Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Student Entitlement

As I prepare to grade a batch of exams that I just received, and a pile of papers that I should have finished more than a week ago, I cannot stop thinking about this Michelle Cottle post at The Plank , which she develops from this New York Times article, both of which take on the entitlement that many college students feel when it comes to grades. Their attitude can be summed up thusly: "I come to class and do all the work, I deserve an A." Which is to say that they believe that simply fulfilling the basic expectations of the class warrants an A. Read both pieces, and shake your head in a combination of disbelief and exasperation at both the sense of entitlement and the absence of the idea of quality in the minds of too many of these students, who have grown up in the academic equivalent of Lake Woebegone and who, upon coming to college, are stunned, but more to the point, outraged, that they are not all above average.


Mark said...

I once suggested to my class that I might have to adjust my teaching methods to deal with their sense of entitlement (this was in response to a particular incident with their essay assignments, and shortly after 60 Minutes did a piece on the entitlement generation), and got an angry email from one of them about how I couldn't stereotype them like that. I was not impressed with the argument.
I think the best explanation of the phenomenon that I've seen is that self-esteem is no longer tied to actual achievement, so that students expect to get self-esteem boosts (like grades) even when they don't succeed. Add in the fact that many students are not prepared or equipped for post-secondary education, and you get conflicting expectations between students and teachers.

Steve said...

Speaking as a failed student from a west Texas university, in that I have been known to both read and write for pleasure, I find empathy with both articles. I was constantly amazed by this attitude of academic entitlement so prevalent among other students, particularly the recent HS graduates. In some cases I was somewhat surprised that these students had managed to qualify for admittance to a four-year degree university. I made this observation to a senior professor who (clearly frustrated and embittered) commented that a “pulse” was generally all that was required to get in. Also worthy of note is the seldom concealed anger by the student and his/her representatives when grades are not awarded in accordance with expectations. I would of course never suggest that school faculty and managers come under any pressure whatsoever to ensure that students make passing grades regardless of their abilities.

El Aguila said...

Don't forget Entitlement's sibling, Desperation? "I really need an A in this class or I really need to pass this course." Frequently we hear such statements from students at the end of the semester after they finally realized that he/she should have read the syllabus, done their homework, or maybe just read, etc.

dcat said...

First, all three of you are correct.
Second, at my university there is a third version, (the entitlement to an A, and Desperation being the first two) which is an entitlement of mediocrity. I have too many students who think that if they show up for some of the classes and do some of the work that they deserve a decent passing grade -- not an A, mind you, but enough to let them keep rolling along.
A lot of my students have a smug entitlement about what they should be asked to do, and about how they should be able to act, but not so much on the grade grubbing front like we see with the students in this article. There are times when i wish more of my students showed a deep and abiding desire to excel, or at least to don the accoterments of excellence.
But we do have a Lake Woebegone effect here -- we have an honors Convocation every spring, and an enormous percentage of the student body is recognized simply if they have received any form of scholarship, even though many of our scholarships are thinly guised financial aid. Thus we really do honor an enormous number of students every year, which actually cheapens those students who really do deserve real recognition for real accomplishments.


GoodLiberal said...

I deserved an A in all of my classes, but some professors refuse to recognise ill-prepared, but undeniable, genius.

Anonymous said...

Try community college, not only do I see all these excuses and some, but I run into the apathetic students who simply don't show up until the end of the semester. What makes me the most upset is when student who don't try at all. Who is to blame for this? I've heard so many different arguments. This is an great post!

dcat said...

GoodLib --
But that was their loss. bastards.

Tramaine --
I can imagine you and I have comparable frustrations about those first years especially.
I just had a student show up and try basically to make up the entire semester, most of which she has missed.