Thomas Lindsay wrote in the Austin-American Statesman recently about how grade inflation has exploded over the last fifty years. Shortly thereafter, the Statesman then published a fact-check blog post about his op-ed stating that, yes, grade inflation is every bit as bad as Lindsay claimed:
More than 4 in 10 college grades are A’s and that’s way up from 50 years ago, Thomas K. Lindsay of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation recently wrote.
In a Jan. 12, 2013, opinion column in the Austin American-Statesman, Lindsay prefaced his claim by saying students study less than they once did.
“Worse, grades during this period have, paradoxically, increased. Approximately 43 percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960,” Lindsay said.
Could this be the result of a philosophy of education that emphasizes self-esteem over discipline and achievement?
A decades-long psychological survey has found that American students have more self-confidence and self-esteem than ever. Meanwhile other surveys show that students know less, and spend less time studying than they did forty years ago.
According to BBC News:
About nine million young people have filled out the American Freshman Survey, since it began in 1966.
It asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.
This was revealed in a new analysis of the survey data, by US psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues.
Self-appraisals of traits that are less individualistic – such as co-operativeness, understanding others and spirituality – saw little change, or a decrease, over the same period.
Twenge adds that while the Freshman Survey shows that students are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.
And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.
Another study by Twenge suggested there has been a 30% tilt towards narcissistic attitudes in US students since 1979…
“Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself,” says Twenge. “It was considered a bad thing to be seen as conceited or full of yourself.”
This generation was raised to value self-esteem above discipline and achievement. Consequently, students are feeling better than ever about themselves while performing worse. We have become a nation of narcissists.
The unteachable student has been told all her life that she is excellent: gifted, creative, insightful, thoughtful, able to succeed at whatever she tries, full of potential and innate ability. Pedagogical wisdom since at least the time of John Dewey — and in some form all the way back to William Wordsworth’s divinely anointed child “trailing clouds of glory” — has stressed the development of self-esteem and a sense of achievement. Education, as Dewey made clear in such works as The Child and the Curriculum (1902), was not about transferring a cultural inheritance from one generation to the next; it was about students’ self-realization. It involved liberating pupils from that stuffy, often stifling, inheritance into free and unforced learning aided by sympathy and encouragement. The teacher was not so much to teach or judge as to elicit a response, leading the student to discover for herself what she, in a sense, already knew. In the past twenty years, the well-documented phenomenon of grade inflation in humanities subjects — the awarding of high “Bs” and “As” to the vast majority of students — has increased the conviction that everyone is first-rate.
The aim is to protect the feelings of others who have been rejected. This from Christine Rousselle of the College Conservative.
Recently, some schools in New York have banned students from discussing their college acceptances, particularly if they were admitted into Ivy League or top-tier schools. The rationale behind this was to protect the feelings of people who were denied acceptance to prestigious universities. At the Calhoun School,
“seniors have a weekly class with the college guidance counselor, in which they discuss “the appropriate way to share news of acceptance,” said Sarah Tarrant, director of college counseling. “The weekly conversation reins in kids who might run around yelling, ‘I got in! I got in!’ ”
And to that I say: give me a freaking break.
Did I get into every school I applied to? No! Did I weep for several hours upon denial from one of my top choice schools? You bet I did! Did some of my friends get in when I didn’t? Yes! That’s life.
Not everyone is going to get into every school they apply to. They’re not going to get every job they apply for either after school. The fact that schools like Horace Mann, Packer Collegiate Institute, and the Bronx High School of Science all have policies concerning when students can reveal what college they’re going to (or, in the case of Horace Mann, what sweatshirts they can wear) is incredibly disturbing. These are some of the top high school students in the country, and the students who are doing the best, working the hardest, and gaining acceptance into Ivy League schools are essentially being told that their achievements aren’t worth sharing due to the potential bruised egos of their classmates.
The U.S. is in the midst of a self-esteem and grade inflation boom. But a new study out of the University of Pennsylvania, which compares student self-assessment with performance in the U.S. and China, suggests that could be a problem:
According to Young-Hoon Kim, a postdoctoral research fellow in the (University of Pennsylvania) Psychology Department, most people — including college students, professors and 94 percent of high-school seniors — believe they are better than the average person, a mindset that is not only statistically incorrect but also distorts self-perception and can ultimately result in depression.
Kim performed a study recently published by the American Psychological Association comparing the self-assessments of 295 U.S. college students and 2,780 Hong Kong high-school students. He found that students with unrealistic self-perceptions performed worse in school, had lower motivation and experienced more depression than those who accurately assessed their academic performance, even if they were low-performing.
Kim found that his results were consistent with differences between American and Asian cultures. “In America, we try to give positive performance feedback even if children are not qualified, [hoping they] might be motivated to work harder,” he said. “In Asia, you get negative performance feedback even if you did well.”