teaching as treaty

Article in TNR about the shortcomings of elite education. While a digression from the author’s overall argument, I found this paragraph particularly… provocative:

At least the classes at elite schools are academically rigorous, demanding on their own terms, no? Not necessarily. In the sciences, usually; in other disciplines, not so much. There are exceptions, of course, but professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a “nonaggression pact.” Students are regarded by the institution as “customers,” people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

4 thoughts on “teaching as treaty”

  1. I teach at a public comprehensive college. I recently had a student visiting for a term from an Ivy who told me that our courses were more rigorous and required more writing and other academic work throughout the semester, as well as providing more feedback and support.

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  2. There’s lots of background “kids these days” office griping buried in this conversation, and not a lot of measurement.

    The “nonaggression pact” is a mechanism proposed to explain grade inflation – which is a demonstrable phenomenon *within institution* over time. And that gets conflated in the passage with *between institution* comparisons.

    Demand for college educations has exploded at a fixed supply. So prices have gone up. Students (and their principles, parents) pay in potentially monetary and non-monetary means — sacrifices of dollars and sacrifices of other opportunities through greater effort in school.

    Kids may be doing more work (and probably are) across the grade distribution within an institution than they were in 1970, even while the mean of the distribution moves to the right in order to make kids and parents feel justified in spending $50,000 a year.

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  3. I’m not at a super elite place, but I don’t necessarily see a “nonagression pact” when it comes to grades. They want higher grades and will push and complain (via evals) if not satisfied.

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