Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Re: The Truth About Harvard

This is how we peak our heads over the high walls of Harvard's Cambridge campus. We [people without 1590 SAT scores, people not in Skull & Bones, and people who are not Asian] know of Harvard's storied education but may only access it through the film and literature of insiders. Better than With Honors and better than James Toback's Harvard Man is an Atlantic Monthly article by recent graduate Ross Douthat.

In the piece, young Douthat ponders the reasons for Harvard's now-infamous grade inflation and puts the rest of us at ease by comparing an education at Harvard to "being cheated," "or being sodomized with a broomstick" (is plagiarism illegal?). Douthat's points are salient and it is obvious that Harvard is not alone with its generous grade donations. Douthat's reaons for grade inflation are as follows:

- Profs. who give out bad grades fear having empty classrooms.

- There are less kids content with getting C's because their daddies are rich. Kids nowadays determine post-grad happiness through personal accomplishment.

- Grade inflation started when teachers began rewarding kids who protested Vietnam.

- Professors feel too much responsibility as "gatekeepers to wordly success." Who could say no to Sally crying about not being able to get into Veternarian's school, she loves dogs.

- (the most interesting point) Classes in philosophy, history, literary theory offer nothing to students who don't want to be historians or philosophers. Therefore teachers grade inflate because they know an A will do more for a person in life than a background in "Reason and Faith in the West"

Briefly, if I may interject, I know I don't go to Harvard, but my brother goes to Columbia: Douthat speaks of developing a better required (or core) cirriculum. The problem is that these 101 type classes are too easy not to get A's in. The tests are the same from year to year, they are taught in massive rooms perfect for cheating and TAs are easily influenced by (my) sex. I know these loopholes have always existed but technology has added some new lubricant.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

With only knowledge of the Columbia system, I don't think it is fair to make the statement that Core requirement classes are necessarily easier. The grade distribution of these classes tend to mirror that of other classes. Additionally, on our transcript, class average and overall grade distribution is given next to the marks recieved in each class, so if the grades are inflated, everybody knows. My only criticism of the heavy Core requirement is the lack of flexability in choosing classes. Students are burdened with a variety of requirements and when it comes time to choose a major, they have not fully explored their options.


10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the most important question to ask here is, why are we gauged on a scale of A, B, C, D, or F. What happened to E? There are many times when I've fallen into the gray area between failure and below average - there needs to be a grade that denotes "embarassing performance" or "clearly didn't study, but attended some classes" or "minority student".

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harvard is also one of the top colleges in the country, if not the world. These kids get A's. They study their asses off. I have seen first hand. I did not go, but I'm marrying an alum. I watched her work like a slave.

There is some grade inflation, but it was/is not rampant the way it is portrayed. While teachers challenge them, these students are still the country's brightes. of COURSE they are going to do well academically.

Now socially? These kids need those 101 classes. Like Flip Cup 101.

8:05 AM  

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