Friday, June 8, 2012

The Rodney Dangerfield of Philosophy?

I've had a number of unpleasant interactions with students in the past couple of months. One in particular involved a student to whom I had to assign an "F" in an introductory ethics course. Although it was a high F, it wasn't close to a D and there was no way in good conscience to give her the benefit of the doubt--there wasn't any real doubt that this was a failing performance. She emailed me as soon as final grades were released to students, informing me that she does not fail classes and demanding to know why I found it necessary to grade her various assignments unfairly.

(I thought this last was kind of interesting. Not that it's literally impossible, but there's a clear sense in which you just can't accept the premise of the question. It's possible, I guess, that The Joker was going to poison Gotham City's water supply unless you gave this student an undeservedly low grade and that's why it was necessary to grade the assignment unfairly. Or that you were just being malicious; but it seems to me that in that case the unfairness was clearly optional, not necessary. Other than that, it seems to me that if you were really trying to grade it, you were trying to grade it fairly. I feel like there's something akin to Moore's Paradox here.)

Anyways, I wrote back with a set of detailed explanations of the grading of her various assignments--her work suffered from the same set of problems all semester. She didn't listen when I had explained what I was looking for, and kept making the same mistakes. She replied a day or two later with an iPhone screenshot of her report card, showing all As and Bs and one F, and some accompanying text about what a shitty teacher I am, what a shitty person I am, how much more valuable to society than philosophy her major subject is, and which contained sarcastic mockery of language I employed in my previous message. The screengrab was taken at 1:00 in the morning; she sent the email shortly after 5 AM.

I thought for a long time about whether to respond, and if so, how. For example, I thought about telling her to try to see this as a learning experience, so that she could understand how this happened and thereby prevent it from happening again. But a) I wasn't sure that it's really my place to offer advice like that, and b) I didn't think she'd accept the advice coming from me, anyways. I ended up just saying that I understand that she's unhappy with the grade she earned, and then I encouraged her to file a formal appeal with the dean's office if she really thinks that the grade is unfair. She didn't write back. I don't know if she went to the dean.

The reason this exchange stood out to me is this: I got a few shitty grades when I was in college, and I got a grade or two that I thought was unfair, to the point where I actually did inquire about filing a formal appeal or grievance of some sort. But I never even considered the idea of throwing a temper tantrum like this. Of sending an insulting letter to a professor and including a copy of my report card. What in the fuck? And although I don't have anything like a set of empirical measurements that would support this claim, I feel like I've witnessed an increasing tendency of students to treat their professors with what I would describe as profound levels of disrespect. I mean, I don't want to be one of those old people who says, what the hell is wrong with the kids today?!?!?!?!. And I'm open to the possibility that there's something I'm doing that is inviting or otherwise failing to discourage this behavior. So I guess I'll just ask: is there something wrong with the kids today? Is there an increasing level of disrespect? Or is it me?

--Mr. Zero


Hilts 'The Cooler King' said...

Not only is there a greater level of disrespect, but there is also a sense of self-entitlement that is beyond belief. I realize that this phrase is being used quite a bit, but I think it is merited. Have you had to deal with any "helicopter parents"? Once you deal with those, you will have a greater understanding of why these students are so unprepared for school, work, responsibility, etc., yet still believe that they "deserve" the highest awards.

Based on the little information you have provided, especially your detailed response of the student's grade, I would say that you are probably a fine teacher. The problem is finding a way to crack the resilient eggshells of entitlement with which these students have been raised.

Anonymous said...

I do think that there's a increasing level of disrespect. My suspicion is that this has a lot to do with an increasing level of informality in the relationship between teachers and students. Part of that is cultural; school has just become less formal in how we speak to students, how we and they act and dress in class, etc. And a large part of it, I suspect, has to do with the technology we use to interact with students. When you can just shoot an email off to your professor in the same "session" as you email your mom to ask for more beer money, it's not all that surprising that formal associations would start to break down. And when you lose that "awe" (to be a bit hyperbolic) that comes along with a more formal relationship, it's easier to be disrespectful.

Another factor might be the increasing attitude (I think there's empirical research on this but I can't remember where) among students that educators are, in essence, their employees.

Anonymous said...

i wouldn't trust the screenshot. i've had students photoshop their transcripts.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether there is an increasing amount of disrespect, it is our job to teach students respect. A brief, firm email response would be warranted, something along the lines of "This is not how communication is conducted in academic and professional settings." Also, it is a waste of time to try to get through to these students and try to get them to feel better about their grades. That's just not going to happen, so don't fret about it.

Also, it's interesting that she sent you screenshot of her grades. I have learned never to trust students when they say "I get all As and Bs in my other classes." I can access my students' records, and invariably, the C or D I gave them is one of many. Maybe this student just has trouble with philosophy, and got so frustrated, she just lost it. I can understand that -- I once broke a bone in my hand punching a wall after a particularly infuriating music theory assignment (an assignment that pushed me into philosophy). But it could also be that she doctored that grade report :)

Justin from Canada said...

Why are students these days less respectful? To some extent, at least, it must be because they've found they can get away with this in the past (perhaps with the assistance of 'helicopter parents').

And that is only possible because previous schoolteachers and higher education instructors wimped out on them. As far as most of these students know, their behavior is normal, and they are just asserting their rights to a grade they deserved.

They have been implicitly taught by a long sequence of wimps, in other words, that 'unfair' is a good adjective for any poor grade they are assigned, regardless of the actual fairness with which the grades were distributed; and that if they don't get the grade they want right away, they just need to bargain/intimidate/plead for something better. At worst, there's nothing to lose.

The solution, therefore, is quite simple, and it's exactly along the lines of what you did, Zero. We all need to take a hard line with this sort of thing. Ideally, our reactions should also involve some punishment, so that the students walk away with the clear understanding that there _is_ something to lose by this sort of knavery.

I have made some progress on this by telling all my classes near the start of each course how undignified and abhorrent it is for students to whine about their grades, etc. That seems to create some shame and aversion in the students. I really rub it in about what bags of shit those students are, since I'm not saying it about any of _them_, just some other students with a sense of entitlement (who are never named).

If any of them try to pull the stunts you describe, regardless (and they do), I do sometimes point out to them that they are welcome to make a formal appeal, as you mention. But... I point out in the next sentence that they had better have a particularly strong set of objectively compelling evidence for their case if they go that route, since "the dean tends to take these matters very seriously." That last quote, I suspect, is what has deterred every last one of them from trying it so far. And if anyone calls you on it, it's hard for them to complain that it is false or unwarranted. It's never come to that for me, though.

I have also tried to rub their faces in it through the art of socratic questioning. I politely invite them to clarify the particulars, while watching the disincentivizing shame increase:

a) what, exactly, do they mean by 'unfair'? Do they have any evidence that I am 'unfair' by any plausible standard?

b) What are their grounds for calling my judgment of their work into question? Are those grounds strong enough to bring before the dean, or are they pretty flimsy after all?

c) If they admit that their work might objectively merit the poor grade they got but plead that they will lose their scholarship/ have to repeat a year/ have no money, etc., I just confirm what they want me to do: are they asking me to misrepresent their achievements to future employers, etc., and thereby betray the trust those other people have put in me as an educator?


Finally, it _is_ your place to offer the advice that this might be a learning experience for them, particularly after they throw a tantrum. They contacted you about this after class, not the other way around. And given the juvenile tantrums they are throwing, someone has clearly neglected to teach them some basic lessons in the manners and wisdom they need to function as an adult. You might be their last chance!

Anonymous said...

Agree with both posts. Attitude is a blight upon the university. I would never have even imagined of acting this way toward a professor. And I have had similar experiences as Mr. Zero's which resulted in a new policy: I no longer discuss academic work or grades or offer help by email. My students must do what I did: make an appointment to talk! This policy, quite frankly, has been liberating.

Anonymous said...

"the increasing attitude ...that educators are, in essence, their employees."

when did student evaluations become such a big part of the promotion process? this certainly makes me *feel* like i am their employee, and i'm sure they pick up on this.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any problem with how you handled this, but you might try preempting this kind of thing in the future. One thing I do is to let students know that I'm grading the quality of their work and not the quality of their character. Good students sometimes produce bad work, and I don't think that a student who doesn't score well on an assignment is lazy or stupid. The second thing I do is to tell students that at the end I'm going to give them the highest grade I can possibly give them without sacrificing integrity. This just means that I'll round up if there are borderline cases, but I don't tell them that.

When dealing with people complaining about their grades students often invoke considerations about fairness. One strategy I've found helpful in dealing with these cases is to ask the student what s/he thinks would be fair. I haven't yet run into someone who says that the most fair thing to do would be to give him/her free points. Usually the student just sees that there's nothing more I can do to give her/him a higher grade.

Anonymous said...

I was recently a member of a committee charged with looking at academic rigor/grade inflation. What I found interesting-and disturbing-was the divergence in GPA/grade distribution across campus. Some programs had what seemed to be bizarre grade distributions, extremely generous/stingy GPAs, etc. In addition to programs (chemistry, philosophy, finance, etc.) we looked at particular courses-especially those that satisfied GEs. We found a similar range in grading practices in these courses. The upshot was that a student could skate by, taking certain courses/a certain major and have a much higher chance of earning a strong GPA than if she were to take a different course of study. This wasn't surprising, I suppose. Many of the members on the committee suspected that engineering would have a lower GPA than hospitality management. But what was surprising was the degree to which the programs/courses were different. A student stands a ***much*** better chance of getting good grades if she chooses her classes wisely. (If only she had access to our data.) I'm at a fairly good SLAC and I suspect many schools are like ours.

What prompted me to join the committee and engage in this self-study was precisely the sort of student you describe. I've had several students over the years complain about grades in my class, stating that they are "A students." Sure enough, I've given a handful of Ds and Fs to students that have cumulative GPAs of above 3.5. I don't think I'm especially harsh. In fact, I'm on the more lenient-side in my department.

Anyway, I think part of what fuels this sense of entitlement is that so many programs/classes are (relatively speaking) quite a bit easier than the ones some of us teach. Of course, other courses are quite a bit more difficult than our classes. But students' perceptions are surely shaped by the other courses they take. If yours happens to be one of the more difficult that she took, then you look like an unreasonable butt-face. Don't let that get to you. It may have more to do with other profs/programs than it does with you, your reasonableness, or your face.

