Re: grading ourselves to death

Steve Krause (krause@MIND.NET)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 12:11:47 -0700

Eric sez:

>College is the most irresistable voluntary activity I've ever seen. The
>social pressure to get a college degree (not necessarily an education) is
>a palpable force in the lives of most young adults. Voluntary? Nominally.

Well, yes and no. I agree that it is for _a lot_ of young adults and not
so young adults (lots of returning students here at SOSC, I'm learning)
only nominally voluntary, but voluntary nonetheless. But I wonder about
what group of "most" we're talking about here. I used to work with a woman
who was a first generation college student and whose family thought she was
totally nuts for going to college instead of just "working for a living."
I know some other folks from working class/working poor backgrounds where
this negative attitude about college was also very common. So for people
like me-- growing up white, midwestern, small-town, upper-middle class--
I'd agree, college is the cultural expectation. I would have been seen as
a rebel had I choosen not to go to college. But I also think there are a
lot of people for whom the choice of going to college labels them a rebel
or outsider as well.
>Besides, even if arrival at the academic institution's water trough was
>voluntary, we still insist on telling students what to drink, when to
>drink, how to drink, and when we think they ought to be sated.
Students do get to pick what they want to study afterall, so that to me
seems to suggest a kind of picking the "beverage of their choice," so to
speak. But it also seems to me that part of what students want when the
enter college is to be given some clue as to what they should drink-- that
is, people come to college to seek credentials, which means (in part) doing
what someone tells them to do and to gain approval for doing it. I'm not
saying we ought not to be creative with grading or that we ought not try to
problematize the power relationships between teachers and students. I'm
just saying that we also ought to remember that a lot of students have
goals that a) require us to give them an idea about what to do and study
and b) require us to give them some sort of approval about how they did it.

On a slightly different note, I wonder if we're carrying on this
conversation because as a community of people with an unusually high
concern and involvement in education (teachers, grad students, professors,
etc.) and thus were in our own college careers overly concerned about
grades. I ask this because I have 3 sisters who all went to college for
"practical" things (engineering, business, and occupational therapy) and
they never seemed that concerned about grades when they were in school.
They knew they were in employable fields and as long as they got about a
2.5 or so, no employer would really care. On the other hand, getting a
good gpa in undergraduate work is pretty darn important if you want to go
into graduate work in a field like English. Just wondering aloud here,
that's all...

Steve Krause * Department of English * Southern Oregon State College
1250 Siskiyou Blvd. * Ashland, OR 97520 * Office Phone: 541-552-6630
School e-mail: * Personal e-mail: