A Defense of Grade Deflation” by Will Harrel and The Civil Rights Era: African American Odyssey.

Assignment: DUE ON Thursday January 30TH at 5am CST

1. Read the articles “A Defense of Grade Deflation” by Will Harrel and The Civil Rights Era: African American Odyssey.

2. Then choose one and write a 300-400 word essay in which you explain the rhetorical situation for the essay.

A Defense Of Grade Deflation




Published: Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

While Princeton’s diverse student body rarely unifies around a single issue, nearly every student seems to have rallied against grade deflation. This forces advocates of the policy — well, the few that exist — to always be on the defensive, addressing only the apparent negatives of grade deflation without discussing the benefits. I’ll begin this defense of grade deflation by once again discussing the negatives, but I will conclude by finally going on the offensive.


One common complaint is that grade deflation compounds students’ stress. While added pressure about grades does entail added stress, this pressure encourages students to work harder and learn more. Low standards breed low results, and grade deflation is an excellent way to increase standards. If a student knows he has a guaranteed A, he has no incentive to work harder for a better grade. It’s certainly nice to relax or party, but the purpose of a university is to teach, not to entertain, so Princeton’s policies should focus on maximizing academics, not leisure. Rather than studying hard, if we want to breeze through college without much depth, receiving a high GPA and a diploma with honors, we could always go to Harvard. In the long run, however, knowledge and study skills are more useful than a high GPA. After a few years, achievement beyond graduation matters more than anything else.


Another major complaint is that grade deflation hurts our job and graduate-school prospects. While some employers and graduate schools are certainly unfamiliar with Princeton’s grading system, admission rates and job placements have actually risen slightly since grade deflation was instituted, as demonstrated by statistics in the “Grading at Princeton” pamphlet. From 2004 (the last class without grade deflation) to 2009, even accounting for the economic downturn, the percentage of seniors with full-time jobs in hand actually grew slightly, from 29.4 percent to 29.6 percent. Both medical-school and law-school acceptance rates also grew, from 92.0 percent to 93.0 percent, and 25.9 percent to 34.5 percent, respectively. Moreover, Princeton sends out a letter with every transcript explaining the grading system, and employers and graduate schools know that GPAs from different schools have different meanings. For instance, MIT has a GPA scale from 5.0 to 0.0, and nobody would compare that GPA to a 4.0 scale side-by-side. Something like MIT’s scale might actually be a useful next step for Princeton to clearly differentiate its grading scheme and increase awareness about grade deflation beyond Princeton.


On a slightly more trivial note, I’ve heard complaints that grade deflation renders the A-plus obsolete. While no statistics are released, Paolo Esquivel’s 2009 article, “A-pluses in a time of grade deflation,” mentions many examples of people with multiple A-pluses, and I know that at least two of my friends have also received A-pluses in stereotypically difficult courses. While receiving this ultimate mark is certainly difficult, it is definitely attainable.


Now that I have addressed the negatives of grade deflation, I must also discuss the two major benefits. First, it differentiates students more clearly in the top of the class. When everybody receives A’s, employers and graduate schools have difficulty distinguishing between the good and the excellent students. In 2001, 91 percent of Harvard seniors graduated with honors, prompting former dean and acting president of Harvard Henry Rosovksy to say, “Honors at Harvard has just lost all meaning. The bad honors is spoiling the good.” This absurd “honors inflation” was certainly beneficial to the students in the 50th through 91st percentiles range, but those in the top of the class were not rewarded for their hard work. Instead, they were clumped together with mediocre students. The bottom 9 percent of the class were essentially outcasts.


Princeton’s goal should not be handing out diplomas with honors but rather should be educating students and rewarding exceptional students for exceptional work. We have a 4.0 scale, so why would we only use 1 or 2 points of it? Grade inflation is excellent at highlighting the worst students, because so few students get low grades. By providing rigorous grading standards, Princeton highlights the best, not just the worst. For instance, because of the transcript letter, employers know that a Princeton student with a 3.7 GPA is an excellent student, and students are still being hired at similar or better rates. While grade deflation makes a 3.7 difficult, it is certainly achievable, and those who are able to achieve it are rewarded.


The other major benefit of grade deflation is its consistency across classes and departments. There are still certainly many kinks to be fixed in the soft quota system, but it is an excellent step in the right direction. The beauty of the system is that departments can assign a higher proportion of A grades to more competitive courses in order to maintain consistent standards across classes and departments. This allows me to place very little weight on the difficulty of grading when choosing my courses, because I know that our grades will be based on our abilities, not the professor’s arbitrary grading standards. Grade deflation discourages people from gaming the system and taking “easy” courses in which everybody gets an A. Coupled with the new pass/D/fail policy changes, these effects now encourage students to take courses that excite them, not just ones that promise A’s. While the current system is not completely flawless, the harms are negligible, and the benefits are great.