BunnyHugger said...

I won't respond to students at all when their tone is wildly inappropriate (except perhaps to state that their tone is inappropriate). And if they write me back again after I explain their grade and tell them I have no grounds to change it, I just delete it. There's really no point in getting into a back and forth email exchange about a grade that you have no reason to change, beyond the initial explanation. If they still think it is unfair, they can file an appeal. In all my years no one ever has filed one, though I have had students say they were going to, a couple of times.

Anonymous said...

It's not you. I've seen it, too, with increasing frequency.

I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the modern university system in the US. Schools sell themselves to students with promises of 24-hour, on-demand, individualized service. They then convince students that failure is a mark of bad teaching, not bad learning. (That is, students are routinely asked to evaluate faculty, but are never asked to evaluate themselves or each other, or administration, or other services.) Administrators put way too much value on evaluations, which are little more than scoring sheets for students. Universities sell themselves as job-training factories, and adult day-care centers, and as resort spas for athletes and the idle rich.

I'm surprised more students don't think and act the way you describe that one student.

Anonymous said...

I had a very formal relationship with my logic professor. One could only describe this relationship with a two-place predicate, followed by two very proper names, except that back then you had to call him ‘professor’.

Justin from Canada said...

On the matter of A students earning Fs in our courses:

There seem to be many problems with the students' argument there. First, I've heard from some students from other disciplines (in particular, nursing and business) who took my 1st-year ethics course in their 4th year that they had never had such a difficult course before. This wasn't said acrimoniously, but just matter-of-factly. In one case, the student mentioned having been bored to tears by extremely easy courses in business. All this goes to show, I think, that serious philosophy courses might well be far more difficult than many other courses.

Also, it may be that courses in discipline X (or taught by professor X) are more difficult for _some_ people than those in discipline Y, while other people have a far easier time with X courses. That would also explain the disparity quite easily. If philosophy students would have a hard time in nursing and vice versa, then it would not be surprising if those in nursing programs stuck with it because they had those skills, and would be likely to hit a bump in the road when they take philosophy (especially for the first time).

In either of these cases, the evidential weight of an otherwise high GPA against the current D or F is pitifully small.

But let's consider an even worse scenario. Suppose that professors J, K and L all teach the same sorts of things in exactly the same way, and grade with exactly the same values in mind. A student has taken three courses each with J and K, and earned an A or B each time. Now, for the first time, she takes a course with L, and gets a D or an F. Does it follow that L graded her unfairly, even then?

Clearly not, since there are many other plausible explanations that have not been ruled out. Perhaps the student put forth less effort in this course than in the others. Perhaps the subject matter was less interesting to her, so she never tackled the problems to the same extent. Perhaps the subject matter was _more_ interesting to her, so she had a harder time taking the opposing view seriously. Maybe her strong record of As and Bs led her to have a false sense of security, so that her work became temporarily more superficial. Maybe she initially did some great work for J, who was impressed enough to show it to K, and this biased J and K to see her work as consistently strong when in fact it had dropped off. And so on. Again, the transcript shows nothing about L's unfairness.

So it seems to me that the best response to "Look, I'll even show you my transcript!", is "OK, so what?" Or, if the student righteously asserts "I am an A student!", the best response may be to send back a copy of your F on the paper and say "Apparently not."

Still, perhaps some of the cause of this confusion is a belief among many lay people that philosophy is just sitting around bullshitting, and hence likely to be a source of easy grades. So I think it's good preventative medicine to make clear to students on the first day of class what they're in for by telling them how hard it'll be, how many Ds and Fs you gave out last term, and telling them to get lost if they're not up for it.

You can strengthen your words by having them write a short assignment early on, and return it before the drop date. Give them very low grades and critical comments, and tell them that you were so disappointed, you've decided not to count that grade -- but that this is their last free mistake. I'll bet they'll get the message then.

Anonymous said...

An old thread over at Cooked Timber is relevant.

75 tips is a very good book, but I don't seem to be able to get my students to read it, even though they can access it for free via the electronic holdings at the library.

I had a student call me an asshole for asking him to re-write a paper. (I thought I was offering him a gift.) I found that the worst students for this kind of shit were those in the honors program. They did the reading, but were insufferable grade grubbers.

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether students today have less respect for their professors. But what I do know is that it's dangerous for professors to start believing this, especially when it's based on one or a few extreme examples of disrespect. Respect for professors does not flaunt itself in the case of say, their judgments about grades, in the same way that disrespect does (I don't receive too many emails thanking me for my fair grading at the end of the semester, but even so I take it that the majority of students consider their grades fair). So be careful of drawing conclusions based on extreme examples -- I've seen it turn some of my colleagues into real dickheads towards all those respectful students. Especially be careful as the age-gap between you and your students increase, and as the temptation to categorize all of them as ungrateful louts gradually increases.

Anonymous said...

It's a prisoner's dilemma. The course is over so and the grades are in, there is literally, nothing to be lost on their part if they simply ask/complain about their grade.

I'm assuming they care little about the cost of losing your respect and so that doesn't count as a loss.

My policy, and this is something that others have already also done, is to increase the cost of these complaints.

If I get a normal grade complaint (written in standard semi-academic prose) I'll simply respond, in a friendly, way, that they'll need to set up an appointment with me to talk about their grades. That they'll need to bring with them a typed up set of reasons they believe justify a change in the grade and that these reasons can't be comparative (i.e. 'but my friend did better') and must instead by about their work.

I then remind them that re-evaluation of their grades, should I agree to the re-grade I remind them that grades can go up, down, or stay the same. If they are dissatisfied with my re-grade then they are welcome to file a petition.

This stops 99% of complaints.

If the student write me an incredibly whiny, entitled, informal rant I (in my better moments) curtly respond that e-mails should be written, like their papers, with an academic tone.

I don't get very many grade complaints that go very far though. I get a TON of fishing expeditions of the following sort:

"Is it possible to get a re-grade" or "Can I do extra credit" etc etc

But they rarely go past that point.

Anonymous said...

I'll offer this tasty morsel that I got from one of my students last semester:

"A Letter Regarding My “Actions”
Professor *******,
For the record I actually do enjoy your class, even if I only go to play the devil’s advocate to watch you dance around the classroom to prove your point. My point is this, I refuse your paper. I refuse to break every writing “law” and standard I hold as a senior English major that I have built up for FOUR years only to completely break that down into the most substandard, mediocre writing I can. I refuse to explicate ridiculous circles that make absolutely no point, in order to disprove said point made by the same person disproving it! Who does that? For the record I like rhetorical questions, they establish a level of thinking that one may not have been able to ensue otherwise. Higher thinking equates to higher understanding that then benefits the reader. Why then are we, your students, made to inspire a higher understanding without all capacities that we may have? I, on that matter, find this to be “immoral” as you are thusly implementing an unorthodox handicap on your unwilling students. Case-in-point, ME. You, our all mighty overlord of a professor, repudiate our rights as capable humans and higher thinking students in order to demean our capacities to that of less than mediocre.
I’m not going to lie; I have a major issue in explications. Explications in their own rights are the (In my opinion) worst way to write. To regurgitate another’s thoughts and proclaim “Don’t plagiarize” is the most ridiculous statement of this semester. The entire point of an explication is to, in no better words, simply plagiarize. The only difference being is that you are “obligated” to give credit because it would be “immoral” to take credit of another’s work. Isn’t the point to “maximize happiness”?
The point of your essays I do understand. You need to see that we, your students, have a broader and deeper understanding of the content of information provided to us. No, you know what, I don’t. I have, and am probably one of the many FEW that have, read the material completely. I don’t find good, clear, and concise understanding when the philosophers are not themselves. If you wish to hold us to a certain set of standards, you should then hold yourself and your material to that as well. The main reason I have currently refrained from attending class is that I can understand the material in its entirety better if I read it alone rather than have your view of it and that’s saying something.
Please understand this is not personal whatsoever. If you would assume a “veil of ignorance” and assume my position how would you feel? I feel disgusted with myself as I write these papers knowing that this is going against all that I hold dear and true. So this is me fighting against what I feel is “immoral” trying to seek my “maximum happiness”, following “action” rather than “results” and pleading to you to find some better way to have us, your students, write upon these principles of man that they themselves will disprove. I have no problems writing any paper you wish of me, just let me write them MY way.
Thank you for your time,
******* **********."

That's some weapons-grade immaturity right there.

Anonymous said...

2:18 - thanks for that.

I want to sound a note of slight discord. Some students are pricks, yes, and many are very poor writers and readers - I'm at a state school more know for its football team and its party scene - but many are delightful. I think there's prickishness on both sides - philosophers who let the bad seeds get to them and become jaded, cynical, or whatever, can become pretty bad teachers. All the while telling themselves they are just the kind of demanding prof the tikes really need.

I doubt you fit this description, Zero. I primarily want to echo 1:13's sentiment. Losing respect for your students will be tacitly communicated, and will impact you and them negatively.

BunnyHugger said...

Seconding anon 12:58 about honors students. I did my first honors class a while back and found that the students did well-above-average work, actually did the reading, and participated readily in class discussions, but were world class grade grubbers. This made the classroom time a pleasure, but the grading aspect even more unpleasant than usual. I ended up giving an embarrassingly high average grade in that class, yet I was blasted on evaluations for being an unreasonably hard grader.

BunnyHugger said...

Anon 2:18:

Yes, that's classic. I have gotten one broadly similar myself, though in response to failing someone on a paper for plagiarism.

I'm also reminded of an incident in my undergrad program at a SLAC. The graduating class of philosophers my year consisted of six people who were all in a required capstone class together. We were required to write a senior thesis, which required research, accompanied by an annotated bibliography. One of my compatriots was a fellow who held a certain notorious philosopher's works as sacred dogma. He also believed that it followed from this doctrine that being required to evaluate and cite other philosophers' works was antithetical to the true nature of philosophy as an individual pursuit. Thus he refused to write a research paper -- he wrote something, but not meeting the requirements of the thesis -- and wrote a parody of an annotated bibliography.

