Stop blaming the kids and start blaming the system

“No one got grades like that when I was a kid.” Countless students hear this remark on a daily basis. Whether from teachers, parents, or indignant conservatives on Twitter, the remark targets an already over-stressed generation. 

     The blame for the perception of increasingly high acceptable grades, referred to as “grade inflation,” often falls upon the current crop of students. “Coddled” or “too fragile” to handle real world disappointment appear in descriptions of them. 

     Others blame overzealous parents who bully teachers into giving better grades, ultimately leading to a fear of giving out a bad grade. Supporters of this theory imply that the interventionist method of parenthood breeds dependent students who cannot take care of themselves in the “real world.”

     Neither of these explanations shows the true cause of grade inflation. The blame lies with the American collegiate institutions. Over the past fifty years, every college in America has become astronomically more selective. 

     The acceptance rate for the Yale University class of 1980 was 26.4 percent. More than a quarter of applicants received good news. Now, potential Yale students face a far more daunting statistic: 6.9 percent. In just the past 12 years, Harvard’s acceptance rate has dropped from 13 percent to less than 6 percent.

     The list below shows the increase in selectivity as universal, rather than just an anomaly specific to Ivy League schools:


     2009 -26.8% 2018 -8.7%


     2001-15.5% 2018- 4.7%

     Wesleyan University 

     1997- 32%  2018- 16%

     On top of these plummeting percentages, the education system puts enough pressure on high school students to crush a small planet. Beginning in middle school, children hear the phrase “it looks good on an application” from teachers or parents trying to motivate an underperforming student. After middle school, college factors into almost every decision a student makes. 

     Seldom do parents or advisors of high school students encourage them to take a harder class solely for the pursuit of knowledge. The likelihood of an A: the one and only factor in course selection.

     With the ever-present fear of not being good enough in the eyes of a college admission officer, it’s no wonder that children elect not to risk receiving a bad grade.

However, in this twisted system of obsessive-compulsive collegiate disorder, matriculation comprises the singular meaningful statistic.

     Nor should high schools bear the blame for fostering “grade inflation.” In an ideal society, education and life preparation would constitute the sole goals of a high school. However, in this twisted system of obsessive-compulsive collegiate disorder, matriculation comprises the singular meaningful statistic.

     If schools discouraged their teachers from giving A’s, the students would stop receiving letters of acceptance, and the high school would lose the title of “good school.” 

     Thus in order to curtail the rise in grade inflation, education officials must pull the problem from the roots. A complete redesign of the college admissions process. Less dependent on grades than on essays, interviews, and teacher recommendations. 

     This, or just be content with the achievement of the younger generation and realize that being in high school is inherently hard. Stop blaming the kids and start blaming the system.

Author: Jonny Sonnenfeld '20

Jonny Sonnenfeld '20 is a journalism student who has written for The Index throughout the past four years. He is in honors English and won a gold key this year from the scholastic arts and writing. His chili in a bread bowl article was responsible for the reintroduction of the meal in the surrounding area.