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.

America’s Racial Achievement Gap and the Toxic Mantra of ‘Can’t’

by Christopher Paslay

It’s time to stop telling minority students they “can’t,” and start instilling the skills and values of “can.”

The notion that black and Latino students can’t compete with white and Asian students in school is gaining national momentum.  Amazingly, this attitude isn’t coming from crazy right wing conservatives or Tea Party zombies (conservatives and Tea Party members actually lobby for a colorblind society where the divisive politics of race, such as affirmative action, are finally removed once and for all), but from civil rights groups and so called “social justice” advocates who claim to have the best interests of minorities in mind.

The Florida Board of Education is currently holding minority students to lower standards by stating that 74 percent of blacks, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of whites and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level by 2018.  Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with a coalition of other educational and civil rights groups, filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of eight elite New York City schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students; the reading portion of SHSAT requires students to write in coherent paragraphs, use logical reasoning to answer questions, and analyze text; and the math portion requires knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry.

The notion that minority students “can’t,” promoted under the guise of social justice, has infiltrated 21st century public education in many ways.  In addition to admissions tests being “discriminatory,” minorities can’t compete with whites and Asians because they are being unfairly diagnosed as emotionally disturbed (there is little documented evidence of actual misdiagnosis); are being unfairly disciplined and suspended (actual cases of racial discrimination by public school officials are practically non existent); are being “pushed-out” of schools (not a single school administrator has ever been prosecuted for forcing a child out); are faced with conscious or unconscious racial discrimination by school teachers (nary a documented case exists); lack money and funds (hundreds of billions of dollars have been pumped into schools in poor and disadvantaged communities since 1965 via Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act); and of course, the trickle-down effects of slavery (which officially ended in America over 149 years ago, on January 1st, 1863).

How much these issues are impacting the educations of minorities is debatable.  But one thing is clear: these ideas are being repeatedly communicated to minority students (and their parents) as to why they can’t compete with their white and Asian peers; these issues also seek extrinsic solutions (which students have no personal control over) rather than focusing on the intrinsic values and behaviors they can control.

In 2010, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), headquartered in Princeton, NJ, issued a policy information a report titled “The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped.”  The report highlighted two periods in the fight to close the racial achievement gap in America: a period of progress from the Civil Rights Movement to the 1980s when the achievement gap between black and white students was cut in half; and a period of stagnation from the late 1980’s to the present when the achievement gap leveled off and in some cases, widened.

The first period, the one marked by significant progress, was most likely the result of desegregating schools and upgrading conditions for minorities.  Suffocating racial discrimination and the bogus notion of “separate but equal” was tackled and for the first time gave many minorities access to equal educational resources, such as books, clean schools, rigorous curriculum, qualified teachers, etc.  For the most part, systematic inequalities were corrected, helping minorities gain valuable ground on their white peers; this progress continued steadily for several decades.

But in the late 1980s, something happened.  The achievement gap in America stopped closing.  This perplexed many education advocates because it was around this time that the multicultural education and social justice movements started to bloom.  The ETS report cites disappearing fathers, the decline of the nuclear family, concentrated deprivation, nutrition, and mobility issues as reasons for the stop in progress.

But there is a larger trend that explains why the gap has stopped closing: social justice advocates and civil rights groups have been placing too big of an emphasis on systematic change and not enough emphasis on individual transformation.  And why not?  For nearly 30 years, fighting for changing the system worked wonders (as noted above).  Tragically, however, it appears that this mode of operation is no longer garnishing the same kind of results.  Advocating for societal change appears to have hit its peak in terms of educational achievement 25 years ago.  That’s not to say it’s time to end the fight to bring equity to the system; the system still has room for improvement.

But there is a very large, relatively unexplored approach for closing the achievement gap, and that is through personal empowerment.  Personal empowerment, as in the mantra “you are the captain of your own ship,” rather than the message that “you are a victim of paralyzing curcumstances.”  It is the idea of keeping high standards through “yes, you can,” rather than employing low expectations through “can’t, can’t, can’t.”

All change is self-change.  Until civil rights groups and social justice advocates embrace this reality, America’s racial achievement gap will remain frozen in time.