by Kelsey Sizemore
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Behaving in a rational way is weighing options presented during a situation or interaction and responding in a way that most benefits the decision-maker. Utilizing rational behavior is a way of moving through the world that first satisfies the individual and then considers the surrounding community. Within the American system of higher education, quality of learning is, almost solely, assessed through a grade scale. In theory, expectations from the institution are high, and students strive to meet the occasion. The more fully that a pupil has digested assigned information, and the harder that the student works to show that they are able to expound on an assigned subject, the higher the grade awarded. This way of validating a student’s understanding promotes a competitive lifestyle. With any competitive environment, there is potential for unjust favoritism and corruption. The American academic pursuit provides a clear example of people held captive by rational behavior, based around perceived monetary worth of something so superficial and intangible as a high grade point average. This obsession runs through all of its layers, from the top of the institution in its administrators, all the way down and out the door to the prospective student base.
A high grade point average is essential for justifying higher tuition, greater interest from incoming students, and a larger pool of potential financial backers. For administrators, the prime concern becomes how it ensures that influx of capital, rather than the achievement of its attendees. According to Richard Hersh in the film “Declining by Degrees,” improvements to campuses around the country have become an arms race. Money is spent on new stadiums, gyms, and decadent dorms, rather than invested in lab equipment. These improvements attract a wider variety of students, and thus ramp the flow of tuition.
Fundraising is also achieved through the research conducted by those on the tenure track. Receiving tenure is the end goal for many who have dedicated themselves to scholastic careers. And a permanent spot teaching at a college or university benefits all who are involved.
It’s good for students to have an instructor with job security and experience; it’s good for administrators to be able to tout tenured professors.
To have the honor of tenure bestowed upon them, educators are required to prize the research needed to publish scholarly journals, first. Lesson planning and time for helping students, second. Brian Strow, a professor at Western Kentucky University knows fully that his salary depends on the level of research that he conducts.
“Clearly if I want a raise it’s going to be through research. I’m not going to get raises based on quality of teaching, no matter how good that teaching is,” Strow said.
Partially because of the massive time commitment that research demands, and partially because students are ill prepared to enter college, teachers are encouraged to lower standards to satisfy attendees. Those who are not on the tenure track are hired on a part-time basis, forced to maintain an overly full schedule, typically packed with extraneous travel, in order to make ends meet. This time-crunch results in generalized lectures and little opportunity to reach out to students who need extra help, of which there are plenty.
Students entering college for the first time face challenges that previous generations did not. The state of the economy at large, standardized test based learning in early education, and the double edged sword of consumer culture being so heavily indoctrinated in Americans, have never pushed against a generation so forcefully.
Funding for grants is drying up; there is no longer a pool of funds to draw from to aid in paying the great cost of learning.
People paying out of pocket for school, are left to work full-time jobs and maintain a full course schedule to graduate in a timely fashion, or simply not go to the schools that they have been accepted to.
Ceylon Hollis, a student at WKU, works the night shift in a factory to put herself through school full-time. She takes two-hour naps periodically throughout the day to rest, and her studies suffer for her efforts.
Once in school, many students tend to see the educational system as a business transaction, instead of the grueling training that it should be. They become irate when poor grades are received, despite a lack of understanding and effort. These students are encouraged to learn the art of being a student, instead of learning how to process new ideas and express thoughts. Taking classes that are too easy and coming unprepared but complaining about teachers when low scores are earned until they are changed, these are the skills being taught throughout higher education.
As graduates enter the workforce, if they subscribed to the easy route of working the system or have not pushed their intellect through challenging subjects, they leave less competent than previous generations. An unprepared, under-educated workforce is a major problem to the immediate and distant futures.
It is rational to choose the path that leads to more instant gratification. Utilizing rational thought in respect to legacy is a rare quality, but not one that cannot be taught. Without it, our country will fail. Our planet will be destroyed under our feet. American academia must demonstrate the necessity of pushing one’s intellectual capacity to its limits and beyond.
Education is a sign that citizens are valued. We receive a clear message that we, as citizens, are not valued in every aspect of our culture. We are starving, segregated, dehumanized racially and sexually, underpaid, unsupported, left to chase the ghost of The American Dream. Because there is not another way to measure a person’s understanding of a topic on a mass scale aside from a standardized GPA system, pandering to a grades race seems logical. But participating in this mindset leaves open the door for a lowered standards, entitlement, and degradation of society as a whole.