251 Comments
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Somebody better tell them NYU is not in the Ivy League ...

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Good point!

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Having just gone through this process with my son, here's what I got:

Practice detachment. There's a degree of randomness in the process, which can include getting into "top" schools while getting rejected from safeties (we definitely saw this).

Try to avoid credentialism. Look at what the school offers your particular kid rather than rankings; mine chose a campus that fills specific needs and interests and is super happy there (though this is admittedly early days, he's like two weeks in).

Think of the faculty glut--as awful as it is for those seeking jobs--as a positive for your particular situation. There are tons of great teachers out there...the talent pool runs SUPER deep. Do you think of UC Santa Cruz as a hotspot for the archaeology of Benin or Haiti? No? It is, on the strength of one brilliant faculty member. That's the kind of thing your daughter won't likely know until she gets where she goes...there are lots of great minds to discover.

And ultimately: your daughter sounds great, and she'll carry that wherever she goes. She'll be fine.

Good luck!

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Untrue - I am about as liberal as a 60+ year old can be and find it amazing that Freddie at - what - 32? - can have such social insight. It's why I subscribe.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
author

You know I dunno why you'd bother to subscribe, if it's just to mock someone making a very understandable mistake in my age in comments. But I can promise that if you continue this way you won't be here long.

Expand full comment

No ill will intended, thought it was funny! I subscribe because I've been reading you for years, you're an interesting thinker and and I like your writing. I'll delete the chuckle.

Expand full comment

"“Unless you appreciate these transformations at the molecular level,” he said, “I don’t think you can be a good physician, and I don’t want you treating patients.”"

but this isn't right IMO. o-chem is really a memorization-loaded IQ test. this reality gets elided often...you WANT to weed

Expand full comment
Expand full comment
author

OK you're taking a timeout

Expand full comment

I like that you have the "show" option so we can judge for ourselves what bothered you off enough to to ban someone. The WSJ censors comments all the time, but just says the comment violated their community standards. The rest of the readers have no idea what standards were supposedly violated by the censored comment.

Expand full comment

I have over 200 papers in peer reviewed science journals.

I find Razib to be be one of the most brilliant science writers I've found with exceptional insights into breaking edge science.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I would really like to know how appreciating the molecular level plays out in medical practice. The prerequisite prof really has no obligation to justify a cynical weed-out strategy imposed by medical schools. 'So you can pass the MCAT' is perfectly acceptable and has the added value of being honest.

Expand full comment

Is being able to pass OChem predictive of passing the MCAT? Part of the benefit of weeding people out is that you don't waste their time, as well as yours.

Expand full comment

I don't know. What I find online suggests that O-chem is a small part of the MCAT, but taken more seriously by the admissions committees, but that is just speculation. If I were teaching it, though, I would make it my business to find out.

Expand full comment

OChem is the hell class for biology/pre med students so I would not be surprised if admissions committees focus on it. My point is that isn't the entire point of OChem to weed people out?

Expand full comment

There's a difference between accurately predicting people's chance of success, though, and just weeding them out.

Expand full comment

The question is what is the expense and effort involved with both approaches? A smaller college might be able to devote more resources on a per student basis. Large universities with tens of thousands of students? I wonder.

Expand full comment

This reminds me of a story told by physics faculty: a pre-med student in Physics 1 is listening to a lecture about Atwood's Machine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atwood_machine and with some exasperation asks "Professor, what good is Atwood's Machine?" "Why," says the professor, "Atwood's Machine has saved more lives than any other device in human history," and goes on with the lecture. The student interrupts again, "Professor, exactly how has Atwood's Machine saved so many lives?" The professor replies "By keeping kids like you out of medical school."

Expand full comment

NYT piece is paywalled but I can assume the students had some argument against the guy beyond “he was a rigorous grader”

I suggest you revise this piece and lengthen it to actually explore the topic. As it stands it is a short rant and nothing insightful.

Expand full comment
author

"I didn't read the thing, but I'm going to make a condescending suggestion you change the piece to conform to my assumptions about what the piece might say."

Nope, nope, nope. As it stands your comment is nothing insightful.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Just google "web proxy" and plug that NY Times article in there. Hit submit repeatedly until it loads.

Expand full comment
deletedOct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Bingo! This post jumps right to blaming student snowflakery rather than the obvious culprit, which is the financialization of the modern university.

Expand full comment

I think you could make the argument that they're working hand in hand here. The students clearly have the idea that four years of a university education is primarily to set them up professionally and financially after graduation and that a "B" is not what they paid for.

Expand full comment

Awesome! That tip was worth the price of admission to this Substack.

Expand full comment

Now I fear the ban stick.

But as long as I'm done anyway, different proxies work for different sites depending on the technology those sites use to try and detect free riders. The Atlantic, for example, works with one of those proxies and not the others so if one proxy doesn't work try another one.

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Easiest way to bypass the NYT payroll is to simply turn off Javascript in your browser. In Chrome, you can do this directly in the browser settings; in Firefox, you can use an extension like uBlock Origin (which I highly recommend anyway) or NoScript.

Expand full comment

You can also go to https://archive.ph/, paste in the URL, and click "Save."

Expand full comment

I read it. They didn't seem to have an argument. They just didn't like their grades.

Expand full comment

Part of me hopes the anti-rigor crowd gets strong enough that employers stop requiring degrees and you no longer need four years and 100k of debt to make spreadsheets

Expand full comment

Unfortunately I think it will operate in the other direction. If degrees lack any kind of rigor you'll start needing one to get a job at McDonalds. Without rigor a degree turns into proof of your ability to remember to turn up somewhere for four years in a row, which is a highly sought after skill in the fast food industry.

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

A degree already means that, outside of a few technical disciplines (and even then much of that knowledge could be outdated in just a few years anyways). The credential is the thing, with or without grade inflation.

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

Agree. Credentialism is already a thing all over the place.

30y experience? 150 IQ? A hand-written reference from Hawking? Pfft. Show me your degree in "Administrative Studies" or gtfo of my DMV.

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I'm in a screen job, computer and spreadsheet and phone, you know the drill. A few months ago I was interviewing and, no joke, one of the best candidates only had a GED. I say only. She also had a huge track record of impressive accomplishments behind her. To hear my immediate supervisor talk you'd think she was some kind of massive risk. In the end I was able to give her an offer. She got a better one elsewhere. Good on her, I say. As credentials matter less, track record and an ability to show "yes, I can do this" will matter more. I see some downsides, but not many.

Expand full comment

Not to mention the military…

Expand full comment

I will always remember that lady who landed from her transcontinental flight to discover she has become the Main Character of Twitter and the posters got her fired from her job.

Expand full comment

Which lady was that?

Expand full comment

I don't even know how I'd find this information. It happened in probably 2011 or around that time period. Some lady with very few followers working for some company made an offensive joke that somehow got spread all over twitter.

Expand full comment

Justine Sacco. The story is in John Robson’s book.

Expand full comment

Ronson, but yes. Since she didn't end up destitute on the streets I've seen her held up as an example of how cancel culture isn't real.

Expand full comment

Spell check. I was typing on my phone and I cancelled the correction twice but sometimes my phone is really determined.

Expand full comment

True. She also didn’t light herself on fire in times square.

Expand full comment
Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

Thanks, I somehow missed that one. It’s funny, I usually think of Twitter’s descent into madness as a recent affair, but that happened way back in 2013. Obviously her last tweet was stupid (a ham-fisted attempt at a joke about white privilege, I guess?), but damn. The fallout from all these stories is catastrophic for the collective consciousness.

Edit: I hadn’t read the entire article when I first posted my comment, but now I see Sacco herself mentioned the collective consciousness! And her family situation is fascinating. Poor woman. Twitter is a cancer on the soul of the world.

Expand full comment

It is, and anyone can also choose not to be on it, or post stupid shit.

Expand full comment

That’s true. She posted something stupid and failed to grasp the nature of the internet. I still think what happened to her is indicative of a deeply unwell society.

Expand full comment

It was stupid. But it was also facetious. the stupidity on her part was in failing to appreciate the stupidity of Twitter: the remark was bound to be misinterpreted

Expand full comment

I don't see what this has to do with "wokies" or "culture wars". It is totally believable that either:

- Jones is 84 years old and is no longer able to teach as effectively as he did when he was younger

- Jones might have been a fine teacher when classes were in person, but was unable to adapt to the changes that hybrid/remote teaching entailed.

Demanding rigor is good and important, but a teacher can only demand rigor if they're teaching the material effectively.

Expand full comment
author

"Jones is 84 years old and is no longer able to teach as effectively as he did when he was younger"

Literally not a claim made by his detractors.

"Jones might have been a fine teacher when classes were in person, but was unable to adapt to the changes that hybrid/remote teaching entailed."

Not core to their complaints.

Read first.

Expand full comment

"James W. Canary, chairman of the department until about a year ago, said he admired Dr. Jones’s course content and pedagogy, but felt that his communication with students was skeletal and sometimes perceived as harsh.

“He hasn’t changed his style or methods in a good many years,” Dr. Canary said. “The students have changed, though, and they were asking for and expecting more support from the faculty when they’re struggling.”"

Maybe you should read the article all the way to the end

Expand full comment

If this is just about an old professor forced into retirement then why did the NYT cover it?

Expand full comment

Because the narrative is too juicy to resist. It's a compelling entry in the "those damn kids these days" set of stories and guaranteed to go viral.

Expand full comment

So the NY Times isn't treating it as an "old professor gets retired" story, they're treating it as a "kids demand good grades no matter what" story. Maybe the reading public can be forgiven in that case for viewing it as an issue that is mostly about the students since that's the way that the Times presented it.

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

This had a hint of "wait until the real world..." that Citations Needed made a bit of fun of on their last podcast. Perhaps also a little "get off my lawn" and "back in my day." Organic chemistry gets forgotten by most practicing physicians. It's an undergrad weed-out course. Not that he should be fired. That sounds stupid.

Expand full comment
author

I want colleges to weed out people who can't do organic chem from being doctors, thanks. And yes, wait for the real world. Because the real world is full of pain. Nothing is more true than that.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
author

A significant majority of American colleges accept more or less every student who applies. They have to; they're tuition-dependent. And now the number of students applying is cratering, and eventually it's gonna kill some colleges.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

University of Oregon.

On a less humorous note, there are more than a few schools where they keep accepting more and more students, with lower and lower ability, and virtually assuring them a diploma. University of Arizona, more than a few of the Cal States and UC's, SLAC's, the list goes on.

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

Well, after reading the article, to me it just looks like an unfortunate situation likely happening nationwide, all at the same time. The loss of student attention he noted starting 10 years ago, and the complete falling off of the cliff during covid. Teachers have seen this everywhere. It's a clear case of environmental factors affecting individual performance.

My wife made it through organic chem, and she now teaches medicine to students who all made it through (even if sometimes barely). Believe me, there are a million other factors that make up being a good doctor, more than organic chemistry performance. Firing this guy was dumb, but there's a reason people are failing these courses in increasing numbers, and it's not due to falling rigor. Our society is adding huge stress, and students are falling apart. The real world is full of pain, but it's also full of love and joy and compassion and solidarity, and we could have a lot more if we wanted. Nothing is more true than that.

It's funny, I had a class as an education major in the 90's called "tests and measurements" that the extremely dry and bad professor (Mr. Bell Curve, I called him) held at 7 am so that we could experience the early start of school and "weed out" potential lazy bones teachers.

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022Liked by Freddie deBoer

Well, good thing Dr. Jones won't be under any more stress, since he's been rendered unemployed by this particular bout of compassion and solidarity from the falling-apart innocents in NYU's dorms.

Expand full comment

Thank you for this. Some of the comments here are appalling.

Expand full comment
author

Can you name a period of history where society was not adding huge stress? What is this bizarre attitude that history started two years ago? Do you think students in college in the 1940s didn't have society adding stress? Do you think there will ever be a time when students will be able to live in a stress-free society, outside of the flow of history?

Expand full comment
Oct 3, 2022·edited Oct 3, 2022

Not many people passed organic chemistry during the Black Plague either, I suspect. You are right, we've had lots of periods of stress throughout history. So what is different now? Why, during this particular pandemic, are students having such a difficult time? What is your theory? Are they suddenly lazy and stupid? Did we suddenly open the floodgates and let all the dumb people in to college? Because it's not just with this professor. And it's not just grades. The number of fights reported in middle and high schools went way up after Covid, for instance. Why? Is it related?

Expand full comment

The early 20th Century saw the rise of both wings of modern physics along with two world wars and a world wide depression, along with the rise of fascism and some pretty intense wars/revolutions.

