In Response to: Underestimating Students [6]

Published online Jan. 4, 2018

Stanley Goldfarb ’65’s letter (Inbox, Oct. 4), discussing student stress, rang my bell. Stress is part of life. Some is unavoidable — tragedy, pain, etc. — but most types involve matters that a person is capable of addressing and handling with degrees of success.

Throughout my life, when contemplating my education, I think first of the challenge of Princeton’s requirement of a senior thesis for an A.B. degree. In junior year, the thought overwhelmed me. I suffered the stress of deep despair that I would be unable to complete a task that I believed to be unachievable. But when I realized that all of my classmates in the liberal-arts program were faced with the same challenge, and that, indeed, so many earlier classes had achieved this level of scholarship, my stress was greatly alleviated and converted to the effort to complete the task. It was simply my realization that, as we said in those days, I had to “pull up my socks and get on with it!”

In these times of various types of “stress” — social and otherwise — permeating the college-age group, I think it is a grave mistake for the University to seek to minimize “stress” in the student body. Experiencing some forms of stress is critical to educating those who must engage in the present complex matters of domestic and global dynamics.

As to stopping grade inflation: First off, I have always thought that the ’60s theme “Everybody’s Beautiful” (and should win a prize for just showing up) was damaging to recent generations. We humans like honest, deserved, stratified recognition levels of achievement. There should be “winners” and “losers.” The concept is ingrained in human society — certainly in American culture.

And as to the practical problems of honest grades penalizing Princeton undergraduates’ acceptance in the so-called “best” institutions of advanced degree, we should realize that in the recent past (perhaps since the end of World War II and the coming of the G.I. Bill to support advanced education for all veterans), the expansion of educated American youth has produced many excellent institutions of advanced learning and accreditation — in law, medicine, business, education, engineering, etc. — which will welcome students with less than a 4.0 college average.

So, Princeton, by all means seek to foster honest, respectful student debate and personal relationships among the student body. In such an environment, they will inter alia to a great degree educate themselves. They will be better able to contend with the world as they find it.