This would be laughable enough if it had just been the one person, but he managed to convince two others in the class to do the same thing as a shared act of rebellion. This resulted in fully half the class failing a course that was needed for their imminent graduation.

(As I remember things, the ringleader just left after that. I suspect, though don't know for certain, that they allowed the two followers to rewrite after a stern talking-to.)

So, yes. Thinking they're so very much wiser than their professors is one of the more eye-rolling modes that students get into. Although it's even worse that it was philosophy majors in my story.

Anonymous said...

You're right, those interactions over an extended time are unsettling.
But you are doing hard work, grading young humans, and evaluating them how you see them. What could be more fair than that?
Why do they look to you to be the beacon of fairness?
And instead of arguing "i get good grades in other disciplines", wouldn't a more engage human say "Why am i lacking in your class when i do so well in others?"

This is the uncomfortable part of educating. This is the real work of an educator.
And it's an opportunity for you to grow emotionally. As a valued educator, one who speaks to the majority, you have to earn respect. And earning requires discomfort.
A respected steel worker risks his life by putting his hand into scalding melted lava. A respected educator grades a student based on her merits in the class the educator is responsible for.
Students are playing a game, much more than you are. She'll live, she'll thrive. Stay strong.
Put your learning into practice, withstand the storm, and you'll earn respect. Well done, professor. Thank you for honoring the profession.

Anonymous said...

1:13 and 2:56,

Fair enough, many students are excellent and those who have nothing but ongoing complaints about their students are surely largely to blame themselves. And yes, people who have a disrespectful attitude toward their students tend to communicate that implicitly, which worsens things.

But hating, and spanking, students with a ridiculous sense of entitlement (like the one Zero told us about) is consistent with respecting one's students. You can respect your students by expecting the best of them, and by being disappointed if they fail to meet a basic standard of self-criticism and courtesy. Moreover, by refusing to put up with these shenannigans (which they might think are normal), you give them the opportunity to learn to be decent; and by expressing horror at their inappropriateness, you draw the right kind of attention to it, I think. I think this is consistent with respecting them.


This letter is abominable, but interesting and helpful. Your student has taken the time to let you know that
a) (s)he is unable to put together a minimally coherent and intelligible case for a view (s)he strongly espouses;
b) his/her FOUR (emphasized through capitalization -- nice) years of English studies have left him/her with a sense that one can show a mastery of concepts learned in class simply by throwing key terms haphazardly into the body of a text with accompanying scare quotes;
c) (s)he has not even learned what the aims of philosophical writing or thinking are (to the degree that 'explicating ridiculous circles that make absolutely no point' makes any sense, it is clearly not philosophical methodology);
d) by the student's own admission, (s)he has failed to understand the main points in the readings;
e) (s)he does not understand the meaning of common English terms like 'for the record'; and
f) (s)he feels his/her understanding of the material, while admittedly weak or nonexistent, is superior to yours.

Is there any way you could use this information as a basis for lowering the student's grade further? This is clearly much worse than mere immaturity.

Anonymous said...

“I intend to judge things for myself; to judge wrongly, I think, is more honorable than not to judge at all.”
― Henry James

Anonymous said...

Come on, BunnyHugger... who was the "certain notorious philosopher"?

Anonymous said...

Texting and Twitter deserve blame here too. Email itself is bad enough for having truncated time of communication to that of hasty composition and immediate delivery (and the dimension of Reply All adds new metrics of idiocy to ill-considered communication). But the fact that T&T are actually marketed to encourage instant and impulsive expressions of whatever transient emotions or reactions one might have to any given situation is unique to students of recent collegiate vintage. I used to get emails with the salutation "Prof./Dr. X", because most students still regarded email as a form of direct address with at least some formality; now most frequently it's "Hey Mr. X" or some such. Note the times (and they are significant) of the messages sent in this particular case: 1 and 5 am. Drunk/sleep-deprived communication is not optimal in quality. And look at the increasing (it seems) incivility of blogging--and certainly heightened by anonymity in many cases, but which just in its emboldened prose sends its own caustic message to readers of threads independent of its secretive nature. Our students are hammered with all this due to the digital explosion of their social lives. Not that they are blameless, mind you. But we are all subject to the forces of larger culture, and we need to understand that our present students are more than willing slaves to the current digital culture.

Anonymous said...

"it is our job to teach students respect"

No, it isn't. It's our job to model respect by being professional. But it's not our job to teach them respect. It's not our job to be surrogate parents, life coaches, etc. It might even feel good - and have some positive results - to decide it's our job to teach them how to be functioning social adults. But it's not.

It's my job to teach certain courses, to advise students, to do research, engage in committee work, and grade. It's not my job to parent students.

Justin from Canada said...


What reasoning, exactly, did you use to derive the conclusion that teaching courses and advising students doesn't involve teaching students respect?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:00,

2:18 here. I loved your analysis of that letter! My faculty adviser actually (I think jokingly) made a similar argument that the letter could serve as justification to lower the student's grade overall.

As it turned out, I let the student complete the assignment, and the student, for whatever reason, decided that complying with my original assignment instructions was the best way to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you told the student she could appeal your grade. I routinely do that when a student complains -- here's where to file, here are the procedures (from college catalog, web site). Interestingly, not a single student has ever filed a grade appeal against me in decades of teaching. Perhaps when they read the fine print, they realize it's hopeless.

But I did always try to be forthcoming that they do have rights when they believe they have been wronged by a professor. But those right come with the responsibility to have a credible argument.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:08 here. When I said "it is our job to teach students respect," I did not mean it is our primary job. Nor did I mean that it is only our job. Other mature persons in the student's life have the same responsibility. But it most definitely is one of our jobs, even if it is not spelled out in our contracts. What else are we doing when we tell students they can't make racist comments in class, or belittle someone for their views? What else are we doing when we forbid them from plagiarizing? Inculcating arbitrary conventions of academic discourse?

Also, I fail to see what this has to do with parenting. I was certainly not advocating that we function as life coaches, though I don't want to take the time to spell out the differences here.

Bobcat said...

5:46 pm,

Surely the notorious philosopher must be Ayn Rand?

BunnyHugger said...

Bobcat and 5:46:

I suppose I didn't really need to obfuscate that particular detail. As Bobcat surmises, the philosopher was Ayn Rand.

Back to Mr. Zero's question: I certainly perceive a greater level of disrespect toward me in the last few years, but I am aware that this perception is susceptible to being distorted by other factors, such as increasing weariness on my part, and, frankly, my advancing age. I suspect sometimes that what has increased is my curmudgeonliness rather than students' disrespect. I'm just not sure.

Anonymous said...

I thought the notorious philosopher obviously had to be Rorty. ... hrm...

Anonymous said...

I was almost positive it was Rand, but I though there was a small chance it was someone's interpretation of Nietzsche.

zombie said...

Since when is Rand a philosopher?

Man, I hate the grade grubbers at the end of the semester. My school has a standardized, percentage-based grading system. I use it. The students all know I use it. It's explained online, and it's on my syllabus. So they know, for example, that the difference between an A and an A- can be a single point. And yet, they believe they are entitled to that extra point, just because they want it.

I really think it's a sense of entitlement. They want something, and they think that means they deserve to get it, and that I should GIVE it to them. Just because they want it. (Clearly, they need to take a logic class before they take my ethics class.) I had a student try to convince me this spring, after final grades were submitted, that she should get an A instead of an A-, because all her other grades were As and she would hate to see her 4.0 GPA go down because of one class. She was a freshman. I did not respond to that email. I don't change grades after they are submitted. I would if there was clear evidence of a mistake on my part, but no student has ever claimed that.

I have also called students on it when their emails are disrespectful, reminding them that it is not a good way to address their professors when they are hoping for a better grade. They generally back down and apologize. Maybe it's not my job to teach them respect, but I'm willing to do it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is a problem with a sense of entitlement among today's youth, but honestly, they cannot possibly be more disrespectful than the baby boomers. I mean, has anyone heard of a student taking a dump on a dean's desk anytime in recent history? No? Then QED.

Frankly, I find a sense of entitlement vastly more prevalent and pernicious among faculty than students. E.g. the blowhard who complained about students viewing "educators" as "in essence, their employees."

I guess the truth hurts.

No wonder academics are such unbearable assholes. They're happy to suckle the taxpayer teat (as a "right" natch), extort ever increasing amounts of tuition from their own students (now amounting to over a trillion dollars in student loans), and yet still cop a supercilious attitude about their objective paymasters.

I guess that's why the market is so competitive. No one would be able to get away with such bullshit in the private sector.

Anonymous said...

"Since when is Rand a philosopher?"

I'm no fan of her's but let's be honest: If she wasn't perceived as being right-wing, she would be widely considered both a philosopher and a feminist icon.

But she is perceived as right-wing, which I guess is why a male professor where I went to grad school felt secure enough to publicly call her a "cunt" at a departmental event.

People laughed.

Anonymous said...

"No wonder academics are such unbearable assholes. They're happy to suckle the taxpayer teat (as a "right" natch), extort ever increasing amounts of tuition from their own students (now amounting to over a trillion dollars in student loans), and yet still cop a supercilious attitude about their objective paymasters."

You really think it's the faculty that are extorting money from taxpayers? I was hired at $42,500. My dean makes $125,000. My provost makes $175,000. The president makes $250,000. I have no research funding. Because each of the above three administrators come from academic backgrounds, the university provides them with travel budgets if they want to attend conferences. They also have expense accounts. Oh, and let's not forget that the president's house was bought by the university, which also pays for all upkeep and renovations.

But you are right, and I am truly sorry that I am so overpaid. It's hard to stay objective when one swims in money the way I do.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of her's but let's be honest: If she wasn't perceived as being right-wing, she would be widely considered both a philosopher and a feminist icon.

Uh, good point, because most philosophers who glorify rape are widely considered feminist icons, as long as they aren't "perceived as being right-wing."

Anonymous said...

You really think it's the faculty that are extorting money from taxpayers?"

No, which is why I never claimed such. Either way, apology accepted.

Justin from Canada said...

