I had a conversation with a high school teacher the other day that disturbed me. She described a practice on the part of her school administration in which final-year students could go and get their marks raised by several percentage points if they were trying to get into a good university or a professional program. She added that all the teachers at that school were extremely demoralized, feeling that their work was irrelevant and that the administration had stripped them of all their authority as teachers.
The hard-working students who had earned good grades were upset because they were seeing fellow students who’d coasted through the term, or those who didn’t have a grasp of the concepts, receiving the same marks as they did. It made them feel like it wasn’t worth bothering to study if they could just go and lobby for a better mark at the end of the term.
It brought to mind my own journey through high school, university, medical school and residency, how hard I worked and what it meant to me to do well, legitimately.
I remember the feeling of deep satisfaction I got, every time I studied for an exam in high school, or worked on an assignment and completed it in time. These feelings contributed to my sense of confidence in my intellectual abilities and to my good work ethic. I would never have wanted to be deprived of the satisfaction of a job well done or the pride I felt in myself for my success.
I also remembered how, throughout my university and med school days, there were always a few individuals who cheated on their assignments (copying from old papers or getting other people to help them) or on the exams (obtaining advance copies of the exams). I always felt like they were cheating themselves, as they never got to feel that sense of genuine accomplishment and pride I felt as a result of my efforts.
I also pitied the people who worked with these individuals in the future, and those unlucky souls who’d be their future clients or patients. Everyone who the cheaters associated with in the future would have to deal with the fact that these people hadn’t learned what they were supposed to have learned, in order to be competent in their future career.
Apparently, the belief on the part of the administration at the school where marks are being raised is that this is being helpful to the students, but I see this as a completely wrong-headed notion.
Demoralized teachers will be less motivated to do their best work on behalf of their students and the hard-working classmates of those students who got their marks raised will be less inclined to study hard or put effort into their assignments. All of this will combine to create mediocre graduating classes whose inflated marks are in no way representative of their skills or knowledge and who are ill-prepared for the real world.
On a more general note, enabling students to coast through high school while still receiving good marks is teaching these young people a dangerous lesson: that they won’t ever have to experience consequences for their choices.
It might be fun for them to goof off during high school, cut classes, go to the mall and hang out with their friends, but eventually, they’ll discover the hard way that not having learned the basics of math, literacy and science, as well as good study habits, will cause them to be significantly impaired in their future lives.
The administration at this school is teaching its students that they’ll be rewarded for indolence, but for most of the students, real life will eventually encroach upon them, bringing the surprising (to them) difficulties and failures that a bad attitude and lousy work-ethic will foster.
It’s doing a disservice to students and teachers alike when a well-meaning but wrong-thinking administration is willing to raise marks for students who haven’t done the work. It would be much better for the students who were unhappy with their marks to have their consequences now, while in high school, rather than later. If their mark is low, they can get tutoring, re-submit the paper, re-write the exam or attend summer school. In this way, they get to actually learn the material they’re being marked on, and they learn an even more valuable lesson about how their actions have real-life repercussions.
If these students don’t learn about consequences now, they’re in for a harsh surprise down the road, when they flunk out of university or get fired for doing poorly at their job.
We need to re-think the pervasive policy of lenience toward and enabling of sub-par work that not only this high school adheres to but many grade schools, colleges and even universities hold as well. These institutions are turning out students who are ill-prepared for life and who embody an attitude of doing the least amount of work possible in every endeavor. This “helpful” idea is setting up students for a lifetime of failure.
Some of these young people may get away with a lazy attitude in their future education and their workplace, scraping by at university and just barely holding on to their jobs, but never really striving to learn or do their best will give them lives that are neither fulfilling nor meaningful. A lazy attitude creates an empty existence.
The value of immediate consequences to students for coasting through high school is not only learning that the final result will indeed, reflect the amount of work they’ve put in, but that there’s an inherent satisfaction in doing something to the best of one’s abilities, and a far greater chance of leading a happy life, when one strives always to do one’s best.