Re: grading ourselves to death

Beth W. Baldwin (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:33:11 -0400

On Thu, 5 Sep 1996, Steve Krause wrote:

> 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
> "citizenship."
> 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, I don't think it's an either/or proposition either. I also don't
think that Bob was arguing for either/or as much as he was pointing out
that things seem a little skewed now in the direction of personal
betterment rather than civic betterment. While the better citizen boat
indeed may have sailed 50 years ago, let's at least keep in mind that
the world is round and the ship may return. All indications support the
belief that the ship at least has not sunk.

In education during the 80s, the focus seemed to shift from a both/and
position (personal and civic betterment) to personal betterment. College
was sold on the basis of what it could do for your wallet (after the
wallet was initially emptied, of course). For the most part, students
I see are still focused on personal betterment. But I do sense a change.
There are folks in college now with an eye towards social contribution.
There's also a lot of talk in the institution about service and the
responsibilities of our graduates to return something to the community.
So, the good citizen boat may be coming back into port -- hopefully
not at the expense of personal interest, but as partner to personal

What this has to do with grades . . . well, again one can argue for
or against grades in either case. I stick by my personal belief that
as long as we are questioning our practice in terms of long range
missions, then we're doing the right thing. It's when we grade
(or eschew grades) without reflection, simply because it's traditional,
conventional, or what's currently in vogue that we're in deep trouble.


Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *