What Does it Mean to Be Educated?

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Alfie Kohn on education: What does it mean to be educated? According to Alfie Kohn's essay "The dangerous myth of grade inflation," one of the most commonly-cited truisms in education today is that higher education is 'easier' than it was in the past. Critics contend that grades have become puffed up while student performance has actually weakened. Kohn believes this is a culturally-produced myth rather than a statistically justified reality. In fact, the notion that grades were less generously bestowed to students is a durable cliché which extends back to the 19th century, and is not merely relegated to our own era. Today, the perpetrators cited as the worst offenders are liberal professors from the 1960s who have lapped up a generally permissive attitude from that era. But "a report released just this year by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that fully 33.5 percent of American undergraduates had a grade-point average of C or below in 1999-2000" (Kohn 2002: B7). Kohn sees the anxieties about grade inflation as indicative of a larger cultural anxiety of what it means to be an educated person, and believes that a fixation on grades is a fundamentally misguided way to improve the American educational system. Furthermore, even when grades are higher, this does not necessarily mean that student performance is worse: admission to college, for example, is more competitive than ever before, which may be prompting students to turn in higher-caliber work.
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