One student insisted, “We are lazy and I can prove it.” OK, I said, I don’t know what the proof could be but what do you mean. “My boyfriend is always losing his remote somewhere, so he went up to Home Depot and bought a long stick, ten feet long maybe, so that when he loses his remote, he doesn’t have to get up to look for it but changes the channels by poking the TV with his stick.” Everybody laughed. Who hasn’t felt too lazy to look for the remote. I don’t know I said, he may be lazy but that’s pretty ingenious too. “He should sell it,” a student said.
Perhaps they are lazy. In 2004 the UC did a big survay and report on the UC undergraduate experience (except for Berkeley; it did it’s own study since it doesn’t consider itself part of the UC System). But the other eight campuses contributed, and they found that the mean number of hours spent by students in class was 14 and the mean number of hours per week spent studying was 12. So the students spend a total of 26 hours a week on “academics.” The report noted some variation in academic involvement between the areas of study. Students in science/math studied the most; students in the social sciences the least.
Twelve hours of study a week doesn’t seem like much to me. That’s less than two hours a day on average. One reason for this relatively low number could well be that it is all that is needed to received a satisfactory grade. Everybody has heard of grade inflation including students. So that if one attends class and studies those 12 hours, one could pretty easily come out with a B average especially if one is a student in the social sciences or the humanities.
Once I graded a lot harder than I do now. About 15 years ago some sort of shift took place; my particular institutution began to attract more and more students with very good high school grades. I gave Cs then, not a lot but some. But I gave it up because I saw that for these students getting a “C” was a failure. I remember one student going off about how his parents had spent 12000 dollars a year to send him to private school and here he was in college getting Cs. He didn’t know how he was going to explain that to his parents since he couldn’t explain it to himself.
For a while I tried to hold the “C” line but the Cs seemed to panic the students so much—especially one in the only course required of all students—that they were rendered pretty much unteachable. They wanted to know EXACTLY what to do to get an A. Unfortunately, I don’t know a way to tell people EXACTLY how to write well; the more I tried the more I ended up writing the paper for the students. That was counter-productive and exhausting.
I speculate that grade inflation went along with either the lack of will or means by which to distinguish levels and degrees of quality. Increasingly students who did the work, no matter what the quality of the work, did well, while those who didn’t do the work, whatever the quality of what they did do, didn’t. I don’t know when this started but since, as Hegel says, the Owl of Minerva flies at dusk, I would suggest some time before the publication of Pirsig’s abstruse musings on quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1973).