Entitled to Learn
Last spring, a student complained about a grade that I had given her. We met. I wasn’t changing her grade. I explained my grading scheme. She nodded, not happy, but, I thought, at least comprehending. The next day, I received a phone call from her mother. The following week I had to meet with this student and her parents. I did not change her grade. She finished the term obviously disgruntled. I have not seen her again. But I think I know who wrote that student evaluation.
I just heard a CBC Interview about the Entitled Generation
in their book Campus Confidential: 100 Startling Things You Don’t Know about Canadian Universities, Coates and Morrison outline the argument that current university students are pampered and lazy, expecting to be spoon fed not just ideas, but grades. In the interview Coates says that the result of this kind of attitude is that “faculty members are getting demoralized.”
As a university professor, I understand this argument. I have students, like that mentioned above, who think that because they’ve paid their tuition, they should get the grade these dollars amount to. And it is demoralizing to know these students are in a classroom. They clearly don’t care about what you are teaching. They are resentful. They are judgmental.
And they have a point.
But what they are missing is that they have paid not for a grade, but an education. And an education is not attained by being spoon fed facts that can just as easily be gotten via google. You can’t just cut the top off a student’s head and pour knowledge in. Although many days I have wished that this was possible.
In the Platonic dialogue The Republic Socrates says that education is a turning of the soul. If you want someone to see the sun or the truth, it’s not just a matter of prying their eyes open. They also have to be facing the right direction. And a soul is not turned to the truth through brute force. The soul has to turn itself. It has to want to know. How many of us remember the minute details of that history test we crammed for in high school? How much easier is it to remember that knowledge that you attained because you really wanted it?
And this is exactly where these students have a valid point. They are entitled to something. They are entitled to have their desire for wisdom awakened and reawakened. They have to be made aware that there is something that they want to know. And that’s my job. I have to be interesting. I have to be provocative. I have to teach things that are intrinsically worth understanding. I have to give students a chance to respond. To critique my arguments. To debate the ideas. To learn for themselves.
I get where Coates and Morrison are coming from. But if I were to come into classrooms day after day and see a smaller and smaller group of obviously sleeping people in front of me, I’d ask myself what I’m doing wrong. Every class is different. Different students are interested in different things. What worked for one group or one student may not work for another. It’s my job to find out what will work for this group of students on this day.
I’ve met some students who think they are entitled. I’ve met more students who just want to learn. And I’ve met some who just want to be woken up, even if they don’t know that yet.