by Andria Woodell, Social Sciences
There has been a lot of buzz in the academic world about entitlement. Recently, there was an article by Professor Marshall Grossman published in the NY Times titled “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes.” In his article, Grossman discusses some of his experiences with entitled students and explanations behind this “new” trend. Like many other professors, I can identify with Grossman’s discussion. Some of us have encountered these situations more often than we would care to count. While I believe it is not new for students to focus on grades, it is surreal when a student is arguing they deserve an A despite scoring 70-80s on their assignments. It is also frustrating when they refuse to listen to why they have received those scores or suggestions to improve their grades. This becomes even more unsettling when a student turns hostile towards a professor because the professor stands firm. In the end, it is a no-win situation for both the student and professor. The student feels as if they were unfairly treated and the professor walks away a little more pessimistic about their students.
What is interesting is that when I hear people discussing entitlement today, it is directed toward the younger generation. Jean Twenge’s book , Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, supports the assumption that people from their teens to their 20s are plagued with entitlement . However, if you read the article “The New Me Generation,” the entitlement generation consists of everyone born in 1970 and beyond. Doing the math here, this includes people who are 39 years or younger. The average age of retirement in the US is currently 63, so the majority of students and workers (including myself) are now part of this entitlement generation! Therefore, the description of entitlement as a generational shift is not entirely accurate. Instead, it appears to be more of a societal shift. The looming question is whether entitlement is always bad. In the “The Me New Generation,” the author describes the entitlement generation as “smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement.” They are the “co-workers who drive you nuts.” On the flip-side, he goes on to state these individuals are also free-thinkers who are willing to break the status quo and pursue their dreams. Their confidence is what allows them to accomplish great things and can keep companies progressing. So where is the problem?
From an academic standpoint, I see entitlement hurting work ethic. Others might disagree with me here, but there seems to be a pocket of individuals who equate effort with mastery. When we hear, “there is no A for effort”, this is true. I have yet to see a grading rubric with effort as one of the graded requirements. Bottom line, if you do not complete the main components of an assignment, you will lose points, no matter how much effort you put in. As one professor has described it, “If your doctor works very hard at removing your appendix and it turns out you only needed your tonsils out, you are not likely to say “Hey! It’s ok! You worked very hard!”. The other problem is that individuals who have never been told no or have yet to overcome significant academic challenges seem to experience a high level of anxiety at even the thought of not being perfect. I have seen students work themselves into a frenzy over this, even when they were passing with strong B’s. This is problematic because according to the frustration-aggression hypothesis in social psychology—the more frustrated a person becomes the more likely they may become aggressive. It of course does not explain ALL aggression, but it can explain why a student may resort to rudeness, harassment, slander, or even indirect or direct violence towards an instructor because they were blocked from a goal and they are not sure how to resolve the issue constructively.
So what is the solution? Apparently, that is the hot research question right now. Grossman mentions that at his school they are retraining students on the purpose of education. COCC sponsored a speaker to educate faculty on the qualities of the new incoming students and how to resolve problems. There are also new policies in place that protect both students and faculty from harassment. Others (myself included) have resorted to detailed syllabi explaining class policy and how to behave. However, I find it unfortunate that my syllabi grew from 3 pages to 8 over the years because I have to explain how not to be disruptive and why a person should not text message in class. I have no answers at the moment. I personally hope we end up in the middle, with professors who can teach freely without having to invest so much energy defending themselves from unreasonable demands and with students who can be free thinkers, push the envelope and earn their grades rather than simply expect them. I am an optimist, but we will have to wait and see how it all unfolds.