Thursday, February 19, 2009

But I Did My Best!

Michelle Cottle also read this piece in yesterday's NYT about college students' attitude that they should receive A's for working hard and showing up to class. Cottle picked out the money quote from the piece, a real gem from James Greenwood, a senior at the University of Maryland:

"I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade," Mr. Greenwood said. "What else is there really than the effort that you put in?"

"If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?" he added. "If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher's mind, then something is wrong."

Cottle's response:
No, Jason. What would be wrong is if a university trained its students to believe that they were excellent simply for getting up off their futons and doing what was expected of them. Did the reading? Attended class? Stayed up late working on a paper? Good for you, puppy! Sure, you did a craptastic job on that paper--not to mention the final--suggesting that you have no more than a fourth-grader's grasp of the material. But what the hell!? You worked hard. You showed up--even when you had that reallllly bad hangover. You may not have learned much, but you sure did try. Have a nice fat A. And here's hoping it comes in handy when your first employer fires you for not being able to tell your ass from your elbow when it comes to doing your job.
Well said. I discovered in my first semester of college that I was much better at Spanish, theology, international relations, and history than I was at economics. I worked harder in my microeconomics class than in any of my other classes. I went to every lecture, every discussion section (even the optional sessions!), studied hard for every exam, went to office hours, etc. I ended up with a lower grade in economics than in any of my other classes because it's a difficult subject for me. If grades were based on effort, my economics grade would have been my highest that semester. 

Now, of course, there is a slight difference between economics and, say, theology - after all, when you miscalculate the change in a demand curve on an exam, you're simply incorrect. However, if you read all the texts and attend every theology lecture, and your paper shows that you still don't understand Bonhoeffer, it's less a matter of being objectively incorrect, and perhaps there's a little more wiggle room for professors to grade your effort. But why should the two cases be treated differently? If your paper reflects a misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer, why should that be any different from getting an economics problem wrong - even if you tried hard? 


Jonah said...

I was about to write a post on this article, but you basically covered it.

Microeconomics is still the hardest class I've ever taken.

Lukas said...

Funny you say that...Economics is supposedly the "easy" major at Yale--what all the trust-fund babies take.