I think the obvious thing that's different now is that students can complain and get their professor fired or if people make enough ruckus on twitter, they can get people fired from their jobs.

Expand full comment

Presumably the rapid rise in violent crime rates post Covid is also related.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-02-26/why-is-the-u-s-murder-rate-spiking

Expand full comment

What do you think organic chem contributes to medical expertise? Serious question, because I don't know the answer myself. And I've been teaching nursing pathophysiology for 36 years.

Expand full comment

excellent question. Freddie? Weed out courses are fine if they weed people out based on skills needed for a job/degree further down the line. But they need to show their work.

Expand full comment

Lol $100k?

No Freddie, no. Charming anachronism. Cost of NYU full freight is now several times that.

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Most colleges don’t cost $100K and most students don’t take out $100K in loans. Focusing on the small sliver who do distorts the debate.

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 4, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Average loan debt is about $30,000 total. And that’s the mean, so the median amount is probably considerably lower. The students with the heaviest loan burden were the ones who went to for-profit colleges, not places like NYU. Your perception of who is going to college and who is taking out loans to pay for it is just flat-out incorrect. https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 4, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

You were the one associating $100K partying degrees and student loan forgiveness, not me (or Freddie)

Expand full comment

Is there any rational objection to school-dictated grade distributions? At least for 100+ person lecture-hall sized classes? I appreciate that maybe you should not have this in small classes (you could have school-guided/suggested distributions, acknowledging that actual distributions may vary from year to year for these classes). I just think there is something pernicious about the fact that certain disciplines plainly have different grade distirbutions and think it actually does impact which courses students take.

Expand full comment
author

Weed-out classes are an act of mercy because they dissuade people from taking difficult majors early rather than late, when it will be harder and more expensive for them to acquire the credits they need to graduate. And it's good to weed people out of majors who will not be able to distinguish themselves in a profession tied to that major. Nobody wants to hire an engineer who can't do engineering.

Expand full comment

I do think there is a way to teach gateway courses that neither sacrifices rigor nor encourages students to drop out. There are a lot of ideas around this; for instance (using your engineering example), a pre-engineering program that teaches applied pre-calculus and design concepts in tandem using a cohort model. Weed out classes disproportionately impact low-income and underrepresented students, so I think it's a worthwhile endeavor to think about course design with an eye toward retaining those students. At some point, though, they can either do the work or they can't. You're right about that.

Expand full comment
author

What evidence is there that this was causing students to drop out? They just wanted higher grades for less work!

Expand full comment

No, I meant in general, with the population of students at my U. NOT the NYU students, who are mostly privileged.

Expand full comment

There's a huge difference between the student population at elite colleges vs other colleges. I don't think a prof should ever be shitcanned for having standards, and admittedly, there's a fine line between providing good student support and coddling students.

Expand full comment

When was this halcyon era of education when students didn’t want higher grades for less work lol

Expand full comment
Removed (Banned)Oct 3, 2022
Comment removed
Expand full comment

They don’t indulge every temper tantrum, just the ones whose resolution preserves or increases revenue. That’s why focusing on student snowflakery rather than structural incentives is such a bizarre take on this story, especially for Freddie. Ironic that in critiquing “simplistic binaries pre-tuned for culture war” he has slotted this situation into his own pre-existing culture war box when it doesn’t actually fit. As other commenters have pointed out, he has written perceptively and at length about the silliness of the punch up/down heuristic, but that isn’t really the issue that has the most valence here.

Expand full comment

The underlying issue is that universities accept people into, for example, the school of engineering who aren't capable of hacking it. At that point it just makes sense to force them out.

Maybe analytics/modeling/AI could be harnessed to do a better job at admissions, or maybe the whole process is so political as to be irredeemably damaged. But that's the basic issue I believe.

Expand full comment

And I would totally agree if everyone had the same opportunities and economic background. Some students have the capacity to succeed, but had poor preparation in K-12 schools and so their foundation is not as strong. These are often also the students that need to work outside of school to support themselves and/or their families. I think adding student support services and being mindful of course design helps disadvantaged students succeed. Tossing everyone into the deep end to sink or swim gives additional advantages to students from elite backgrounds. And to be clear, I am speaking generally, not of these particular NYU students. At an elite university, chances are very good that these students come from elite backgrounds and don't have these challenges. If they are unwilling or unable to put out the effort then I agree that they should wash out. These are people who will be fine anyway. And it's also true that a disadvantaged student still has to be motivated to do the work. All the support systems in the world won't make up for a lack of motivation or low level of innate ability.

