An interesting read on the emotional fragility of college students today. I probably would've used a different phrase than 'Buck up,' but the point is well-taken.
Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when in comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?
As the father of a college student, a high school student and a middle school student, and as a college professor, I see this first hand. I have seen my own kids panic over getting a low grade (B?) and I have had my own students blame me for their lack of performance. I'm not pointing fingers as I know this is a collective failure of pre-college teachers failing to prepare students for the independence, personal responsibility and higher expectations for college-level work; of parents for stepping in too quickly to help their children when they are struggling; and of college professors/instructors for failing to maintain high standards out of fear of student backlash or worse.
But I also know that caving to low standards of personal expectations set prior to college does nothing to prepare college students for life outside of college.
A quick side story: The only class I came close to failing in high school was public speaking. I wasn't a great high school student, but I could manage B's and C's in most classes with minimal effort (seems I was even an economist back then). But public speaking, well, I sucked at it. Even though I was in a class of people I knew, I was deathly-scared of talking in front of others. Not just 'I'm a little nervous' scared, but 'wet-my-pants' scared. 'Vomit-on-my-sweater-mom's-spaghetti' scared. I tried. I really did. I tried to pick topics I knew. I tried to find ways to calm myself down. But my fears kept getting the better of me. I got a 'D' in the class. Not because the teacher didn't teach me. Not because my parents didn't step in to twist the teacher's arm to get me a higher grade. Mrs. Knode didn't give me a 'D' in public speaking. I earned it.
And I am grateful.
I learned from it. That 'D' was a challenge. I could've either said 'I suck at public speaking, so I will always avoid it,' or I could do what I did: figure out a way to get better at it.
Today, I can stand in front of a class of 200 students and talk for an hour three days a week. I can go to a professional conference and talk in front of an audience of people who are all a lot smarter than me.
I still get nervous. I'm still not a great public speaker. But thanks to that 'D' I know that I need to put in effort to get better.
What if my parents had stepped in and twisted the teacher's arm? What if Mrs. Knode had settled and given me a 'B''?
Getting a 'D' sucked. But I'm better for it.
So my unsolicited advise to all is this:
Parents: Help but don't solve. Guide but don't direct. And by all means, support your kids' teachers rather than blame them. Believe it or not, most of your kids are not geniuses, superstars, or presidential material (mine of course are, but yours? Not so much.). Sorry. But they can be successful even with an occasional stumble or failure.
Pre-College Teachers: Maintain standards. Don't be afraid to be critical. You don't have to be an ass about it, but tell students when their work is not good enough. Tell them when their effort doesn't meet your standards. And stand up to parents. Parents are going to bitch, they are going to complain, they are going to blame you. It's part of your job--and it sucks. Deal with it and remember that if you cave to low standards, you are passing the problem on and setting the students up for future failure.
College professors/instructors: Hold students to a higher standard than they have ever been held. Fail them if they earn it. Pass them if they earn it. Give them the grade they have earned, not the grade they demand. Stop worrying about student evaluations--especially if you are tenured. Yes, you should strive to be a great teacher, but don't target good evaluations by lowering your standards. Find ways to challenge students and they will reward you...and remember that if you cave to low standards, you are passing the problem on and setting the students up for future failure.
Students: You get what you earn. Teachers and Professors don't GIVE you a grade, you EARN your grade. A lack of success is not the fault of your professor, your high school teacher, your parents or the village. It is a result of the effort your put in. That's not unfair. That's FAIR. You get back what you put in. Don''t blame others for your failures--find a way to succeed. It's hard, it takes effort, others will find it easier than you--oh well. Suck it up. You can handle it--if you want to. And even with your best effort, you might not get what you think you deserve (I still have dreams of being a major-leaguer, but unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I can't hit a curve ball...or a fastball...OK, I can't hit at all). Move on, you will find where you can succeed. And remember that if you cave to low standards, you are setting yourself up for future failure.
OK, I'm done preaching for the day.