Anon 8:10/8:03,

While I think you are right to worry that many academics have a sense of entitlement, and while I think it is good to question the economic motives behind the current academic system and its worth to taxpayers, I think you take things much too far and in the wrong direction.

For one thing, we faculty members are not, and should not be, employees of our students. We perform, among other things, the very important role of assessing and certifying students, and that assessment and certification is then used by businesses and other employers of those students. If we stopped performing that service fairly, some very bad things would happen.

Now, if we were employees of those students, then it seems to follow that they are right to complain when they don't get the grades they wish, and wrong of us to deny their requests (after all, it would be bad for what you see as our 'business'). Other and more 'successful' faculty members, departments and schools could then fairly advertise their greater desirability as employees by promising higher grades for less work or, ultimately, no work at all. Competition for such 'employees' would be strong enough to merit charging those students more money.

What do you think: would we be doing our job better if we awarded our best grades to those who whined the most and paid the most, rather than those who achieved the most? If not, then it seems your contention runs into problems.

As for the huge amount of money the public pays toward higher education each year (both as students and, to a much lower degree, as taxpayers), I agree that it is a problem. But again, a closer examination seems to show that you have put the blame in the wrong place. It isn't we faculty members who are driving up those numbers through our powers of persuasion: it's employers, largely business, who tacitly or overtly demand higher and higher degrees for positions that were filled with mere high school graduates half a century ago. They, and not we, are driving these masses to university.

Why do businesses demand that now? Why have we gone from one university attendee in the 19th century to one in two today? The answer is complicated, but it is well nigh universally agreed upon that the main problem can be found in the failings of the school system. Those in the commerce stream of high school in our parents' generation could read or produce a coherent and grammatical one-page business letter by the time they hit tenth grade. That's more than I can say for many of our incoming university students today, most of whom couldn't parse a simple sentence if their lives depended on it.

That's no picnic for any of us, particularly those of us who have to teach them advanced academic work when they apparently learned almost nothing in twelve wasted years. The real challenge is for us to work out a plan for fixing the primary and tertiary system, and put it into action.

Justin from Canada said...

Correction: I meant to say "...from one university attendee _in twenty_ in the nineteenth century..."

Anonymous said...

Here are three things I find helpful. Perhaps because of these policies, I haven't changed a grade since my first year of teaching, and I rarely get grade complaints.

1) When students come to office hours with concerns about a recently returned paper, I assume they are there because they want help understanding my comments or because they want help improving their writing in the future. I don't think "grade complaint" unless a student explicitly asks me to reconsider a grade. Assuming the best about students' motives for coming to office hours tends to make these conversations go better.

2) Though I don't have a policy against changing grades, I think my grades are most fair when I have all the students' papers in front of me. So my policy is to change grades only if I think it's very clear that the earlier grade was a mistake. If students ask me to reconsider a grade, I tell them this.

3) I never change a grade in office hours. If I think a grade deserves to be reconsidered, I will take the paper home and get back to the student in a day or two.

I don't think I've ever given a student an F on a paper, except for papers that were never turned in. In my department, most teachers do not give a student an "F" grade on an assignment if the student made a sincere (if shoddy) effort to complete the assignment.

Anonymous said...

I think Paul Graham's comments on good teaching this page are insightful. (Scroll down to "I'm about to become a teacher. How can I be a good one?")

To be a good teacher, you have to like students. That doesn't mean you should never vent about students who do frustrating things. But if your general attitude is that kids these days are awful, your students will pick up on this, and you will be an ineffective teacher.

The flip side is that you also have to have high standards to be a good teacher, which means you can't let students get away with bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

The reason Ayn Rand is not a philosopher has nothing to do with her political affiliation: Jan Narveson has very similar political views, but nobody denies that Narveson is a philosopher.

Rather, it has to do with the following facts about Rand:

a) Her knowledge of philosophy was so poor that she insisted that all other philosophers claimed that "tables and chairs do not exist", and she continued to hold this view even after a very patient and sympathetic John Hospers spent hours trying to convince her otherwise. This in turn led to her believing and stating that no other philosopher in all history has held that there is an objective, mind-independent reality that we can know, etc.

b) Rather than present cogent lines of reasoning for her views, she would first write long novels in which characters espouse her views and then, in her 'philosophical' writings, she would quote from those very same characters in a strange sort of argument from authority.

c) She routinely used rhetoric in place of careful analysis at crucial places in her writings.

d) Unlike a serious philosopher, she had no idea of the work it would take to establish her claims. For instance, she believes that she can reason her way to a knockdown refutation of idealism in a few lines, starting with the single premise 'Existence exists.'

e) She never submitted any of her works for peer review, or attempted to solicit critiques in any other format.

f) When trained philosophers offered critiques of her views, she not only refused to consider them but demanded that her followers avoid reading the critiques.

g) Similarly, she refused to communicate with anyone who in turn communicated with backsliders who had dissented in some way.

It seems entirely warranted to call such a person a non-philosopher, regardless of her political stripe.

Anonymous said...

At my school, we received a lecture about following FERPA guidelines, one of which is the proscription of discussing grades with students over e-mail. I've now put it on my syllabus that I am not allowed to discuss grades over e-mail, so any student who has a question/complaint about her grade is required to see me in person. This policy significantly cut down the amount of grade-grubbing I have to deal with.

Of course, I still get some e-mails to which I can just respond, "I can't talk about this through e-mail, but you can feel free to stop by my office hours and discuss things." I hardly ever get any takers.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon A 1:09

While it pains me to defend a nutter, surely you realize that 6 out of 7 of your "facts" are true of a good many tenured faculty members in philosophy departments across the US. Several faculty where I went to grad-school are a dead-ringer for 4 or more.

I suppose the odd one out is 'B'; but then this claim could be made of many famous philosophers such as Plato, Cicero, or even Nietzsche.

Also, 'E' is credentialist tripe.

Anonymous said...


No, e) is not 'credentialist tripe' (thank you for putting it so kindly). Serious philosophers, whether or not they are interested in credentials, recognize that we are prone to countless self-serving biases in our reasoning, and that what we produce is not worth spit unless we check it against the criticism of peers who are motivated to defend the opposing view.

The 'any other format' clause of e) includes presenting papers at conferences, presenting them in colloquia, sending them off to colleagues or other interested and likely critical parties to solicit feedback, and even discussing their contents informally with those who take opposing positions.

There is not a single philosopher worthy of the name (with the possible exception of the odd presocratic for whom there was arguably no mechanism for doing so) who has neglected to do this in some form or other.

That includes many non-professional philosophers, who had no professional requirement to gain credentials in an academic setting.

You may quibble and say that Descartes, in soliciting and responding to the objections to his Meditations, dismissed his critics too easily, or that he or others may have solicited the criticism of their peers in order to gain 'credentials' of a non-professional sort. But even if that were true of some people, the fact remains that such people realized that soliciting criticism and revising your work on that basis is what anyone must at least appear to do in order to be taken seriously as a philosopher.

Not so Ayn Rand. As has been argued at length by others, she set out to create a cult of orthodox followers rather than to play by the rules of philosophy.
Ayn Rand, however, studiously avoided this in any form.

Anonymous said...

Boy, am I sure glad we've returned to debating the philosophical credentials of Ayn Rand.

I swear, this is our Godwin's Law.

BunnyHugger said...

I want to apologize to Mr. Zero for the serious derailment I accidentally but negligently caused in this discussion. That is, unless "The Rodney Dangerfield of Philosophy" is actually Ayn Rand, in which case it's all on topic.

2:23 is right -- one can always cite FERPA as a reason not to discuss grades by e-mail. I've been reluctant to use this one because I think to be consistent I would have to be scrupulous about never discussing anything FERPA-relevant by e-mail, and I am frankly not that careful.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that 8:10/8:03 appeared just after we invoked Rand, frothed at the mouth with hatred toward the public sector and love toward 'the taxpayer', and then promptly went and fucked himself right after he got demolished.

Coincidence? Or is the guy a Randroid who was buzzing around the internet, saw his idol in flames, and couldn't resist?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 7:01

You say: "There is not a single philosopher worthy of the name...who has neglected to do this in some form or other."

Given that what is at issue is precisely the criteria under which someone may or may not be considered a philosopher, I would suggest that any 'philosopher worthy of the name' would recognize the transparent circularity created by inserting such a qualification.

In case not, perhaps this will be of some assistance:

Anyway, 7:58 is clearly correct. I don't even like Rand...but I guess I like pretentious blowhards who declare themselves an authority on who does and does not qualify as a member of our tribe even less.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one that posted at 8:10 and 8:03. I never said anything about Ayn Rand so I'm not sure why you wish to tie my complaint to her...other than vague chronological reasons.

Anyway, your fondness for logical leaps and conspiracy theorizing sure has a lot in common with Ron Paul supporters.

Coincidence? Or are you a Paulbot?

(I did go fuck myself after my post, but that was motivated by something entirely unrelated to this blog.)

Anonymous said...


It's not a 'no true Scotsman', since I'm not idiosyncratically _defining_ 'philosopher' as 'one who submits his/her work for peer review' or anything containing that criterion.

Rather, I'm relying on the generally accepted definition of a philosopher as, roughly, someone professionally or otherwise devoted to solving various abstract, non-mathematical questions using a sincere and self-critical application of reason.

I'm also relying on the generally accepted (and well-supported) fact that those who use reason self-critically are prey to several biases and errors if they don't solicit and take seriously the informed criticism of their peers. I explained all this already.

My contention is that nobody who falls under the generally accepted definition of philosopher (that is, one worthy of the name) fails to respect the well-known fact I just mentioned through his or her practice.

As a general rule, it's not such a great idea to invoke well-known fallacies among grownups who know their business (let alone cite their wikipedia pages) unless you're really, really sure the fallacy applies. Otherwise, it makes you look like an ass.

Proud to be a philosopher said...

@ Anon 7:01,

It's time to stop with the Ayn Rand stuff. Thanks.

Also, the definition of 'philosopher' is not up for grabs. Despite what you've been told, there are rules that say what counts as doing philosophy and what doesn't. Pouring soya sauce into a dish is not doing philosophy. Neither is writing a novel or running a cult.