Expand full comment

"All the support systems in the world won't make up for a lack of motivation or low level of innate ability."

I mentioned elsewhere in this thread that there are any number of examples where bad engineering killed people. Given what's at stake how do you weed out people who lack the innate ability, which you seem to concede is a good idea, while keeping those who are merely overburdened?

Expand full comment

Can't speak for Scuba Cat, but the bottom line for me is, if people can't meet the course criteria they can't pass. Every prof has to make decisions about how much help to give, how many tries, how many different ways of demonstrating their ability - and no matter what choices you make, there will be some students who end the semester without having met the criteria.

The older I get, the more willing I am to give leeway in the arbitrary constraints on when, and how often, and in what form, they get to demonstrate the criteria. And the more I do that, the more justified I feel in insisting that the criteria be met.

Expand full comment

I could write a series of essays on this. We are just beginning a project here for low-income students in science that includes a scholarship, but also faculty mentoring, learning communities (so all the students in the program take certain courses together), embedded tutoring/peer mentoring, and undergraduate research, but also includes professional development for faculty to integrate more active learning into their classrooms. It's voluntary but faculty are paid to be there, so there's some incentive for them to go. We also intend to pair students with employment opportunities on campus that are also learning experiences (rather than their working all night at the donut shop or something). They still have to do the work; in fact, they do more work. But this helps to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and wealthier students.

Expand full comment

I understand your point, but it's still a question whether medical doctors should need to have completed organic chemistry. Though it's probably more relevant than other courses they have to take. When I used to teach calculus, I was very aware of the fact that the grade I gave my students (as well as the grade their physics teacher gave them) was a major factor in whether or not they'd be allowed to become doctors. It didn't stop me from trying to give as rigorous a course as I could, but it did make me wonder what the whole point was.

You might say that getting a good grade in those courses is correlated with being a good doctor, and that might well be true, but I don't know if there's any real evidence for this. I think the idea that doctors need to have completed a scientific sequence of study before being trained is partly a relic of the idea of the "doctor" as a scholar, as evidenced by the fact that the degree they get in North America is called a doctorate of medicine, despite not being a research doctorate (as opposed to other countries where it is instead a baccalaureate of medicine).

Of course, one could retort that doctors are expected to keep abreast of current developments in their field, and to be able to read research papers, so them having a scientific background is useful. I'm not sold on either side of this debate.

Expand full comment

It would be worthwhile to interview the profs who teach in medical schools and find out exactly what (if anything) those profs expect students to bring from your course. I did a sabbatical project on how nurses use physiology, and it made my life so much easier.

Expand full comment

as I understand it in the UK doctors go straight to med school, bypassing undergrad altogether.... anyone know if this is correct and what it implies about the US system?

Expand full comment

In many places, medicine is a "direct-entry" program rather than a "professional" program (which requires prior university studies). It's sort of how it works here in Quebec: after finishing secondary school in 11th grade, students who wish to go to university typically complete two years of college, which sort of corresponds to the freshman year of college/university in the US, before getting admitted to a university. The typical university program then lasts for three years, rather than four in the US. Students who've studied science for these two years of college can be directly admitted into the MD program (high grades are typically required). It is still referred to as a "doctorate of medicine", despite being officially a 1st cycle (undergraduate) program. It lasts more than three years though.

The same is true for law, which is also a professional program in the US and much of Canada but which can be direct-entry in Quebec.

Expand full comment

I accept that there may be fields of study where you can establish an absolute baseline and say that no one that is unable to master this concept to this level will ever do anything productive in field X. And if that is the case with this class in this field, then fine. Fair enough.

