For our students’ entire lives we have communicated that the reason to learn things is not to fulfill curiosities, but to see where you stack up relative to others. Grades are no longer a proxy for learning, but a lap time determining how well they’re doing at achieving a secure financial future. Under this system, a “B” is genuine cause for distress. A “C” is a disaster that points towards a ruined life.
At the same time, we have made it increasingly difficult to pay for a genuine education. The burden of loans threatens to strangle adult lives before they really begin. It is now impossible to work your way through college. Concerns over even paying for college are also at an all-time high. We communicate that a college degree is more important than ever and then make it more difficult to achieve.
Students look at the larger culture and see not a ladder of opportunity, but a treadmill of obligation. No wonder they’re distressed."