To the Editor:
Grade inflation in American schools has become rampant and obscene and absurd. So now the mighty Princeton University is going to "limit" A grades to a maximum of 35%. Wow. I suppose that this is some improvement over their current granting of the A grade to 46% of the students.
Way back in the 1950s (ancient history, I know) public schools graded "on the curve," with about 7% As, 20% Bs, 46% Cs. 20% Ds and 7% Es (a failing grade). This grading system was based on a normal distribution curve, with very small numbers of As and Es, larger numbers of Bs and Ds and with Cs being the most common grade.
In college, at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon University) I remember distinctly that back in the early 1960s, the average grade point freshman year in the Engineering and Sciences was 2.2, just above the C average of 2.0, with a B average being 3.0.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of the social upheavals of the 1960s was the destruction of the tough grading system in public schools and colleges. Teachers and administrators alike were afraid that "low grades" would hurt the "self-esteem" of the student that was not learning the material and thus might "cripple" his "self-image" later on in life and thus lead to a life of depression, dissipation and crime and thus we needed to give little Johnny "passing grades" even though he was not doing passing work. This moronic notion has led to the current California public education policy of waiving the passing of Algebra I (an 8th or 9th grade level class) as a requirement for high school graduation.
When I was a school child back in the 1950s (returning to ancient history, again) fortunately, we had never even heard of the psychological concept of "self-esteem." We just went to school, studied hard, did our homework, graduated from high school and went on to college. After a few years of college, maybe we felt that we knew something about the world and thus grew in self-confidence and thus raised our "self-esteem."
James K. Sayre
9 April 2004