Anonymous said...

My thanks to June 8, 12:58pm for the link to 75 tips.

I ended up finding the book on my university elibrary and reading it cover to cover...I'll definitely be passing that recommendation along.

Anonymous said...

10:01, no that's obviously wrong. Someone who disagrees with 7:01 has only to come up with a counterexample. You don't need a general criterion of a philosopher before you can identify unproblematic examples!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Randroids and other right-wingers....

You do realize that the disrespect you are describing is no accident, right?

The Republican party, and the right wing in general, has conducted a systematic campaign to undermine the respect and legitimacy of the universities.

They have been doing it for a long time.

It is part of the Republican war on science. But also part of their general cultural resentment against the '60s.

It not only allows them to neutralize one possible source of resistance to their political agenda. It also feeds into their campaign to discredit all expertise, all knowledge, all fact-based policy discussions, and turn it all into differences of opinion and right-wing relativism.

Big Tobacco's filibuster of medical science. Creationism. Climate denialism.

These were all brought to you by the same people, and they all want to undermine the social legitimacy and reputation of the university.

This isn't just the ordinary youthful disdain for their elders. It isn't just some internet meme. We are the targets of a long, long campaign by political operators.

Unknown said...

I'm barely 25, so I might be a part of the generation of which you speak, but I would say that I too am often surprised at how disrespectful my generation (and the upcoming one) can be—especially while on the web. When using their digital identities (facebook, twitter, blog, email, etc.), they are far more likely to criticize someone or something than they would be if they were speaking, face-to-face and/or in public—sadly, the same is probably true of me. It's easy to critique someone via facebook, twitter, blogs, and email—maybe even lazy. So, she'll send you an email at 5am, but she would probably never approach you during office hours.

Still, I think you are right to notice this growing level of disrespect; although I am not sure it is not merely a change in the "kids these days." It might also be technology. The internet provides a quasi-veil behind which people can hide when expressing themselves. You can say whatever you like, but you never have to face anyone when you do it. You can hurl heavy insults and complaints all over the place with a few keystrokes. It can feel pretty powerful. And you can do it whenever you like—like at 3am when you're better judgment is not likely to prevent it.

So surely kids got pissed off in the past. No doubt, they expressed disrespect and unwarranted insult to their teachers and elders, but they did it amongst friends...and back then friends communicated face-to-face. Disrespect stayed within one's social network...and that did not have a digital counterpart at the time.

Stephen said...

The note on the increased casualness of language and relationships, well reflected by the original post, goes a long way towards explaining why students feel free to say what they say.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a bit of practical advice on the initial topic. I've had the same problem with grading. So, I've taken to offering several quizzes throughout the semester and reminding students to look at their average, and consider how much it counts toward their course grade. It really lessens the surprise for those clearly failing the course. And it's reduced the incidents of students complaining about their final grades. I agree that it's stunning that its come to this, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

Never any excuses for bad manners, but are explanations:
(i)surely marking is sorites-susceptible: when does an A--- become an B+++? At some level I think undergraduates realize this.
(ii) at least in the UK job market at the moment, marks can now really make the difference between maybe just possibly getting an interview for something, anything, and the application being tossed in the bin unread.
(iii) the points about the expansion of university participation turning students into cash customers are well-rehearsed, but just as interesting I think is that many people feel they have to go to university, which means they have to pick a subject to study, on some basis. I think there has led to there being many more academically quite able students who however have no deep or even particular interest in what they're studying. And the first thing these people are going to be interested in is the mark. (And for these people the work will have been a chore which arguably means they will do it less well.)

Anonymous said...

Whatever the reasons are for the rising levels of students' disrespect for their professors (and lots of the comments here seem to me to be on the right track), one simple technique I've found useful when responding to emails questioning or protesting a grade is to explain the basis for the grade, invite the student to feel free to let me know if he or she has further questions--and add "If so, I'll be happy to meet with you." That indication that further discussions will have to happen face-to-face seems to put an end to it for those who are just screaming to see what they can get (so far, at least, no one has taken me up on the offer) while preserving the legitimate use of email for those who are genuinely just seeking information.

Anonymous said...

Over the last couple of years, these grade complaints have become increasingly bizarre.

Lately, the following has been happening: I'll get an email from a student that asks why they did not receive a A. I'll say, well, let me check. I look and see that they got a C on the midterm, a C on the final paper, a B on the final etc. They did not get higher than a B on any assignment throughout the semester. How can the average of a bunch numbers work out to be above a 90 when none of the numbers being averaged is higher than 85? How does this make any sense whatsoever? I admire those who dutifully respond to all of this nonsense but I just ignore these emails. Why should I have to waste my time on this sort of thing?

Anonymous said...

A few of my own policies, which I find work pretty well:

1. No discussion about grades over email. None. Happy to spend time before class, after class, and during office hours talking to students. But email conversations - especially ones that require both of us to have access to their written work for the class - simply cannot be productive. I'm on campus every day, and can make time for any student who wants to talk about his/her grade on an assignment, or for the course as a whole.

1.a. This includes students who email me after the end of the semester. No discussion over email; they can come see me at the start of the next semester. If they have graduated, they can come back and meet with me at their convenience. Because there is no statute of limitations on grade appeals, there's never any reason to rush this decision.

2. Students who want to request a change in grade (again, for an assignment or the course) are directed to the chair. There is a policy in place at my university to appeal a grade, and they are welcome to take advantage of it. I even show them how to download the forms online. I understand those who feel that we should be willing to review work a second time, and I used to do that. But what I have learned is that I cannot be objective when a student suggests I have erred, and that the work deserves a higher grade. Not that I'm going to be an asshole about it, but I already have in mind what that paper should earn, and a second, closer look rarely proves to be of any use to the student. That student should have the ability to have my chair review that work, and then take the appropriate actions after such a review.

I find that most students who ask for a change of grade aren't really serious about it. They ask because it can't hurt. Throw enough darts at a dartboard and you are bound to hit the bulls-eye eventually. Most ask, and then drop it and move on. The few who get worked up about it tend not to want to submit their work for review; they know that their work is not deserving of a better grade, and know that if they push it, they won't win.

However, in the rare case that a student is serious, and honestly feels that I have erred, that student can and should be able to appeal. And I abide by that appeal, regardless of the result. I don't mind if a student appeals a grade and wins the appeal (it did happen once), because I believe in the process. But from what I can tell, most students are venting, and when you refuse to give in to their venting, they stop.

Anonymous said...


Christ, what a terribly whiny and self-important letter. I'm actually a senior English major myself (though one with interests in philosophy), and I'd never spout off such inane platitudes about "rhetorical questions" and such, let alone send such a disrespectful email in the first place. It's people like that that give English majors and the discipline as a whole such a bad reputation.

Anyways, I definitely agree that there are a lot of self-entitled students these days. The worst I've seen was a student in a general education political science course that I took last spring. This girl took every chance she could to try to dismiss the instructor's authority, acting as if she was some kind of expert on political matters and completely derailing class discussions nearly every meeting. I applaud the professor for being as cool-headed as he was: I know I wouldn't have had the patience.

She was a freshman and extremely conservative, so that explains a lot as far as I'm concerned.

Justin from Canada said...

This fall, while teaching in the US, I had a very poor student in my intro. to ethics course. He didn't do most of the assignments, skipped almost all his classes, bombed on his class presentation, and so on. You know the type.

In the last week of class, he started sending emails expressing concern about failing the course and offering to do some extra work for bonus marks. I told him that he had missed his chance to do the work, but pointed out that he was still in a position to pass the course -- even with a C -- if he scored 100% on the final exam. I advised him to focus his energy there.

The next I heard from him was two days before the final. He asked what the format would be. This was somewhat odd, since I had discused that since the beginning of the course, and posted it online, so that even chronic skippers couldn't miss it. Twelve essay questions had been posted online, of which two would be selected by me for the final exam. There was nothing on the exam but those two essay questions, so any student who knew his/her stuff could prepare perfectly for the final. I actually attached the twelve questions to my response so that there could be no further confusion. He replied immediately, thanking me and assuring me that he was going to get 100%.

The next day -- less than 24 hours before the final -- he wrote again to tell me that he was _so_ keen to do well and show his stuff that he didn't want to leave anything to chance. He therefore asked me to tell him which two questions I would put on the exam the next day. He promised me that, if I told him what they were, he would not reveal my disclosure to anyone else. Our secret would be safe. He also pointed out that, if I felt OK about it, it would be a great help for him to have sample answers to look at. The reason, he explained, was that he loved the course so much that he wanted to get everything just right.

I said that I wasn't sure whether he was joking or seriously asking me to help him cheat; but that I was going to be charitable and assume the former. I made clear that I didn't want to hear from him again before the exam.

He skipped the final, and I wrote down an F in my notebook. But two days later he wrote again, explaining that, owing to my refusal to help him, he had had to stay up so late studying that he slept through his alarm and missedd the exam. I guess he slept for 48 consecutive hours after that one. He assured me that it was 'OK', though, since he could come in to rewrite it at a time of our common convenience.

When I explained that that was not going to happen, he wrote another email, pleading for me to give him another chance. He actually said, and I quote, "Pleeeeeeeeease?" I told him curtly that I was entering my grades that evening, and that his would be an F.

Three weeks later, I got a cheerful email from him. Since he had failed intro. to ethics, he was going to take it again. But he was sad to see that my name was not among the list of five instructors who were teaching it in the spring term. Was there some other section I was teaching that was filled? If so, could I please grant him access to the course, since he really loved my class and wanted to take it with me again?

At that point, I began to have serious doubts about his sanity. I replied in a friendly manner that I was unlikely to be teaching that course again in the near future. I wished him the best with other instructors, all of whom would be excellent for his purposes.

I still don't know what was going on with that guy.

Anonymous said...

How about instead of bitching about lazy, entitled students, we ask what we can do to stem the issue? How can we help students like this?

Always easier to bitch and moan than to do something constructive and proactive.

Anonymous said...

I've certainly noticed this and it has led me to the following three rules:
1.) I will not discuss any grade with a student for a period of 24 hours after they receive the paper/exam/quiz, etc back from me.

