Corporate bonuses creating big headache

There’s an old expression still used when someone falls short of a goal while giving it their all: “Give him an ‘A’ for effort.”

  • Monday, March 9, 2009 9:02pm
  • Opinion

There’s an old expression still used when someone falls short of a goal while giving it their all: “Give him an ‘A’ for effort.”

Trouble is, a growing number of high school and college students believe their effort should determine their overall grade.

“There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade,’ said James Hogge, associate dean of Vanderbilt University’s school of Education. One University of Maryland senior told the New York Times “I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade. What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

What else is there? How about performance? How about results?

The Times cited a University of California Irvine study of 839 students, where a third believed that they should receive a ‘B’ just for attending class lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a ‘B’ if they did the required reading.

At Harvard, the average grade-point average on a 4.0 scale in 1890 was 2.27 (a “gentleman’s” C). By 1955 it had inched up to 2.55. But by 2004 it was 3.48. Another study showed that grades have been rising by about .15 every decade since the 1960s (did anything go right during the latter half of that decade?). What was then a C is now a B or B+.

Most high school teachers will tell you that some of their students and their parents are willing to challenge a teacher’s authority and pressure him or her to raise grades. One reason: the increasingly intense competition to get into a good college or to make the dean’s list once you’re there.

But here is my theory. We’ve convinced ourselves that getting involved in something not only makes you a participant, it makes you a “winner.” When I was a kid playing little league and intramural sports, the players each got a handshake and maybe a certificate at the end of the season, while the best player or two (offense and defense) got a trophy. Now everyone gets a trophy. Why? Because “everyone’s a winner.”

Do this again and again, both on the field and in the classroom and pretty soon you’ve created a culture of entitlement where students feel they deserve an above-average grade just for showing up.

Wouldn’t we be better off being a little more honest with kids?

At my sons’ school, classroom assignments in lower grades get marked with one of four red stamps. The best work gets an “Above and Beyond!” stamped on the paper, while the stamp for ‘B’ level work says “You did it!” My youngest son noticed that his work was usually stamped “You did it!” while his older brother often got the top stamp. We and his teacher told him that he had to work harder and concentrate more to get “Above and Beyond.” It took some time but eventually it happened, and that is what built up his self confidence. I wonder how many other schools would rationalize giving him the higher stamp early on in order to build his “self esteem” and prevent him from getting discouraged.

We’re living with the hangover of too many people getting corporate bonuses they didn’t deserve, home loans they didn’t qualify for and grades they didn’t merit. All of these modern day maladies could be cured by bringing one short sentence back into vogue in America, for young and old alike: “You get what you deserve.”

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