Why Students Feel Entitled to Grades they Haven’t Earned

by Christopher Paslay

Social justice is fueling our student’s entitlement mentality.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Students are now going through the ritual of approaching their teachers and asking if there is anything they can do for extra credit to get their grade where they want it to be.  My stock answer to this question is, Yes, and you can start by doing the classwork that is due today.

On a rare occasion, a student who is up to date with all his work and is looking for that extra assignment to give him that extra edge will request additional work, and it is then and only then that I agree to give extra credit.

It’s interesting how today’s youth feel entitled to certain grades, regardless of whether or not they have earned them.  I’ve been privileged over the past 16 years to teach a wonderful and motivated group of students, but I’ve also had the other extreme–the slackers and game players who spend the majority of their time trying to work the system; if they spent half as much time doing their work as they do trying to avoid it, they’d all be on the honor roll.

I often wonder where this entitlement mentality comes from.  How in the world do they think they deserve an “A” or “B” when they haven’t completed a third of the work to earn such a grade.  More puzzling still, where do they get the notion that they can make up a semester’s worth of papers, projects, oral reports, journals, etc. with one lousy extra credit assignment?  (The best is when a student misses a week’s worth of classes–96 minutes a pop–and demands all the make-up work . . . ASAP, if you please . . . as if it’s even possible to make up so much lost class time by taking home a text and copying the information from a classmate).

If I had to speculate, however, I would guess this mentality stems at least in part from a concept known as social justice–or put another way, the liberal orthodoxy that places “fairness” over merit, the idea that in the end, everyone must be equal and that it doesn’t matter how we make it that way (the ends justify the means).

The protest over the admission tests given at eight New York City elite high schools is a case in point.  In September, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of these schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students.

Another example took place last August, when the SRC eased The Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct in an effort to keep teachers and administrators from suspending or expelling too many students.

The Most recent (and troubling) example of “fairness” over merit is the new movement to lower the admission standards of charters and other special admit schools.  Operating under the guise of eliminating “significant barriers to entry,” this movement puts a double whammy on Philadelphia’s high achieving students and their families by attacking the applications of exemplary schools such as Green Woods Charter and Eastern University Academy.

Our city’s motivated, academically advanced children and their families are now being swarmed by marxist social justice advocates at both ends: they can’t get an education in their neighborhood schools because civil rights groups are fighting to keep their wayward and unruly peers in classrooms where they rob them of their right to learn; and they can’t distinguish themselves in charters or special admit schools because liberals are fighting to water-down applications and admission tests so the not-so-motivated and/or academically inclined can take up an equal amount of seats.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on such advocates that if a student and his family can’t pass the muster on the application, the chances are they won’t pass the muster on the advanced curriculum; social justice folk operate under the false notion that if you put an average student with average intelligence and motivation into an elite school, he will somehow become elite overnight–presto change-o.

The notion of “justice” under social justice is also interesting.  Social justice for whom, exactly?  The 85 percent of hardworking students who get their educations compromised on a daily basis because the rights of the violent 15 percent are more important?  Is there social justice for the mathematically and linguistically gifted child who gets bumped out of an academically elite school because he wasn’t the right skin color and ruined the quota?  Is it socially just to discount the planning and wherewithal of organized families who have done their homework and research and have completed the rigorous application to the special admit school by accepting someone less qualified via a watered-down application?

But it isn’t the fact that this so called “fairness” is grossly unfair to a whole group of people (ahem . . . educational socialism . . . ahem . . . the ends justify the means), but the most worrisome part is that instead of raising the bar for everyone, instead of calling on the mediocre to raise their expectations, the opposite happens: we set our sites on the lowest common denominator.

Think about.  Lower the admission standards at NYC’s elite schools.  Ease the student code of conduct in Philadelphia public schools.  Water down applications to charter and special admit schools.  Lower, lower, lower; it’s no wonder that showing a photo ID to vote is too daunting a task for people of this mentality.

People who believe in incentivizing success, raising expectations, and living in a society based on merit rather than on grievances and the mantra of victimization (ahem . . . conservatives), would fight to teach these students and their families that with determination, they can overcome any obstacle; what they wouldn’t do is throw in the towel and lower the standards.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Time for students to seek out that game changing extra-credit assignment our socialist education system has promised them that they are all entitled to.