2.) No discussion of grades over email, full stop.

3.) If a student would like to discuss a grade with me, I ask them to make an appointment and bring the graded work with them to the meeting.

If they are still dissatisfied, I make sure they are aware of the institutional processes necessary to get the grade changed.

Anonymous said...

Leiter reveals the truth: this happens because of "so much trash TV sitcoms organized around jackass behavior which is supposed to be funny." Tell 'em, grandpa!

When I read this sort of thing, I am simply unable to take the original problem (which is a real and serious problem) seriously.

Anonymous said...

No discussion about grades over email.

Emailing grades may constitute or lead to violations of FERPA. You may want to take a look at your school's guidelines if you're not sure.

W said...

I agree with the statement that you're experiencing self-entitlement on a grand scale but that's to be expected as fewer & fewer Working Class kids can afford college so you'll end up with universities full of upper-Middle/Upper class kids.

They will have progressed through private schools where tutors would be more likely to give favourable marks due to school board pressure to have higher mark averages & therefore be seen to be worth the fees they charge.

There may be a widespread 'softening' of kids across the whole of society but, like you, I don't want to sound like an old man whinging about 'kids these days'!

Anonymous said...

@ June 11, 2012 10:31 AM

A+, would read again.

Aaron said...

These authors provide a set of empirical measurements - in some broad sense of "empirical measurement" - which trace the trend you've observed:

Anonymous said...

Just for the record...I teach at a mid-size, very average, state school. I have been there three years, so the sample size is small, but in all of my encounters with students, they have been respectful and polite, often times extremely so. I don't doubt stories like this, but nevertheless, I have never come close to experiencing anything like this. I don't know if I give off a "no bullshit" vibe or what, but that's been my experience.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that interspersed among the complaints about rudeness and whining from our students, and suggestions that they are facilitated by email and the net are rude anonymous whining comments. Maybe it's not just the coming generation?

Unknown said...

The respect a student displays is a function of the respect their parent displays.

Anonymous said...

I think our culture, our schools and parents all share the blame. Our culture is becoming more self-centered, glib, conceited and without moral principle.

I once taught high school for about a month. My experiences there is that the school is complicit in inculcating an attitude of entitlement and lack of personal responsibility.

In one class, I gave the students the opportunity for extra credit if they wrote a two page essay. One student turned in an essay that I found on the internet written by someone else. The student had written the first and last sentence in the essay but everything between was, literally, word for word, a copy. I brought this up with the student and gave him an F. He then complained to another teacher who "explained" to me that this wasn't really a case of plagiarism because all students had to do to make it legit was cite the website where he copied the article.

I went to the principal and he agreed that it was, indeed, plagiarized but said that I should scrap that essay and give the student another chance to write his own essay for a grade (despite the fact that grades had already been graded). I thought this was highly unfair to the other students who wrote their own essays for a good grade but I allowed it anyway because the principal basically demanded it. It was clear that the principal thought it was a nuisance to bring up a plagiarism issue.

I've also had another instance where a student, literally, did no work for class; he did no class work, no homework, did not turn in any of his tests, and when he got a 0 for a grade, he complained to his parents that he should have passed. The dad was furious but luckily I had my grading book which showed he did nothing all semester.

Anonymous said...

As a student recently forced to petition a received grade, I would like to point out how students like this come across to other students. My petition was successfully resolved and was considered to be fair by both the administration and the professor who gave the grade.
Seeing students attempt to take advantage of this system is rather horrifying because the possibility of going through this process is set up to protect students. This sort of abuse is frustrating for professors without a doubt, but I think it is students who have the most to loose. There are instances where professors are in error or improperly apply a grade for some other reason. The system is in place to provide a way for hard working students to defend themselves and abuse of this sort will only prevent legitimate petitions from being taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

In my first year of teaching, I received a rant similar to the ones mentioned above, questioning my ability as a marker, and suggesting that I hadn't given the student a higher grade because I had been "unable to grasp the complexity" of his argument. In other words, he was "politely" insinuating that I was too dense to understand the profundity of his remarks. I referred his complaint to the course co-ordinator, who remarked his paper, and gave it a mark less than I'd given. Never heard any complaints from that student again....

After that incident, I decided to adopt a new approach. Before giving assignments back, I would draw the bell-curve up on the board, explain grade distributions, emphasise that even passing is a good mark, and try to help the students get things in perspective.

I haven't had a complaint since.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to commenters for providing some helpful hints about policies that discourage grade grubbing (especially the no email suggestion). I thought I would add two suggestions to the list. In addition to avoiding the types of encounters mentioned in the original post, I think the solutions improve fairness of grading and improve students' chances of successfully learning the skills you wish to teach them.

1. Grade papers according to a rubric and make the rubric available to students before the paper is due. Rubrics should be as explicit as possible (e.g., between two and four more grammatical errors results in a deduction of 2%; four or more 5%, etc.). Some criteria on your rubric are likely to be vague. So...

2. Provide students with sample "A", "B", "C", etc. essays. Highlight sections of the essays in which students made errors discussed in the rubric you have developed. Similarly highlight sections of sample essays in which students did something that is rewarded in the rubric you have developed. Write comments next to the higlighted sections that explain why the highlighted sections are good or bad, and how the sections changed the students' final grade on the paper according to your rubric.

Since students know how they will be graded, you'll often get better papers. So you're not just avoiding grade grubbing by doing the above. Moreover, those who complain will often do something that you have highlighted in a sample essay. So you can just point grade grubbers to a highlighted passage in a sample essay that was made publicly available before the assignment was due.

It takes time to do the above two things, but once you have the rubrics and sample essays, they can be used over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Hi 329

I actually don't like either of your two ideas. Perhaps they have worked for you in the past but I have seen these two strategies backfire on professors.

Not only do grade rubrics not really, in my experience, capture the elements of a good paper, it encourages, again in my experience, the wrong kind of attitude to bring to a paper.

It makes students believe that the paper is composed of tiny elements that if, in their mind, they have done, then they deserve an A. But this isn't the way papers go. Papers are not merely a series of word counts, author citations, and syntactical perfection. Papers are unified wholes that may be better or worse than the sum of their parts.

I have given papers with fairly bad grammar high grades in the past because it was clear that:

1. The grammatical errors were the result of an English language learning issue and so therefore not entirely the student's fault.

2. The student really understood the material.

A rubric wouldn't allow for that (or would be so vague as to be useless).

I also think that sample papers are a crapshoot as far as their efficacy in cutting down student complaints. Students are abysmal at judging the quality of their work or the work of others. They succumb rather easily to the superiority bias and instead (again, in my experience) of seeing the sample paper as a high standard will tend to see their work as at least as good.

Again, if these approaches have worked for others then by all means continue using them. If I've learned anything as a philosopher it is that there are few general rules.

In my experience students are bad, in general, at comparative analysis especially between their own work and the work of other students and a grading rubric will either be used against you:

"But I did all that..."

Or have to be vague enough to give you the ability to lift up ELL students who get the material without lifting up those students who are clearly good writers but who just didn't get philosophy.

Anonymous said...

"Leiter reveals the truth: this happens because of 'so much trash TV sitcoms...'"

TV? Sitcoms? Wow, Leiter really has his finger on the pulse. Me, I think it's all that noisy jazz music the kids are listening to on the radio box.

While all of the explanations mentioned so far are surely part of it, I don't think I've yet seen anyone suggest another cause: theoretical trends in the discipline of pedogogy and their influence on forms of instruction.

In my early teaching years, out of curiosity I took teaching workshops and seminars with pedagogical theory people, and everything they recommended seemed tailored for narcissistic entitled students.

Perhaps we (educators) are actively engineering these kids? Not to ignore the other cultural and political factors of course (or the way that pedagogy, like economics, is probably vulnerable to manipulation by those forces).

Anonymous said...

I'm with 10:22; neither of those solutions have worked for me. And for largely the same reasons.

Students are notoriously bad in judging quality work, and so giving them sample papers (even when we cover them in class) rarely changes anything. There's a reason why we grade them, rather than asking them to grade themselves. (Similarly, every attempt at "peer review" during some stage in the writing process always ends up with students congratulating each others' ideas, and picking on their classmates who can't use punctuation properly.)

In addition to 10:22's issues with rubrics, I find them to be entirely arbitrary. Even if you have a rubric and make it clear, how do you explain to a student that poor editing is a 5% reduction instead of a 3% reduction (or when the students with flawless but ill-reasoned prose want to know why editing can't account for 12%)? Putting a numeric value on the constituent parts doesn't make grading more precise; it only highlights how arbitrary many of our grading decisions really are.

Justin from Canada said...

I actually think the two suggestions are good, perhaps with modifiations.

One thing that often seems to work for me is to distribute short 'essays' of my own composition on a topic all the students will understand. One is pathetically bad, one is mediocre, and one is great. They have to sort out which is which, and give reasons for their answers. Many students have said that putting them in the driver's seat helps them see what you're looking for, and it seems to me that this leads to improvements.

When you identify (preferably with them) what it is that makes the various papers good, bad, or middling, there is a chance that students will say "But I didn't make any of those mistakes on _my_ paper," I suppose. But all you have to do is to point out in writing that this is only meant to indicate _some_ of the problems that make an essay bad, and that shouldn't go very far.

I've also had success with using rubrics, of a sort. I take off a fixed number of points for grammar mistakes (though, of course, I waive this somewhat in the case of students unused to writing in English -- I've never heard a complaint on that score). Otherwise, I make clear what will land an essay in a particular range and then subtract the grammar penalties from that. An essay gets a D if it shows some understanding of the material at hand but makes several errors on key points or in its reasoning; it gets a B if it is quite smoothly written and doesn't make any major mistakes, but doesn't add anything new to what was already covered in the texts and lectures; and so on.

This gives you a good basis for making clear why the students got the grades they did; but if they say "I _did_ all that!", you can just point out that they didn't (if they didn't). I've had meetings with students in which I challenged them: "OK, what's the new idea that you added to the discussion?" "I just showed you five places where you confuse utilitarianism with naive relativism." It seems to work with them!

Anonymous said...

