Efforts, Grades And The FutureKaren Southall Watts | Contract Trainer, Pacific Community Resources Self-Employment Program
Drip, drip, drip…
Imagine this. You wake up to find your kitchen sink leaking and dripping all over the room. After a couple of minutes of under your breath cursing, you call a plumber. When he arrives you go into your office to clear your email and wait for the dripping to stop and the bill to arrive. About two hours later Mr. Plumber announces he’s done, presents you with a bill for $195 and heads toward the door. But wait.
The faucet is still dripping, and the kitchen floor is still wet and now covered with dirty boot prints. “I’m not paying for this,” you exclaim. It’s obvious the job was not done right. The plumber looks you dead in the eye and whines, “But I tried really hard. You need to reward my effort.”
This may seem comical and unlikely to you, but it’s neither. Over the last couple of years there has been an explosion of articles and discussions online about the issue of grading. In higher education students can be very vocal, and sometimes threatening, when discussing what grade they think they deserve in a particular course. Younger adult students may also have “helicopter parents” adding to the pressure on an instructor to grant a grade that is not truly deserved. How did we get here?
Like many issues in higher education, these discussions are a reflection of what is happening in our culture and society. And while we look for solutions within our academic institutions we must also be prepared for the fact that real answers will require deeper thought and perhaps a bit of social upheaval. The United States, or any other country, cannot compete or collaborate in the global market much longer without addressing the issues around work and merit. The rest of the world, that has so eagerly embraced North American ideas must learn to keep the best (like individualism and entrepreneurial risk) and toss the rest.
In the real world there are no A’s for effort. I have been saying this to students and sometimes business owners for years. The truth is that businesses try to hire the best candidates, clients pay for results and excuses usually get you fired. Our efforts as a society to shield young people and eventually everyone from negative experiences have created an unhealthy dynamic. We expect to be nurtured and rewarded all the time by everyone we meet. This is simply unrealistic. Competition does exist in the marketplace, everyone doesn’t want to be your best friend and everyone doesn’t deserve an A.
One of the problems is that foundation skills are sorely lacking; most students don’t know HOW to study. Being distracted or otherwise engaged while the textbook is open…is NOT studying. I’ve been at this a while, so I am no longer shocked by the total lack of study skills I see in adult students.
For whatever reason (and finger pointing is useless at this time) a huge number of adult students do not know how to:
- Read for the main point
- Take notes in a lecture
- Use a dictionary or thesaurus (paper or electronic)
- Create an outline
- Set up a simple word problem
- Distinguish between fact and opinion
- Plan or organize a project or study session (or daily schedule)
- Correspond or talk with instructors in a professional manner
Academics, no matter what department or role, must intervene when we see these deficiencies. Whether or not you have the time or opportunity to provide instruction in these areas will be a very individual decision. However, if you see a student sorely lacking in essential skills then you should at least direct them to the resources for getting caught up. In the “real world” we need to start making some changes as well, and I expect there to be resistance. Effort, i.e. doing your best, should be considered the norm. As children move from the very young formative years we should transfer our verbal feedback from “good try” to “good job” and then for teens and young adults to “could you improve on this?”
Education is only one ingredient in the recipe for becoming a well-rounded, well-adjusted and successful person. Rewarding effort, especially when that effort is misdirected or half-hearted, with no long-term vision of results may make students feel good now, but it cheats them out of real learning. As educators and citizens of the world we must look forward and ask, “What kind of people do we want running our world?” Do we want families, companies and nations led by people who try but are not committed to excellence? Or do we want leaders who not only try but succeed and when stumped they take criticism, refocus and try again with improved methods?
Author Perspective: Educator