I was not a perfect student.  I skipped the occasional class, coasted through a few others (hello Sociology 101), and barely passed my first-year biology class, mostly because I was distracted equally by the professor’s lisp (not a good thing for a man whose first name was Sidney) and by the huge studded leather watchband he wore, which made me wonder if in hith off hourth he didn’t cruithe around on a Harley-Davidthon.

Truth be told, mostly I coasted through college, as if to live up to what a very dear professor told me: that because it was so easy for me to get a B+ it would be very hard for me to get an A.  True ‘dat.  Of course, for that particular professor, I did in fact bust my ass, but mostly? I cruithed through.

Despite my bad habits and not precisely stellar grades, however, I never ever asked a professor to change my grade. I never asked for extra credit to make up for work I hadn’t done (or had done poorly).  It wasn’t that I had any interest in taking responsibility for my actions: I was just too afraid to ask.

I’m here to say that college students—or at least my college students—have gotten over their fear, if in fact they ever had it.  I guess we should applaud the fact that these students are able to “ask for what they need,” but sometimes what they “need” sounds startlingly similar to my own kids whining about how desperately they need more legos.


It’s possible that every generation thinks the next generation has problems, and so maybe my perceptions are colored by the fact that I’m getting further and further away from being young. When I first started teaching, at a high school in Massachusetts, I wasn’t that much older than the kids I taught.  As one kid drawled from the back of the room “I pahty with people older than you.”  When I started teaching college students, I was in my late twenties, so being eighteen was still a pretty vivid memory. Now?  My students are still eighteen, while I’m on a ship steaming closer and closer to the horizon of–jeezuz–fifty.

Even so, the notes and emails I got at the end of this semester took my breath away and I don’t think it’s just a question of “those damn kids.” I think these students genuinely believe that because they tried—really really tried—they should be given whatever grade best suits their long-term plans.  Whether they actually did the work seems irrelevant, a minor pesky detail.

Are these notes simply the end result of a lifetime of getting a trophy just for participating; of living with “helicopter parents” who have mediated and managed every experience? Of being told that all their fingerpaintings were worthy of the Louvre? Or maybe these notes illustrate what Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa call the academically adrift generation: kids for whom college is simply a means to an end.  Reading, writing, reflecting–sitting up till dawn debating The Meaning Of Life–that’s not the point.  Now it’s get a diploma and get a job.

Wary of potential lawsuits, I’m erasing any identifying remarks from these notes, but otherwise I guarantee that these are actual requests from actual college sophomores.  All of these notes came in well after the final exam—in fact, all but one came in more than a week after I had turned in the grades for the term.  I have preserved all the original typing (and typos); I’ve just compressed the paragraph spacing.

Hi professor, I got your response writing feedback. Thank you very much.
I really enjoyed your class. Eve though I didn’t speak much in the class, I was following all the readings and thinking a lot about the course theme.
I know, always my English kinda prevented me to be more active and do generally ‘better’ throughout the couse.
But, you were definetly one of my best prefessor(teacher) of whole time.
I’m sending this email to you because, well… I’m really desperate. I couldn’t talk with anyone about this cause i don’t know what to do. I know there was just only way- which was trying my best at every class…
I’m actually having really tough time these days because I really need good grades from this semester in order to continue … My grades are not too bad but in terms of standard for transitioning, I’m in dagerous position which I will be evaluated after this semester’s grade comes out.
Depends on the grades, I may or may not continue the school… (My freshmen year grades are pretty low because it was my FRIST english semester…)
So I’m really really desperate. I have all these plans here …I know it will not change a lot but still… So please, consider my situation…
Thank you very very much

  • This kid showed up late to almost every class and never once approached me about having language or comprehension difficulties.  Nor did the student take me up on my offers to help students with their papers; the student also failed the final exam (for which students were given a complete study guide/review sheet)

Is there anyway at all that I could possibly earn a higher grade in the class? As of right now my gpa is not high enough to stay at [at college] and I would really like to stay. I am willing to do anything extra to get a slightly higher grade if at all possible.

  • I’m not sure what this student would like me to do. A friend suggested I make the kid help pack up my apartment for our impending move, but I think that was a joke. The student failed the final exam (students had review sheets and study guide).

I just looked at my grade and went to email you immediately – I was expecting a grade in the B+ range since I have had good grades all throughout the semester.  I am in the process of transferring a semester late due to sickness last year as well as applying to study abroad and needed a B or above in every class which I was positive I was getting.  I am very concerned as this grade has brought my entire cumulative GPA down so low to the point where I cannot even transfer after I have worked very hard all semester.  Please let me know.

  • This student brought in a doctor’s note that excused two classes due to illness. Not including those absences, the student missed seven other classes (at two classes a week, that means about a month of class) and inevitably arrived to class five minutes late, large latte in hand.

Hope you’re enjoying your summer. I just checked my grade for your class and I was surprised to see I got a B+…I was the under the impression that my last paper wasn’t going to severely impact my grade, especially because I thought  I was an active participant in class, always arrived on time, and received nothing less than an A- on all other assignments.

  • The final research project for the term was a month-long independent research project that was supposed to be 8-10 pages long. This student turned in a four-page paper that had two sources (they were supposed to have at least six). Reason for the skimpy assignment: “I just couldn’t figure out what to write.”

Is it possible if you could give me a B instead of a C+. A B grade would allow me to have a GPA higher than a 3. This will allow me to apply and hopefully (god/faith willing) to be accepted into the BA-MPA program… I would like to pursue a BA in Politics … and a MPA in Health Policy and Management … I would like to use the MPA to help shape healthcare policy and promote healthy living in America especially with young adults. The earlier people have a healthy mindset (sound mind, sound body, sound soul mens sana mens corpore), the less money people will spend on things that do not always lead to satisfaction in life, and the more money people will have to spend on things that do lead to satisfaction in life. This, hopefully results in a happier earth.  Could you pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty please give me a B? 🙂  I need to save the world. That is, I need to save children from eating unhealthy! I went on a spiritual retreat last week and I think I realized saving kids is my calling in life.

  • I’m not exactly sure what to say about this note at all, other than that I’m delighted this student has found a purpose and a vocation. Do you need a high GPA to save the world?  This student failed the final exam and never got more than a C+ on any assignment.

There you have it, folks: the next generation. Some of them may run for elected office. I’m wondering who they’ll write to if they’re not elected?