Monday, September 29, 2008

Are One Chance Students the Victims of Unlimited Chance Professors?

In the last two posts I presented excerpts from The Disadvantages of An Elite Education by William Deresiewicz.

Perhaps the most powerful observation from that article follows:

" . . . [T]he way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out. Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled. The feeling is that, by gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair—in other words, the self-protectiveness of the old-boy network, even if it now includes girls. Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.” A is the mark of excellence; A- is the mark of entitled mediocrity. It’s another one of those metaphors, not so much a grade as a promise. It means, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You may not be all that good, but you’re good enough."

What happens when unlimited chance people teach one chance people? They are likely setting them up for failure. Unfortunately, when law schools hire they salivate over elite, unlimited chance people who are likely to treat their one chance students as though they too have unlimited chances. As I have described over on Moneylaw, the effect is to create disabilities. When teachers have no deadlines, give out only high grades, and have low classroom expectations, they lead students to believe there are no consequences for being a slacker. That is true if mommy and daddy supply a life long safety net. But for students who are not similarly situated it can be a trap.

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