“A Defense of Grade Deflation” by Will Harrel

· Definition: “grade deflation”: an academic practice where high grades are made much harder to obtain. Thus, students who typically make A’s receive B’s and so on. This practice (adapted by Princeton in the essay) makes A’s an extremely valuable commodity.

· “What is the value of grades? Why do we attach so much worth to them? What do grades mean outside of making a good mark on our transcripts? What’s so rewarding about getting a good grade?”

· Another good question: “How has your perspective on grades and grading changed since beginning college?”

· Would a university/college-wide grade deflation help or hurt grads? Why? Why not?


The Civil Rights Era

African American Odyssey- http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart9.html

The post-war era marked a period of unprecedented energy against the second class citizenship accorded to African Americans in many parts of the nation. Resistance to racial segregation and discrimination with strategies such as civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, marches, protests, boycotts, “freedom rides,” and rallies received national attention as newspaper, radio, and television reporters and cameramen documented the struggle to end racial inequality. There were also continuing efforts to legally challenge segregation through the courts.

Success crowned these efforts: the Brown decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 helped bring about the demise of the entangling web of legislation that bound blacks to second class citizenship. One hundred years after the Civil War, blacks and their white allies still pursued the battle for equal rights in every area of American life. While there is more to achieve in ending discrimination, major milestones in civil rights laws are on the books for the purpose of regulating equal access to public accommodations, equal justice before the law, and equal employment, education, and housing opportunities. African Americans have had unprecedented openings in many fields of learning and in the arts. The black struggle for civil rights also inspired other liberation and rights movements, including those of Native Americans, Latinos, and women, and African Americans have lent their support to liberation struggles in Africa.

Few other institutions can present the African American mosaic of life and culture as completely as the Library of Congress. The Library’s photographs, film footage, newspapers, magazines, manuscripts, and music holdings chronicle this period better than any other collection in existence. In addition to the NAACP and NUL papers, the Library also holds papers of civil rights activists such as Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Patricia Roberts Harris, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Mary Church Terrell, Robert Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and others. Although the quest may not be fully realized, the Library’s collections document the relentless and significant process of pursuing full equality.


