Re: grading ourselves to death

Steve Krause (krause@MIND.NET)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 20:52:30 -0700

Bob King wrote (in part):

>A better civic future, or a better personal future? As it stands, when
>students in my classes have said they're coming to college in order to
>have a better life, they are talking about the latter.
>If we're teaching for citizenship, then grades make little sense. If
>we're teaching for personal betterment -- particularly to see ourselves as
>ahead of others or in competition with others, then grades make a lot of

To me, it's pretty clear that these aren't mutually exclusive goals. And
in a strange way, it also suggests that to be a "good citizen," one ought
to go to college-- I guess why I've always seen teaching citizenship as a
_part_ of my mission as an educator...

>So in a way we have a pretty clear reflection of our larger society, once
>again, in this bifurcation between captitalism and democracy, and the
>winner is? Well, this is where economics come in. Advertising is about a
>billion dollar a day industry, pitching personal betterment as the end-all
>in life. Educational institutions gather a lot of money, too, but
>basically buy into the personal betterment ideology as well, via
>competitive grading and tracking practices. So I'm in support of
>education getting firmly behind teaching for citizenship, because I figure
>the private sector is teaching for personal betterment.

Again, I don't think it's an either/or proposition, frankly. Besides that,
the "go to college simply to be a better citizen" boat sailed about 50
years ago-- that is, it hasn't been since about World War II (and probably
a lot earlier than that) that young men and women (and very few young
women, of course, and very few of the young men were anything but
middle-class/upper-middle class white guys) have gone to school just for

Don't get me wrong, Bob-- I'm with you in terms of the mistakes we've made
in higher ed in trying to promote and fund business and tech-oriented
programs at the expense of the humanities. And I also agree with you that
citizenship should indeed be one of the goals of a good liberal arts
education. I wouldn't be where I am today otherwise. But I also think a
college education is big enough to include a few other
values/goals/aspirations as well, even those that include someday makin' a
buck. Afterall, how many people trying to get PhDs in fields like English
or Writing and Rhetoric are in it just for the citizenship value?

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: