Saturday, September 15, 2012

Giving Everything is Giving Nothing

If you think I reference Maclean's disproportionately, you're likely correct. I just happen to have a subscription to that particular publication.

In a sort of series, an issue ago Maclean's featured an article on depression in university, depression and suicide. I scanned the article looking for some reference to a lack of meaning in young peoples' lives due to a lack of religious faith. No such reference appeared, at least not that I noticed. In which case I am forced to believe that a decrease in religious faith in the young generation has nothing to do with an increase in depression and suicide? Hmm, being a layman sucks. I keep guessing wrong about psychological matters.

Now the latest issue that just arrived at my happy abode featured material on universities. The little tidbit that blew me away was the list of the averages of incoming students in the major universities. On page 46 of that issue we see that the average incoming student to my first alma mater, Dalhousie, is 87.1. Let's put this into perspective for a moment. I finished grade twelve with an astonishing 89.9%. I believe I was in the top ten for the entire school that year - since the names of the people with high honours - 90% + average were read out at the graduation - fewer than 10, closely to 4 or 5, if memory serves me - and I was paying attention - and my name was not among them. So we are left with a few possible conclusions:

1) young people are smarter now.

2) 1992 was a dismal year for Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

3) schools are marking higher now.

You know which one I'm leaning towards.

Nor is this a Nova Scotia problem.

The average incoming mark at massive University of Toronto, my second alma mater, is 92.2%. The average student walking around amongst those several tens of thousands of young people on the George St. Campus is an A+ graduate of their high school. Lets add some additional perspective here. When I was applying Dalhousie was considered the hard school since it hard a admission standard of 70%. In grade 11 I was worried that I wouldn't get into the 'family'school (my mom and dad had both gone there, and my brother was lined up to go the next year). By contrast, St. Mary's University, also in Halifax, was considered the easier school - the fall-back school to some - with an entry cut off at 65%.

I wonder what the cut off is now, 80%? If #3 above is not correct, most of my graduating class, perhaps 80% of that class would not have gotten in.

Nor, I am going to push things a bit further. I am not of the opinion that 18 year-olds are smarter or better educated now. I think they are more poorly educated now. I have worked with them over the last twenty years. They are not better educated. They are more poorly educated.

Okay, the point of this post. High marks have not helped our young people's self-esteem. Depression rates are higher than they have ever been, as are related suicide rates. This delusion perpetrated by educators throughout Canada has merely pushed back a wake-up call, a wake-up call that is, because of this pushing back, all the more severe. A thirteen-year-old who fails a test hopefully has a loving mom and dad to fall back on. Down there in Peninsular Halifax or Downtown T.O., when that A+ student suddenly finds out he is stupid and un-educated, that he is not going to breeze through medical school or any other school for that matter, who does he have to fall back on? When his first year Literature prof tells him he cannot write a coherent sentence, surely he must ask himself how he ended up with that 90% average?

And, keep in mind, in case you're tempted to say - it's just a number - the student definitely realizes grades are inflated - that when the student comes hom with his 90% average on his report cards he is bringing it to parents who lived in the old world where 1% of the student body ended up with that kind of a grade. Thus, reasonably, they fill him up with the idea of his own genius.

I sat on the 'admissions committee' at OLSWA for three years. During that time I used to listen to President Cassidy and Assistant Dean Nicholson remark about the inflation of grades by high schools today. I thought they were being old cranks. Now I realize they were understating the matter.

So, an undeserved A+ by your high school math teacher is not a kindness. He is setting you up for a fall. According to stats, he is setting you up for the ever-greater likelihood of depression and suicide. Well done.


  1. Yikes. I agree. Those who graduated from st. pat's high in 1995 with over 90% have all gone on to the expected careers - doctors, CAs, profs, researchers etc. There is only one who is a housewife in a very small town. I wonder if her grades were inflated...

  2. Halifax is no Dartmouth... take that as you will ;-)

  3. @Elena: Hey, it takes brains to be a housewife (I know you know that).