3. Read the articles “A Defense of Grade Deflation” by Will Harrel and The Civil Rights Era: African American Odyssey.

4. Then choose one and write a 300-400 word essay in which you explain the rhetorical situation for the essay.






Example #1

Marlboro Cigarette Advertisement

Almost everyone remembers the cigarette ads of the nineties, in which, most often a lanky, virile cowboy was shown smoking a cigarette. These infamous Marlboro cigarette ads depicted smoking as something attractive and almost glorious. The ads would feature an attractive cowboy in a western setting, often performing tasks of a masculine nature. The ads depict smoking as a desirable attribute. This particular ad illustrates three men, cowboys, walking in a setting similar to that of a ranch. All three cowboys are wearing cowboy hats and appear to be doing manual labor outdoors. Because of the well rounded appeal of the ad, adults, male and female, and even the younger generation are attracted by the presentation of the advertisement. This particular ad presents three handsome cowboys, walking side by side, giving the impression that they are at work. The three men capture the audience on a basic, intrinsic level, appealing to men, women, and children. Science has proven that beauty appeals to human nature, and we as humans are drawn to the men in the advertisement. The creators immediately master one of the most important aspects of advertising in this ad by catching the audience’s interest upon impact. Most men want to look desirable, and the ad implicates that smoking a cigarette makes a man look pleasing and masculine, kind of aloof yet vibrant at the same time. There are three men in the ad, and when viewing the ad, the audience gets a sense of camaraderie from the picture. The man in the center is smiling while his head is turned to one of the other men, as if they are laughing at a joke or recalling an anecdote. The fact that the men are smiling gives the impression that smoking cigarettes brings happiness to the smoker. This picture aims to convince the audience, especially the male portion, that smoking Marlboro cigarettes makes a man attractive. The ad attempts to convince the audience, partly male, that smoking this particular brand of cigarettes will help the smoker make friends and help him or her make friends. A vital aspect of cigarette ads is the warning issued from the surgeon general on the package and featured in the commercials. The surgeon general’s warning was not always required, but soon laws were created, requiring cigarette advertisements to warn consumers of the dangers of smoking. In this particular picture, the warning is in a small white box on the bottom left hand side of the ad, in black lettering. Although it is common knowledge that cigarettes cause immense damage to the human body, the ad does not demonstrate the ill effects of smoking. The ad fails to show how unhealthy cigarettes can be to the human body, because showing the harm in using cigarettes would in effect negate the purpose of the advertisement. It’s difficult to blame the large advertisement firms that create ads similar to this one because their main mission is to attract customers and convince them to buy the product they are selling, not to repel customers. There are some constraints to the advertisement, such as people who are non-smokers, or people who are for making smoking illegal. People who have had a family member die due to the side effects of smoking are also more likely not to purchase cigarettes for themselves. Established, however, is a middle ground, such as with people who know that smoking is bad for one’s health but believe that smoking is a conscious choice made by smokers. The advertisement establishes a connection with smokers as well. The common ground is obvious in which smokers smoke, just like the cowboys in the picture. Some smokers may smoke as a stress reliever. Smoking may also be a way for smokers to relax. The ad is a prime example of advertising at its finest. In this advertisement, Marlboro has made something that has the potential to cause death, look appealing. As far as identification goes, I stand on middle ground concerning this advertisement. I am not a smoker, so I don’t identify with the smoking part of this advertisement. I believe that smoking can be hazardous for one’s health, so the ad does not entice me into smoking. On the other hand, I can identify with the advertisement’s audience. As mentioned earlier, I am attracted to the ad on impact because the cowboys in the ad are definitely attractive, so if I were flipping through a magazine, and I happened to see this ad, I would give it a second glance. The knowledge I have of the ill effects of smoking is what would prevent the ad of convincing me to buy Marlboro cigarettes. There is also an incredible amount of exigence concerning this advertisement. The exigence and juxtaposition combine to contradict this advertisement. Just as we’ve seen the cigarette ads, we have also seen the anti-smoking commercials on television, such as “The Truth,” that criticize the executives of cigarette companies. There are many medical professionals who choose not to smoke because they personally know the damage cigarettes can do to the human body, but there is also a wide range of medical professionals that do smoke despite their knowledge of smoking and its ill effects. Many athletes choose not to smoke because their body has to be in peak condition in order to perform at its finest, and smoking can hinder the condition of their health. People familiar with the mechanical larynx, when a person loses their voice due to excessive smoking and has to speak with the aid of a digital device, are probably deterred from smoking. The experiences and opinions people have may convince them to smoke or not smoke, and many of these opinions are formed with the aid of the media. The Marlboro cigarette advertisement, no longer in print, was widely infamous for featuring dreamy cowboys in Stetsons in the country, smoking a cigarette. While the advertisement appeals to many people, some who choose to smoke, not everyone will choose to smoke due to the ad, and some people who will not smoke due to personal beliefs. However, the message implied by the Marlboro advertisement can be effective to viewers.




Example #2

“I Have a Dream” Speech

The text in question is a seventeen minute speech written and delivered by Dr. King. The basic medium of the text was an oral speech that was broadcast by both loudspeakers at the event and over radio and television. Dr. King drew on years of training as a minister and public speaker to deliver the speech. He also drew on his extensive education and the tumultuous history of racial prejudices and civil rights in the US. Audiences at the time either heard his speech in person or over radio or television broadcasts. Part of the speech near the end was improvised around the repeated phrase “I have a dream.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most iconic leader of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He was an African-American Baptist minister and prominent civil rights activist who campaigned to end segregation and racial discrimination. He gained inspiration from Howard Thurman and Mahatma Gandhi, and he drew extensively from a deep, rich cultural tradition of African-American Christian spiritualism.

The audiences for “I Have a Dream” are extraordinarily varied. In one sense, the audience consisted of the 200,000 or so people who listened to Dr. King in person. But Dr. King also overtly appealed to lawmakers and citizens everywhere in America at the time of his speech. There were also millions of people who heard his speech over radio and television at the time. And many more millions people since 1963 have heard recordings of the speech in video, audio, or digital form.

Dr. King’s immediate purposes appear to have been to convince Americans across the country to embrace racial equality and to further strengthen the resolve of those already involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Audiences’ purposes are not as easily summarized. Some at the time may have sought to be inspired by Dr. King. Opponents to racial equality who heard his speech may have listened for the purpose of seeking to find ways to further argue against racial equality. Audiences since then may have used the speech to educate or to advocate for other social justice issues.

The initial setting for the speech was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. The immediate community and conversation for the speech was the ongoing Civil Rights Movement that had gained particular momentum with the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which Dr. King helped direct. But the enduring nature of Dr. King’s speech has broadened the setting to include many countries and many people who have since read or listened to his speech. Certainly, people listening to his speech for the first time today in America are experiencing a different mix of cultural attitudes toward race than as present in America in 1963.

Dr. King’s speech is an example of a rhetorical situation that is much bigger than its initial text and audience. Not many rhetorical situations are as far reaching in scope as Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The following example of a research paper may be more identifiable to students reading this resource.


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