Everyday at the University of the West Indies, I pass a bulletin board at the Department of Literatures in English with the following article posted on it: “Qualified But Clueless – University Graduates Say Students Studying Only To Pass Tests And Not Learning”. Each time I see it, I think, accurate, but how so really?
I’m not going to lie, up until my 1st year at UWI, all I’ve been doing with my brain was stuffing it with enough info to be able to pass my tests. It always worked. It was one of the reasons why I was recruited to play on the School’s Challenge Quiz Team as well. The mandate was basically “Read and Recite”. So you could just imagine my shock when, one by one, all my Literature lecturers took a good 15mins to firmly point out that they expected us to employ analytical skills. That, YES, they wanted to read in our essays what we truly thought, even if those thoughts weren’t necessarily fit for public viewing. That it was a major mistake for their high school counterparts to not have taught us how to think critically about why characters said/did what they did. How analyzing the behavioural pattern of fictional characters could help us do the same in reality.
It took some time for all of us to master the craft. Some still are. But for those of us who – according to teachers’ comments thus far – seem to be well on our way, we have now encountered a problem that counteracts with our success. Now we’re being given great grades for work we know without a doubt could have been better done.
Now before you call me crazy, hear me out.
I could always empathize with lecturers who seem especially enthusiastic about their work, but just don’t get responses from their students, so I always tried answering their questions. I couldn’t bear the awkward silence that followed if I didn’t at least try. Can you imagine being pumped about something and dying to share it with others, but all you get is dead silence and blank stares? That’s got to be uncomfortable. But the problem is, once lecturers find that one person that they could rely on for discussion, they seem to be so grateful, that they start dishing out good grades, even when it’s clear you could’ve done more with your assignment. I’ve felt so many times that I could’ve read more, said more, dug deeper in my psyche and written a more eloquent piece, but still got A’s and B’s. Why?
As it relates to the pictures above, I remember the writing process for that essay. It WAS NOT fun. The assignment question was intriguing, yes, and so were the theories involved, but ask any psychology major whether applying a theory to your own thesis [and successfully proving it] is easy. The comments throughout the essay were also slightly shocking. Of course I knew that what I was writing was relevant to the topic. I was addressing everything the question asked… but then I remembered the night before submitting the paper – propping myself up and trying to focus on the blurring words; my head bobbing back and forth; being surrounded by lifeless books in a cold library; the HUNGER!!! Conditions like those don’t contribute to anybody being able to write something sensible.
The feeling I get when I’m given such a grade is that I’m being rewarded for something other than this essay[namely, participation in class], and I don’t like it. You can’t be telling me that the point I’ve made in paragraph three could have been fleshed out more with additional examples; that my thesis could’ve been narrower, etc etc etc; making me expect a C+, yet giving me an A . What kinda logic is that? How am I supposed to judge my progress moving on from there? Am I supposed to then surmise that this level of performance [where I’m biting my nails because I KNOW I didn’t do my best] is acceptable? Am I supposed to settle there? If that was A-grade work, then are you telling me that there’s no more space to go up? But I still haven’t reached your level of thinking, so how am I gonna get there then?
And I’m not the only one who’s had this problem. Since like minds attract, I keep meeting people who reveal this issue to me, and I think, so what does that mean for the future? Because I’m easily a lazy person, so if you tell me that this standard is ok, and I end up having to teach a class 5yrs from now, I’m gonna be grading people worse than you’re doing right now. And I know that truly, a lot of persons think that this is absolutely no biggie, but I find that even in the corporate world, many of the persons on top aren’t critical thinkers, and even if they are, they don’t expect the younger generation to be. Most think we only know music and can’t even manage getting the simplest of tasks done. You’ll even find that they sometimes explain directives to you as if you’re still at the primary level of understanding. How does that even work?
Lecturers, all I’m saying is, keep pushing for your students to do more. This doesn’t mean you should discourage us, nor does it mean that you should make drastic changes to the way you give grades. But talk to us truly. Explain what is expected and why. Hint at the how. Even if we seem to be displaying the beginnings of critical thinking abilities, don’t automatically assume that we’re not still clueless.