Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Deresiewicz, Entitled Mediocrity, and the Master Craftsman Quiz #4
I received my graded Quiz #4 in the Scottish Rite Master Craftsman program last week. Each quiz includes 20 multiple choice questions and 1 essay over selected degrees in the Scottish Rite. Quizzes cover approximately 100 to 250 pages of reading and are open book. When you finish a quiz, you mail it back and it's graded and returned to you. Up to this point in the program, I scored 100% on all of the quizzes- perfect. The labels on the graded quizzes even said so- “Perfect Score 100%.” But Quiz #4 changed my perfect record; I answered one of the questions wrong. I now have one quiz with just an A.
I suppose that is still okay, though: “A” is the mark of excellence while an “A-“ is the mark of entitled mediocrity. That’s what I read in William Deresiewicz’s essay: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. Deresiewicz argues that educators do students a disservice by not teaching them to be independent thinkers. Instead, we focus on those marketable skills which allow for success from inside the system. I probably shouldn’t use the term “we.” I am a teacher and I do work in an excellent school, but it is a public school after all and we probably have too many students on free and reduced price lunch to qualify as an elite institution.
Still, I fall into the trap Deresiewicz describes. And not just as a teacher, but as a student. My first reaction on seeing the one missed question on my recent Master Craftsman quiz was to find the passage which justified my answer and compose an email to those in charge of the program. I wasn’t about to settle for just an “A.” I worked hard and deserved a perfect score. To me, at least at first, it didn’t matter that my answer was wrong. I was more focused on how hard I worked and thought that should justify me- I was entitled. Ironically, Deresiewicz makes just that point in his analysis of many of today's students who attend elite universities. They feel they are entitled simply because of the effort they put into an assignment. Scores on assignments are changed after a student argues that his answer was based on some other assumption that the question stated, or assignment deadlines are modified for the student who simply can't get it done on time. Deresiewicz writes that exams, research papers, and speeches aren't graded based on whether or not they meet standards of the professor but rather whether or not they reflect the effort of the student, and since the student has already proven their worth by getting into an elite university, that must mean that the grade should a least be an "A-."
This has been another benefit of the Master Craftsman course for me. I've learned to study with more patience and I've also learned that even though I have worked hard reading the assigned material, multiple times in some instances, my score still is dependent on whether or not my chosen answer is correct.
However, I still think that the meaning of Master of Kadosh is none of the above!