The same thing happened to me recently. I responded with silence, that is, I didn't respond. These students know precisely why they receive the grades they do. To open the door by responding is to open the door for a possible negotiation in their mind. And this possibility, at least for me, is an impossibility. The student never contacted me again.

Kimberly said...

I used to use "holistic" rubrics for my students. Not as detailed as 3:29--something to the effect of "A 'C' paper will demonstrate a mostly accurate understanding of the theories involved but will minimally develop the ideas. It may contain significant grammatical or spelling errors." It was better than that, but I roughly spelled out my expectations for each letter grade. My comments on their paper typically echoed the language used in the rubric.

I told students that if they wanted to dispute a grade, they needed to explain to me why their paper better fit the higher grade. I had VERY few complaints, and they were respectful. I think the benefit about using rubrics of SOME kind is that you can more clearly communicate your expectations to the students.

Anonymous said...


Why are you assuming grammar must be part of a rubric?

Anonymous said...

Here's the rubric I use, and which I put in my syllabi:

A = excellent. No mistakes, well-written, and distinctive in some way or other.

B = good. No significant mistakes, well-written, but not distinctive in any way.

C = OK. Some errors, but a basic grasp of the material.

D = poor. Several errors. A tenuous grasp of the material.

F = failing. Problematic on all fronts indicating either no real grasp of the material or a complete lack of effort.

I have experienced far less backlash by presenting this the first day as the criteria by which the papers will be graded.

Justin from Canada said...

7:35, that's a fantastic guide. Thanks for showing it to us!

Also, I picked up a great tip from Shelly Kagan to anticipate/deal with students who complain that they only got a B when they did good work.

Kagan points out to his students that, at Yale (as at most schools), A is officially defined as 'excellent'; B as 'good'; C as 'satisfactory'; and D as 'passing'. Kagan explains that, by 'good', he means... GOOD! So, getting a B from him should not be taken as critical of the essay. It's just that it wasn't _excellent_, which it has to be in order to merit an A.

I've tried this now, and it does work!

Anonymous said...

My grade reconsideration policy is pretty simple. I will look at work again, but the student should know that sometimes I grade work quickly and that may be to their benefit. The mid-B they have on their paper may well become an A because I missed something exceptional the first time around or it could become a C because I missed an error the first time around.

Oddly enough, I get very few requests for reconsideration.

Berto said...

Unfortunately, and given the ubiquitous and growing tendency to view education merely as a business transaction and a means to a lucrative job, increasing numbers of students are making the mistake of thinking that they're paying for a grade. This makes them see their instructors as the equivalent of a real estate agent or contractor who can be hired, fired, yelled at, etc. at will. They seem to miss the point that they're paying to be educated, not to be given the grade of their choice...

Perhaps the best way to deal with these problems is to clearly, explicitly and repeatedly explain to the class the requirements and expectations to which you hold them, and to document everything in case some jerk with an entitlement problem tries to make problems for you.

Also, you could post (on your online class component) anonymous past assignments, detailing the reasons why such assignments received the grade they did. This gives your students something to compare their own work to before they decide to go on one of their rants. And even if they do, you can then use the comparison to explain and justify the reason for their grade.

Hope that helps some. I completely sympathize with your take on this.

Anonymous said...


I've taken a very different approach. I insist that my student show me a receipt. I tell them that if they are actually paying for their education, they can demand the grade they want. I then remind my students that not a single one of them is paying for their education; student loans are borrowed money. I then point out to them that it's in the interest of the loan companies that they fail my classes, to prolong their education and, presumably, force them to take out more loans.

If they want to stick it to the loan companies, they best thing they can do is pass my classes and graduate on time. Force me to pass you, I tell them, and show Sallie Mae who's in charge!

Anonymous said...

7:35 and fans:

I agree with insisiting on excellence for 'A' grades. But "distinctiveness" strikes me as a bit demanding. The reason is that many philosophy assignments, unlike literature ones, call for tasks that a student can do perfectly well without showing distinctiveness, creativity, flare or much insight. For example, we might ask them to find the flaw in an argument, or improve upon one, or uncover premises, or develop counterarguments or counterexamples, etc. We don't typically say, "Try to do it in a unique or interesting way." We simply ask that they do so in a way that fulfills the logical or dialectical function we specify. So they might reasonable assume that they are expected simply to discharge the task competently and be done with it. When they do, with no mistakes, I find it hard to justify giving them simply a 'B' -- even though the work isn't "special" in any way (except that competence alone is increasingly rare).

Justin from Canada said...


That's funny, but what would you do if one of them _did_ turn out to be paying tuition? Or if his/her parents came in and demanded the grade they wanted?

It would be more correct, I think, to say that they are paying for an opportunity to earn a grade. They really _are_ paying for that, and it obviously doesn't license them to bitch and moan when they don't get the grades they want.

Anyway, I'm curious: do many people out there talk to students directly about the nature of our professional relationship with them? I do, but it seems from some of these posts that many people shy away from that for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Why have such rigid (and paternalistic-sounding) attitudes about altering student grades? Why are so many commenters so confident in their ability to accurate dole out accurate unique linear orderings?

I've only seen one really sensible reason to have a policy of not revising grades so far. I'm thinking of the commenter who noted that she feels she's best situated to assign grades only when the whole set of papers or assignments is in front of her. Of course, it would be very easy to fix this problem by doing all grading electronically and retaining copies.

But, in general, why not have a little more humility when it comes to one's own ability to provide a unique linear ordering on the fly! Students are sensitive to the difficulty of this tasks and I see no reason other than laziness or hubris for instructors to be insensitive to it.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a school where many professors have problems like these. I rarely have them for two reasons.

1) I have a clear syllabus, clear grading rubric, and students always know where they stand in my classes.

2)Any student who has a D or an F after an exam or paper, I meet with briefly on the day I pass them back. There is rarely any confusion about what I expected and what they have to do to improve their grade.

Lastly, if I student wants to discuss a course grade, I rarely do it via email. Do it in person with a colleague present. You will find that very few students will meet with you. Most are "keyboard warriors" and you have to cut that off. The only exception are online courses where you have to interact with them through email. The same rules still apply, contact them and let them know where they stand at all times.

Students get surprised and that is the source of frustration for many of them. Take the surprise factor out, and you have fewer problems.

Anonymous said...


True, we are not perfect graders. But has anyone so far really claimed to be one?

True, there are some cases in which students raise legitimate problems with the marking. I don't think anyone here has denied that that should be taken seriously. Many people have even explained that they have policies of having a colleague give the papers a second look.

Please have a look at Mr. Zero's description of what his student sent. There are a number of students who do this habitually. What would you have us do when faced with them, aside from what we've already said? One does have to be concerned about fairness. If taking such students more seriously would increase the chance that their grade would be raised but not the students who don't chronically complain about everything, then either all the students need to start complaining that much or else we are short-changing the ones with better manners than Zero's student.

As for your claim that "it would be _very_ _easy_ to fix this problem by doing all grading electronically and retaining copies," that sounds batshit, but I'm game. What's the proposal, exactly? It isn't very clear as you put it.

Anonymous said...

I too have found Honors students to be absolutely the worst in this regard. For the most part they do higher quality work than students in other classes do, but they expect automatic A's for everything and are eager to game the system in whatever way they can.

Anonymous said...

Your experience is not unique. I even had a student fabricate a hotmail email account in order to email me from their "father" to describe why it was unacceptable for the student to receive a failing grade. A quick call to the residence quickly resolved the situation.

Here is a recent study on academic entitlement that I found very interesting:

Justin from Canada said...

Hilarious, 11:57!

That student sounds like a first-class idiot. An _actual_ letter to that effect would have already been pointless, tasteless, and ridiculous. But a _fake_ one? Priceless!

Anonymous said...

On an unrelated note, I'm really sick of rejection. I'm glad this blog exists.

badrescher said...

Yes, there is an increased level of disrespect and entitlement. Furthermore, there is a disconnect in terms of the definitions of words like "disrespect". That student probably thinks that your grade was "disrespectful".

I received many such complaints (some via email, others shouted in the halls in angry tirades while they were talking to other students, still others on horrible sites like 'ratemyprofessors'. In fact, during one such tantrum, a failing student who insisted that I repeat instructions several times so that students like him who are regularly late to class do not miss them actually told the dean that he "hurt himself or someone else". That was when I resigned.

I loved teaching. I loved most of my students. Unfortunately, the proportion of those like the one you described has grown along with the severity and I cannot continue to teach in such a hostile environment.

bjorn said...

Anonymous 5:55: "...I've taken to offering several quizzes throughout the semester and reminding students to look at their average, and consider how much it counts toward their course grade. It really lessens the surprise for those clearly failing the course..."

I'm sad to report that, at my high school, this doesn't help! In addition to the problems discussed above, some students display severe symptoms of suppression / repression. And when confronted with their final grades, they often exhibit a mix of incredulity, panic and a nearly pathological need to (suddenly) invent external reasons. I often wonder whether their inability to search, let alone find, fault with themselves is a scam or an actual deficiency. In either way, it is definitely a cultural artifact.

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of what my lecturer once said that "there's no right or wrong answer, but there're good or bad answers. And good or bad depends on how I [the lecturer] grade it."

What I've learned from getting bad grades from some modules is that even if I disagree with the module's content, I'd try to give the marker what he/she expected in order to earn the grades that I wanted.

I call this academic hypocrisy/ reality.

Joseph McCord said...

The whole education system has gone to shit.

I never saw much of the good side of it during the 12 years that I spent in the mandatory public school system, which to me seemed like more of a prison; but that was not because I felt any sense of entitlement, but rather because I took education seriously, and there was very little of it on offer. I went on to a very good, small, relatively prestigious undergraduate-oriented university, was exhilarated by the opportunity to learn for a couple of years, but ultimately found the whole system too jejune to bother staying with (I wasn't interested in credentials). The administration, of course - and the Ivy League educated university president - were the worst of the badness of it, and already things were beginning to go downhill, even as the university continued to expand and worked to increase its ranking in prestige.

That was back in the eighties.

