I went to a decent high school. Not fancy, not lousy. Science labs were OK but we weren't putting out national science fair competitors. Most kids weren't poor but most weren't upper-middle-class either. Not particularly disadvantaged but not a lot of affluent kids either. Pretty much in the middle. Which is fine. We had college-prep classes but we also had a lot of vocational classes. It was a decent school in the middle of the class hierarchy. I was more privileged than a lot of the US but less privileged than a lot of the people I later met in college.
One thing that was repeatedly driven home to me by my teachers was that we would be on our own in college, and that there would be no hand-holding. It was repeatedly said that we would have to figure it out, that they wouldn't patiently explain to us how much we should be reading and reminding us to study and reminding us to do our homework and turn it in on time. It would be hard and we would be on our own. This was repeatedly said to me and my middle-class friends.
And, to a large extent, that was true. College was a bit more structured and supportive than my high school teachers made it sound, but only a bit. Ultimately, it was on me. I accepted that from day one, and it felt utterly unsurprising to me that I was doing well because I studied all the time. It felt utterly unsurprising when friends and dorm-mates who studied less didn't do as well. It's the natural order of the world. Likewise, in grad school I felt a bit more burned out, a bit more interested in my own life, and I didn't do as well as I did in college. I still got through, but I was not on top, and that was no surprise to me because I didn't put as much in. Then I became a professor and buckled down more and published more and got decent student evaluations because I put in a ton of prep and none of this seemed at all surprising to me.
So you can imagine how strange it seems to me when people keep saying that we need to do more for students who don't know how to study, how to take notes, how to manage their time, etc. It baffles me that we are supposed to be responsible for their success. Why would we be? Why would it be my problem that people who never put much effort into mastering freshman material are now doing poorly with advanced material? Why is it my duty to fix this? It's not like I could actually do anything about it (you only get the benefit of years of effort by putting in years of effort--there are no secret tricks), so why is it my responsibility?
Likewise, it seems strange to me when people say that it's so unfair that we attach weight to grades and test scores. I got into a college with people who were way above me in the class hierarchy, people whose parents had more money and more degrees, people who had attended prep schools and magnet schools. I was there because I had done at least as well as they had done on the SAT (among other things). I got better grades than them in college. I out-studied them, out-performed them in the academic arena, and moved ahead academically. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?
I've spent more than two years reading and blogging about the cultural currents that underlie the notions that seem so strange to me, but I'll be honest: To this day there's still a part of me that thinks "Well, duh, I studied my ass off because my teachers all told me that that's what I'd have to do to succeed in college. What else were you expecting?"