Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A's for everyone

Now that the world knows that John Kerry and George Bush had almost similar grades in college, I say it isn't really that bad. Overall, both men averaged a C during their whole college careers. Both men received a few D's in some of their classes--with Kerry getting more D's than Bush which was surprising to me. They both struggled as freshmen and that's understandable. I remember that I too had a difficult time focusing on studies during my freshman year. The transition from high school was one factor, plus there were all those distractions that were just plain distracting for any red-blooded young man. But then Bush and Kerry pulled their grades up, as I did, as the years went along. Yes, theirs weren't good grades, but I still say it's not bad compared to the grade inflation rampant in many colleges these days. Yes, even in seminary there are profs who are known for grade inflation.

At least back then, the pre-grade inflation era, students knew where they stood: they knew their level and they knew honestly their professors' assessment of them. There are still professors out there who are not chary about giving a B or a C. They'd be the profs with reputation though. And those are the kind of profs whose classes I would want to take. I heard Camille Paglia, a prof who isn't shy about giving a low grade, once give a talk at Harvard saying that during her time, there was something called "a gentleman's C." You did your work, you weren't brilliant at it, you don't deserve a high grade, yet you don't deserve to fail, so you get a C--a "gentleman's C."

That won't work for today's students. Today, students are more apt to challenge a B, or even an A-minus, as described in this hilarious piece by Alicia C. Shepard from the Washington Post. I even heard about a professor in one of the Ivy League schools giving two grades to his students: one grade that will go on the record books as their official grade (mostly A's). And a second grade given privately only to the students, informing them candidly what he really thinks of their performance (usually a lower grade).

Is that a better system? I don't know. For the professor, it's certainly less strenuous physically than racing out of the building to avoid students after she had just posted their uninflated grades, as Shepard describes: "The day before this spring semester's grades were due I bumped into another professor racing out of the building. What's the hurry? I asked. She told me she had just posted her grades and wanted to get off campus fast."

I think it's more fun that way.

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