But there plainly are other examples where normal grade distributions just are different between disciplines and I'm not sure that is useful (in either direction). Would it surprise you to discover, say, that property law professors at school X give half as many As and twice as many Cs as contracts law professors at the same school to the exact same students? I struggle to find the usefulness in that. I'm certainly not arguing for grade inflation, just arguing against some professors' idiosyncratic idea of whether it's their job to single-handedly hold back the tide of grade inflation. I think schools should exercise some effort to standardize distributions. It wouldn't change the fact that an engineer from Carnegie Mellon had to out-compete better students to get his B than an engineer from CUNY, but it might at least avoid pushing the CMU student from mechanical engineering to civil engineering when he was equally talented at both but the mechanical engineering prof was just a more stoic, hard-ass kind of guy.

Expand full comment

I don't think this needs to be said, but I am not arguing in favor of school administrators succumbing to pressure from students unhappy with their grades by firing professors. In fact, I sort of suspect that most professors would welcome the school stepping in and saying something like "absent extraordinary circumstances, we expect your intro-level courses to have the following distribution..."

Expand full comment

In my experience, schools are very aware of the "worth" of a particular grade. For example, at college night, the representative from UC Berkeley told me, unsolicited, that applicants from my high school were automatically given a 7 point boost to their GPA (100 point scale) when compared with applicants from typical high schools. This continues in graduate school. A friend of mine, who went to NYU Medical School, told me she was a straight B student at MIT. A straight B student from most schools would have a lot of difficulty getting in.

Expand full comment

I am absolutely aware that universities all claim to have some magic slide rule that allows them to forsake standardized tests and still make valid comparisons of high school students' grades despite taking different classes from different teachers in different schools. I don't doubt they can do exactly that when comparing students from Andover and St. Paul's. I start to get a little skeptical when it's a student from the third best private prep school in Cedar Rapids.

Expand full comment

My examples are from a few decades ago. The "magic slide ruler" you speak of was in addition to and not in lieu of standardized tests.

Having attended both "elite" and "normal" schools, top tier students are fairly interchangeable when it comes to aptitude. The main difference in student bodies shows up when you compare the mid and lower range students.

I brought up the effect of institutional reputation because I am skeptical that a student at Carnegie Mellon would give up becoming an engineer because of getting a B rather than an A.

Further, having taken both property and contracts law, it doesn't surprise me at all that the grade distribution in the 2 classes for the same student body is different. You could have thrown in tax law for an even greater discrepancy. Why? Because even in related subject areas, different classes require different skills and talents. High intelligence absolutely makes it easier to do well in most subjects, but once you get into more advanced studies, students' weakness and strengths become more apparent. And, that's a good thing.

Expand full comment

The mid and lower range students aren't attending selective universities in the first place. Such comparisons are almost beside the point, as those students will attend a college (if they choose to go) that will accept virtually everyone that applies.

The lack of standardization of grade distributions (between schools and individual teachers) is mostly a problem for those attending selective universities. I can believe that selective universities probably have a baseline understanding of the distribution of grades at Scarsdale public high school compared Horace Mann, but I'm skeptical they even make an effort to drill down to individual teachers within a school (e.g., school X has two sections of physics, one taught by a teacher that gives 50% As the other by a teacher that gives 20% As, some students get lucky, others get unlucky).

I'm also skeptical schools adjust for class choice. Sure, they may know what Scarsdale's grade distribution overall is and may know what Scarsdale students get on AP Physics and AP Chem tests, but how many students are going to take AP Physics over AP Chem (or vice versa) because one teacher simply grades harder than the other for a given level of aptitude and effort? Will the school recognize that difference? I doubt it. The AP exam result itself would be useful, but college decisions are made before those come in.

Now look, a fair response to this is "boohoo, so the kid will go to Vassar instead of Williams or Amherst" and, you know, fair enough...but the kids themselves actually care. And some of them change the courses they take to game that system (they would almost certainly describe it as avoiding getting gamed). That happens. I personally did it. Also, I suspect the extraordinarily high attrition rates of STEM undergraduates after the first year at selective colleges reflects just an underlying fact that there is a difference in grade distributions between, say, engineering and business students.

Agree to disagree re property and contracts law. The actual practice of both requires no different skills and there really should be no meaningful difference in performance. What's different is the pedagogical traditions of the profs.

Expand full comment

I think the courses should have clearly stated objectives and criteria, and if all 500 students demonstrate them all 500 students should pass the course. What is academic freedom for if not to make one's own grading decisions?

Expand full comment

It has been said that "academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

Perhaps a new corollary would be "academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics because the stakes are inverse to the offense."

