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Reality is not something Americans are well acquainted with today.
As a culture we believe we are smart, talented, sexy, high achievers with exceptional social skills and leadership ability. Societal norms dating back to the 1960s origins of the self-esteem movement reinforce this utopian vision and prevent us from meeting our fat, conceited, illiterate selves.
We don’t let our kids keep score in soccer games (even though many of them do) because that would create winners and losers. Parents heap praise on children whether they deserve it or not in a quest to build self-esteem for its own sake. Some schools don’t give grades so that all students feel equal, and virtually all schools inflate grades because it is easier than confronting pushy parents and entitled students. Federal laws like “No Child Left Behind” don’t help the situation either, because they incite states to lower standards so that everyone passes tests.
But the grade inflation is particularly appalling. National grade data analyzed by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell for a 2008 report in Psychological Science shows that 18.3 percent of high school seniors said they had an A or A- average in 1976. In 2006, 32.8 percent said they earned the highest marks, and 2011 data shows the percentage rose to 34.8 percent.
In a new report by Twenge, Campbell and Brittany Gentile analyzing the American Freshman Survey, they found that the number of first-year college students reporting A- averages or above in high school rose from 19 percent in 1966 to 48 percent in 2009.
And it is not just confined to K to 12. According to a 2012 study by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy on college grades, “[O]n average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43 percent of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988.”