Today’s students are not questioning the logic behind the grades; They are questioning why their grades in my class are lower than in their other classes. Down the hall, those same students can get an A- by putting in three hours of work a week. How do I know? The students tell me, candidly, and without shame or the slightest pangs of guilt. To them, this disparity just doesn’t seem fair, and is the fault of the tougher grader.
Higher education for too many undergraduates at too many liberal arts colleges has become a puffy sofa nestled with down pillows. For a few bucks and in a few hours, students can take a test and learn that they are language disabled, or mathematically disabled, or for a few bucks more, both. Students increasingly ask me during advising sessions if a class is tough or hard, or if the professor assigns a lot of reading, because they need to “lighten their load.” “I want to take a class with Professor So-And-So. I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t want to stress out.” “Don’t worry,” I say, “you won’t.”
This comfy zone of mediocrity extends beyond the classroom. “Student life” largely serves to debilitate the notion of a genuine, deliberative, academic community. Rather than fuel cerebral discussions with activities for the mind, resident advisors and their adult supervisors plan activities that redefine anti-intellectualism. There is Sensitivity Day, Tolerance Day, and Wear [insert color here] Day, and a host of other events that are aimed at “inspiring.” Dorm life is supposed to be cool, fun and engaging. For me, it was simply a place to sleep.