I am presently on sabbatical from teaching and enjoying the break immensely. After six years working as an adjunct instructor I needed a break. Much of it had to do with the need to address challenges in my own life, but it also was because I was losing faith in education.
Over the years I witnessed students becoming more distracted, less committed to learning, and more concerned about grades. Sure there were always a handful of standout students that made teaching enjoyable, but there were also many who honestly were not ready to be in graduate school.
One year as an experiment I gave a multiple choice midterm (instead of essay exams which was my norm). I took a lot of time crafting the questions and made sure I could link each one to a very obvious reading or lecture. In the end they bombed big time. The average grade was a D and many students were furious with me. Most felt my questions were not fair and that my class was going to leave an indelible mark on their GPA’s. I went back and did a thorough review of the exam and concluded that maybe 10% of the questions should be thrown out. The real disappointment was the students to own, but they didn’t want to. They had been habituated into believing that grades were everything and learning was secondary.
My point in all of this is that our educational system is failing students long before graduate school. While this is a topic way bigger than a blog entry, I do believe the essence of the fix is quite simple. We need to take the focus off of grades and help students discover their natural talents. Then we need to help them use those talents to make the world a better place.