How Can I Possibly Grade These Students?

It's grade-grubbing season again.  With it come nervous, angry, and very rude students.

How can I possibly grade the following actual unedited submissions?

Attached is the actual outline for my ruff raft. Please, account this as credit therefore I'll prove my academic progression as acknowledgment for satisfactory of the course. The presentation shall be captivating with visualization being a current pet owner of a fish too!

Then there is the public speaking class outline, where a student submitted the following:

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience about Bill Clinton and why he is a memorable and unique former President.

Central Idea: Bill is seen as a very affable person, many people can relate to Bill for multiple reasons.

I. He can play the saxophone.

II. Bill has no elite sources, privilege or status unlike many other former presidents.

III.  He was the second President to ever get impeached, which made the public understand that he too can make mistakes and was not perfect.

The inchoate level of thinking will require a Herculean effort on my part to fix, and I remain quite pessimistic that it will even matter.

Although an assigned article dealt with health risks associated with marijuana use, this student writes that "[t]he author is saying in his thesis that just because kids' smoke Marijuana that does not make them bad children."

When discussing illegal immigration and a concomitant rise in disease, another student writes this indecipherable "sentence."

The introduction gets a reader's attention by wondering what is the cause of the nice lady starving from times to times and what will the government to about the health benefits services at the end.

Even though the assigned article cited credible statistics and facts, another young woman maintains:

yes, there is a bias, illegal immigrants from other countries accusing of having disease.  Personally the argument does not stand it's on because, besides the illegal immigrants, the U.S. have its own issues which have to do with economic system failure and the law corruption.

Once "illegal immigration" is mentioned, students' defenses come to the fore; they know how to respond only emotionally.  Consequently, logic, reason, and credible sources are simply ignored.  After reading Thomas Sowell's explanation of how raising the minimum wage actually hurts the very people it is supposed to help, one student adamantly said she did not believe this.  After being given another editorial demonstrating that McDonald's supports this move because it will substitute machinery for labor, this student simply refused to accept the findings.  Denial was in full swing.  When I asked her to refute the findings, she merely spluttered and yelled that it is the "greed, greed, greed" of the companies.  The teachable moment was squashed.

When I ask students how often they have read a newspaper, one student proudly stated that he does not read the New York Times because it is owned by "rich people."  Clearly, the left has a devoted follower.

In addition, many of these college students have never learned capitalization rules, so "White House" is not capitalized, nor is "American," "Christian," or "English." 

Garbled hyperbole abounds in these submissions – e.g., "the author starts with a little old lady making comments about Social Security recipients, the author set the tone all sweet and laid back with the old lady, and takes off like a bus or train ride with no stops."

Racial animus is evident when a student writes "I understand her concern, but I do believe immigrants are what makes this country great is more of a culture thing I find Americans to be boring in most areas immigrants bring a certain color to an all white canvas so to speak."

Specious logic and convoluted sentences describe the vast number of submissions that I must wade through each week.  But no one will truly acknowledge the elephant in the room: that these students are totally unprepared for college.

Instead, the teaching staff are bombarded with "free panel discussions titled 'Whose Schools? OUR Schools! Support for Educators Building Safe Spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex, Two-Spirit Native Americans and Gender Non-conforming Youth and their Peers through Pedagogy today.'" 

Another piece entitled "Boredom Busters" maintains that "for many students ...,  the struggle to comprehend a challenging text often results in disengagement, not increased effort." Wouldn't the next logical question be why are they in college?  Instead, we read that "[u]nlike the boredom we associate with repetitive or simplistic tasks ... academic boredom results from cognitive overload rather than lack of stimulation. The brain has too much to deal with, rather than too little, and so it shuts down[.]" 

Had these students been exposed to classics that used to be standard fare – e.g., Aesop's fables, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, George Eliot – they would have grappled with   profound ideas.  By the time they come to college, it is far too late. 

As instructors, we learn that "[e]xams often are anxiety provoking; ... For many students, an exam review session is the magic balm that can alleviate exam woes and stress."  Thus, "it is imperative to discuss ways in which students can be motivated to ... participate in review sessions."  Consequently, "more on-task behavior and higher academic self-esteem and lower levels of extrinsic motivation [will] ensue[.]"  And before the review session, the game Jeopardy was found useful.  In fact, Jeopardy is a great study tool – for 4th- to 6th-graders.

That college students have not yet acquired necessary study skills is frightening.

Then there are online classes from book publishers – e.g., "Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools: How to Overcome Challenges and Engage Students Outside of Class" and "Inside the Minds of Students: Data Driven Teaching and Learning" and finally "Foundations of Student Success: How Today's Students are Different and Why It Matters."  We are enjoined to understand that "[w]hen it comes to first-year student success, grit matters."  For, "among all of the non-cognitive variables – such as self-efficacy, engagement, study skills, learning strategies, interpersonal skills or commitment – academic resiliency, or grit, has captured our attention." 

Does this grit mean that students have to bring pens to class?  So many do not!

Then there is the student who had to go on a business trip and asked for a "Gentleman's C" because he tried hard even though he was absent a good part of the semester. 

Or the students who knowingly make vacation plans even though they are quite aware they will be missing a week's worth of school.

During a 3-hour class, I give a break.  A student asks what will be covered after the break.  I explain, and before I know it, she leaves, having decided that whatever is planned is not worth her while.  This week, I called her out on this maneuver, only to be told, "Well, you give us the booklets.  I can read."  The rank disrespect for my status and expertise and the fact that she cannot fathom that knowledge comes from more than handouts is yet another depressing revelation.

On the other hand, a grave disservice has been done to those students who are interested in learning and have genuine academic credentials.  Because businesses can no longer be certain that college degrees indicate anything meaningful, they insist that their new employees take additional classes to obtain various certifications.  Often these workers have to spend inordinate amounts of money and time to increase learning because the university degree has been so devalued in the first place.  Dumbing down education results in many victims.

Low IQ levels, total indifference to learning,  no curiosity, specious logic, no in-depth training in critical thinking and writing – these are the real-life factors that face college instructors.  Low grades are frustrating for many students, because they truly don't know what they don't know. 

Often I will be told that I am the rare instructor who insists on correct formatting for a research paper even though this is an integral item.  One student gave me a paper for which she had received an "A," and on the very first page, there were syntax and grammar errors that the other instructor had apparently ignored.  Is it any wonder that so many students think they are writing "A" papers when no one has actually pointed out their substandard writing?  They were never taught basic English grammar in the first place, so how can I hold them responsible?

Too many instructors are reluctant to do their job because (a) the errors are so numerous that the work involved in correcting them is monumental, (b) they fear student retaliation, (c) often the chair of a department will not back up an instructor's decision, and (d) the status of teachers is so poor that we are viewed as mere facilitators rather than purveyors of knowledge.

And yet, as college instructor Daniel J. Smith wrote in May 2015, "the expectation of high grades without merit is on the rise."  He explains why bumping up a grade leads only to "reducing the opportunity for people to experience the life satisfaction that comes through earned success," whether in the academic or business world.  I concur.  But again,  I ask: How can I possibly grade these students?  And how can we stop penalizing students who actually belong in college when the very degree they are seeking is so devalued?

Thus is the plight of the sincere educator.

Eileen can be reached at

If you experience technical problems, please write to