiveness has zero to do with your ability to sit in an uncomfortable seat and make the right marks on a worksheet surrounded by 40 other people doing precisely the same thing. Professors know this, but students don't, and (in another ugly fact) grades do count for things such as getting into the right graduate school.

There is no elegant solution to this dilemma, so I hope you haven't read this far hoping for one. This insuperable state is the sorry source of grade inflation, and no one's come up with a solution to that yet.

Not even the college-educated elitists.

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