Sunday, May 02, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Entitlement Issues

Terry posted an unintentionally hilarious Fox&Friends disquisition on the evil cultural effects of Mr. Rogers (don't get me wrong; Terry knew how absurd it was) and in the discussion following, asked me
You’re a prof – do you see much of the “I’m entitled to an A” attitude that the article cites? I would guess that a bigger problem with entitlement comes from wealth and class than from educational TV aimed at middle class and poorer kids, but I could be wrong.

My answer, which is necessarily incomplete at this time of the year, was
I think, and this will come as no surprise to you or to anyone who know me, that the causes are multiple and the situation much less dire than they’re making it out to be. I have to think this through more carefully after the grading is done, but here’s a short list of things I think have made a difference: smaller families (i.e., more parental attention/investment in children’s success), the installation of college as an expectation (over a third of students go on to higher education, and the number’s higher if community college is included), the self-esteem movement in education and parenting (including, but not limited to, the idea that “we’re all winners” even when we’re not), social promotion, “fairy tale” stories in which talent is inherent (often discovered more or less full-blown; e.g. American Idol, etc.) rather than accumulated through training (or, if training is required, it’s the honing of innate abilities; e.g. Jedi), the conflation of fame with importance, the quantification of educational achievement (testing, esp. multiple choice testing, combined with teaching to the test) allowing students to pass by doing a bare minumum, marketing which emphasizes style as measure of worth (and style as a talent, but also purchasable), and a pervasive anti-intellectualism (going back a century or more, but intensified in late 20c) in American culture (note: geeks are exempted, but their skills are seen as talents and innate, not gained through practice and education).

It’s also worth saying that there are substantial numbers of students in our schools who are bored by the lack of challenge, and who are willing to work hard and long at things they consider worth doing. There are large numbers of students who accept well-defined standards and well-explained grades without protest (though the connection between grade expectations and teacher evaluations is troubling), unlike the vocal minority who make such an impact on teachers’ time and energy.

In retrospect, I think most people would take issue with my definition of "short list"...