Expand full comment

But in this case, almost all of Jones's departmental colleagues seem to support him. It's more a question of a mismatch between the students' expectations (get a degree and a high GPA that will allow them to go to medical school), Jones's goal (teach a good and rigorous organic chemistry class), and the administrators' goals (keep the students happy and the tuition money flowing in).

Expand full comment

You are correct. The original was made when children were the subject, education was the objective, and professoriate ran the show. Things have flipped on their heads.

Expand full comment

Kissinger said that — great quote

Expand full comment

Nice job, Freddie. nice job. Too many self-evident ways to label oneself an un-woke fogey here. So I won't.

Expand full comment

I did read the story and it did concern me because I too want my future Doctors to be smart enough to overcome the hurdle that is organic chemistry. I have a kid who was pre-med and o-chem was really hard for him and he is a kid with near perfect SAT scores who never received a B in high school despite taking almost every AP class offered and getting 5s on all of his APs including physics and bio. But I think that it was interesting that the kids didn't expect to get him fired, they just wanted better grades -- they felt that they could complain and fix their problem without causing any others. This entitlement to be free from consequences seems very of the moment and not great. I appreciate that the pendulum maybe swings too far towards focusing on resilience but clearly we have massively overcorrected and we need to remind kids that hard work is of value and that you can survive a bad grade in organic chemistry -- it will make it harder to be a Doctor -- but that's because we want our Doctors to be smarter and more focused than most people.

Expand full comment
author

Like, if people would stop getting defensive about appearing to be old, they might consider a) that I'm actually fundamentally making a point about the construct of "punching up/down," which no commenters seem interested in, and b) that there might be real questions about what the right mixture of accommodation and rigor is.

Expand full comment

People who don't know what they're doing who work as engineers can kill people. It's happened in the past. In terms of the mix any individual has to be competent enough to exceed that minimum threshold: don't kill people.

I imagine the same principle applies to doctors and other medical professionals.

Expand full comment

"I imagine the same principle applies to doctors and other medical professionals."

It used to be "Do No Harm". Now it's "Put your pronouns on your badge"

Expand full comment

I don’t like bullying demanding professors at all. And I think the contempt towards displaying pronouns is misplaced. But I also think that organic chem (which I enjoyed) is almost comprehensively useless to a practicing physician

Expand full comment

We get your point about the nonsensical nature of punching up vs punching down. You've made the point before, and its an excellent point, well made in this article.

Regarding rigor vs accommodation, where in the article are you raising real questions about the right mixture of accommodation and rigor? I missed it.

Expand full comment

I am enormously interested in punching up/pinching down and i often get in enormously frustrating heated debates with people about it because it creates a race to the

bottom.

Expand full comment

I went to a small engineering college in SoCal way back when RIGOR was de-rigueur. As I remember it, there were at least three classes more difficult than O-Chem: P-Chem, Systems and Linear Algebra. The idea that students could get a prof fired for being too demanding, grade wise is laughable. Want grade inflation? - Try Stanford or USC.

Expand full comment

This kind of thing is one reason that people are getting dumber and dumber. Flynn effect has reversed even within families pointing to an environmental cause. Not being intellectually challenged has reduced the "drive" in the population. In a few generations we won't know how to build airplanes anymore

Expand full comment

Sounds like the planet Trantor in Asimov's "Foundation." Where is Hari Seldon when you need him?

Expand full comment

I'm working my darndest at laying out some principals of psychohistory

Expand full comment

Good luck! Have you developed your Prime Radiant yet? ;-)

I'm actually re-reading the whole series all the way from the prequels to Foundation and Earth. I'm on "Second Foundation."

Expand full comment

I've only read the first two (I think). I didn't like the Apple TV show but I thought the books were good. It's hard to represent centuries of time well in a TV show

Expand full comment

Yes. The TV show was okay but much got lost in translation and they wrote significant tangents. That said, I'm not a purist and can enjoy visual media as well as the books. I probably won't go out of my way to add it to my film and TV library, though. Ok for a "once-watch".

Expand full comment

Could you summarize the facts of the case? Article is behind a paywall and I couldn't find a free alternative.

Expand full comment

Go to https://archive.ph/, paste in the URL, and click "Save."

Expand full comment