Now, looking around, I see a lot of good professional scholars - but really only credentialing institutions. As a highly educated person who has shunned institutions and therefore has something of an outsider's view, yes, I do think that things have gotten much worse, in regard to the students. An entire generation has grown up in a system based on bullshit standardized testing, with the understanding (which was taught to them, they did not develop this perspective on their own) that the only thing that is in it for them in "education" is the credentials. What do the credentials mean? A higher income, and an entrance ticket into the professions - which themselves now, -perhaps- more than ever, consist largely of bullshit.

Face the facts. You are working in a system the entire raison d'etre of which is to prop up the (American, I'm guessing) class system.

Good luck. I hope that you are able to educate a few, or at least open a few minds to the idea of what actual education might be. We are in a society which is profoundly in a process of decay, and I doubt that you will have much chance of doing much more than that.

Anyone read Lewis Lapham's essays on education?

"Another factor might be the increasing attitude (I think there's empirical research on this but I can't remember where) among students that educators are, in essence, their employees."

Of course you are their employees. What did you think you were, authority figures?
They see you as overly pompous gate guards. If they are from upper income families, they rightfully (because that is how the system now, more than ever, works) presume that you are just supposed to let them through, provided that they go along with a modicum of bullshit. It behooves you to provide them with bullshit that doesn't overly tax their little brains, because they are not used to that, and it isn't fair. If they are not from upper income families, then they are mystified and servile, but equally uninterested in education.
Face the facts. This is America, not ancient Greece. We (those from the right social class, determined by income level) have the right to everything.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to temporarily hijack the thread, but new posts here seem to be few and far between these days (not complaining, just sayin'), so here goes ...

What's the lowdown on Interfolio?
- Are we fans?
- Does the ability to customize your applications matter enough to make it worth the money (depends on your comparison class, i suppose)?
- Can you send the letters to yourself in order to determine which you'd like to send for each application?
- Are there still print-quality issues? (I read somewhere that dossiers were delivered looking like they'd been faxed and photocopied several times over.)
- Do search committees look down their bespectacled noses at Interfolio apps?
- Do we use Interfolio for letters only? Letters + cover letters + writing samples + teaching portfolios + ...?

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents:

"What's the lowdown on Interfolio?
- Are we fans?"

I am. Absolutely. No question.

"- Does the ability to customize your applications matter enough to make it worth the money (depends on your comparison class, i suppose)?"

I say no. Others may disagree.

"- Can you send the letters to yourself in order to determine which you'd like to send for each application?"

Nope. Nor should you. Naughty naughty. But if you have a friend at another school, you could cheat that way. But really, just don't.

"- Are there still print-quality issues? (I read somewhere that dossiers were delivered looking like they'd been faxed and photocopied several times over.)"

I've heard the same, but haven't experienced it myself.

"- Do search committees look down their bespectacled noses at Interfolio apps?"

Some might. But some search committees like looking down their bespectacled noses at things. Because some faculty like looking down their bespectacled noses at things. I'm convinced that many philosophers qualified in Looking Down Their Bespectacled Noses at Things in exams. Rumor has it, some programs offer certification in that.

"- Do we use Interfolio for letters only? Letters + cover letters + writing samples + teaching portfolios + ...?"

All of the above, if you like. But I only use it for letters.

Anonymous said...

8:12, you seem to be arguing as follows:

P1. People throughout the system within which you work expect X.
C. Therefore, you should really just give them X.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your two cents, 10:57. Really instructive.

Re: reviewing your letters, isn't there a mechanism in Interfolio that allows applicants not to surrender their right to review the letters? Alternatively, I wonder if there's a way for one's placement director to access them and communicate their impressions to the applicant. Hmmm ...

Anonymous said...


As far as I can tell, Interfolio asks me to "Request a Confidential Letter of Recommendation." If there's a way to request non-confidential ones, I don't know it.

But honestly, you only want to send confidential letters. You shouldn't have access to them. Which is why search committees never ask for you to get them, read them, and then send them as part of the application.

You can, with Interfolio, send them to your placement director (as the usual Interfolio cost), and get advice that way.

Joseph McCord said...

I think that you people are all full of shit for caring about grades at all.

Listen. I was a straight A student. I had above a 4.0 average in college (1/3 point for +'s). And I have always thought that the grading system was idiotic.

Isn't it ultimately really sadomasochism? The comments of some of the contributors prove it, to my mind. Someone from Canada thinks that grading harshly proves that he's a real man (I'm not kidding, read his posts). You can - sometimes, mules are stubborn - whip a mule until it starts moving. But can you whip someone into becoming educated?

Most disturbing of all - does anyone on this philosophy forum even know what the word 'education' means?

What if all the apparatus of sadomasochism simply stopped working? What if somewhere along the line we actually somehow, nobody knows how we did it, we certainly weren't trying to, hatched a generation who just won't be bullied?

You can put down these cynical students all you want, but they are the realists. There are only three things that happen in the schooling/warehousing/incarceration/certification system. Some, very little, education actually takes place; a little knowledge, not very much, is acquired (please, dear philosophy professors, do notice that I am making a distinction between these); and the subjects of the system, for lack of a better word, are stamped as to whether or not, and to what degree, they are employable. Now, what does that have to do with education?

Whose employees, exactly, are you? If you are working in what is called, for no reason that I can make any sense of, primary and secondary education, and in a public school, then you are employees of the public and of the State, and god knows what they want you to do. If you are working in so-called higher education, then you are employed by the people who pay the bills - the students and their parents, and if in a publicly funded university, again the public and the state.

Someone from Canada thinks that he's employed by his unfortunate students' prospective future employers. Great, so you're a corporate employment cop. It must be fun, and it makes you feel manly. But is that philosophy?

Just wondering.

Joseph McCord said...

"A = excellent. No mistakes, well-written, and distinctive in some way or other.

B = good. No significant mistakes, well-written, but not distinctive in any way.

C = OK. Some errors, but a basic grasp of the material.

D = poor. Several errors. A tenuous grasp of the material.

F = failing. Problematic on all fronts indicating either no real grasp of the material or a complete lack of effort."

You see, this is the problem. The grading system is all about mistakes. That makes me think that the grading system itself is a mistake.

Let's start out "education" by emphasizing the negative, and see what a wonderful society we can produce thereby. The question from the beginning isn't, how much are you going to learn, but - how badly are going to screw up? It's a great system for turning us all into corporate drones and slaves. Is it education?

If it were about education, and one needed to have a grading system at all (something that I'm not convinced of, but realism, realism!), then you would need a whole series of grades above A. A would be not screwing up at all, B would be screwing up a little, C would be screwing up a lot, D would be fucking up, and F would mean that you fucked it all to hell. But all of those grades would only for the bad students; A would be for the mediocre. If you actually ACCOMPLISHED something - don't you think accomplishment should have some place, should be recognized in some way, in the 'education system', or are we all to remain more or less unsatisfactory, more or less disobedient children for all of our lives, a perfect formula for preparing us all to be ruled by an elite who pretend to be our betters - if someone actually ACCOMPLISHED something, rather than just mulishly ingesting a certain amount of knowledge, or accomplishing a rudimentary skill, you would be rewarded with a recognition of that accomplishment. An "A" is not a recognition of accomplishment - it just means that you didn't fuck up.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone got a bad grade in philosophy class recently.

CTS said...

@J. McCord 5:23:

All of those short statements could be revised to accentuate the positive (sorry). Unfortunately, many students will not be able to see that they did not "fully understand key concepts and arguments;" they will only get the idea if a mistake is pointed out. THEY are looking for mistakes, because mistakes can be corrected. "Doing it better" is not a helpful exhortation for most of them.

Joshua Harwood said...

I don't see how teachers' being students' employees legitimizes their dictating the kind of product that they receive.

If I complain about the food that I get at a restaurant, the food providers don't have to cook me a new dish. They can tell me to GTFO. But restaurants often accommodate requests, even ridiculous ones, because they care about word-of-mouth reviews, assured payment (because I could just walk out without paying), etc.

But like a restaurant, who can decide which of these two sides is correct: that the chef can't cook worth a damn, or that the customer has no sense of taste? Chefs will back up their claim through their years of formal training, other high reviews, etc. Customers will back up their claim through their experienced dissatisfaction and comparisons with more appealing chefs.

I think that the responsibility is shared. If a student lacked qualifications for a class, then the filtration process which would block his eligibility for that class has failed. Harsh grading is necessary to serve that end.

If a student lacked the motivation to do well, despite demonstrating clear qualifications, then I think students and professors share blame for that.

If a student was somehow ill-equipped to learn the material of the class because the syllabus was cryptic, the professor used inaccessible materials, or the instructor's lectures were highly tangential, etc. then I think the professor should acknowledge some flaws in his pedagogical method.

In those latter circumstances, it's easy to manipulate shitty professors into higher grades. I recorded thirty minutes of one rambling about some pop celebrity during a lecture session, and I insisted that I wasn't going to pay for that kind of shit instruction if it wasn't coming with some credit. I got the credit, she saved face, and I learned the material on my own later. That said, were I working as a professor, I'd be wary of my instructional quality given the prevalence of auto-uploading audio and video to tube sites.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has worked in several restaurants, I can tell you that the customer is almost always wrong. That doesn't mean that the cooks are always right; they're wrong sometimes. The servers are right more often than not, and the management is usually just plain stupid. And although the bartender doesn't know anything about the food they serve there, s/he is usually fun to talk to.

Anonymous said...

I used to love this blog. But it seems to have died. Shame.

Dread Pirate Roberts said...

Why not recruit some more people to help run/take over the blog? It's been handed down several times already... You could even go Dread Pirate Roberts with it.

There's a huge built-in audience here, and this is a key time for pre-job market action and advice.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is just a case of what in Germany would be called the Sommerloch.

Anonymous said...

We should not be too surprised when a blog dedicated to the philosophy job market and to teaching suddenly gets a lot less active at the beginning of the summer

Anonymous said...

7:06am, how do you know it's been handed down several times already? I've often wondered whether Mr. Zero is one person or several. But I've never come across convincing evidence one way or the other.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's surely obvious that more people need to be added. This is getting ridiculous.

Why not just put out requests to frequent contributors to the blog discussions? JustinfromCanada and Bunnyhugger, for instance?