June 16, 2024

American Students’ Mistaken Feeling of Entitlement

Ellen Greenberger’s study entitled "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors" reveals a fatal flaw in the American university system – the students who attend – and whose education is the product of – these institutions.

Greenberger was initially made curious about the subject by students who seemed to feel they deserved a higher grade than they actually earned in her classes.  She wondered what caused the phenmenon.  James Hogge, an associate dean at Vanderbilt, knows.  “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ "

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The education system is – or ought to be – the ultimate form of meritocracy, a learning environment in which only demonstrable results are rewarded.  Feelings have no place in the evaluation of achievement.  Neither does hard work, valuable as it is, have any particular value of its own.  Only results matter.  When did American students – and Americans in general – learn to believe anything else?

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says we’re teaching children to think that way in our public schools.  “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland, exemplifies exactly what is wrong with this insipid sort of thinking:

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Something’s wrong, alright, and it’s apparent in the fact that Greenwood, who is about to matriculate from a major university and is thus presumed to have been educated to a high standard, actually dared to say something this ridiculous aloud with the implicit assumption that he be taken seriously attached.

This could almost, but not quite, be expected from a sociology or psychology major, but a participant in athletics should, of all people, understand that it is precisely absolute achievement that should be measured and rewarded. 

By Greenwood’s logic Usain Bolt be stripped of the gold medals he was awarded in Beijing last year for torching the field in every race entered if it was determined that Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago simply tried harder?  The mere idea is ludicrous and students’ expectations of being given a grade based on their level of effort is no less so.

Sadly, Jason Greenwood is no isolated case.  66.2% of those surveyed responded affirmatively to the statement, "If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade."


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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