My phone buzzed with emails on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Aunts and Uncles checking in? Updated directions to a Christmas party? Nope. Students complaining about their grades. This had never happened to me before -- on Christmas! Have we reached some kind of breaking point?When I was a college student -- and it wasn't that long ago -- there was a blissful period of time between December final exams and when I received those semester grades. I would go home for the holidays, just before Christmas, and have a couple weeks of kairos, seasonal time during which I reveled with family and friends. Thoughts of Thermodynamics IIor Cultural Anthropology finals were fleeting, if they came at all. The grades did arrive in the mail, eventually, and there would be a reckoning (especially about Thermodynamics II). But I had at least 10 days of good times with my parents before the grades arrived.Thank God I'm not an undergraduate now. As far as I can tell, students live in a near-constant state of anxiety about grades in late December. Yes, students have always been anxious, but before online grading systems, one could only check the postal mail once per day, there were several mail holidays, and one could be virtually assured grades wouldn't arrive before Christmas.Now I fear that, during the days of the "O" antiphons leading up to the Feast of the Nativity, my good Christian students are incessantlychecking grades andfollowing that "O" with rather less sublime words and phrases.For a while now, several trajectories have been increasing that relate to this issue: mobile connectivity; student anxiety about how their college grades relate to their future success in job-seeking; the rocketing cost of higher education and the concomitant student loan bubble; grade inflation, which invests each incremental difference in GPA with more discriminating value than it used to have; and finally, that favorite of teachers everywhere, a problem with thin-skinned, entitled students. (Note: I don't agree fully with that last one, but it is a common barb.)Despite all of that, I had never received emails about grades on Christmas itself. Multiple emails. From students I know are Christians.I don't know what to make of this, and I'm wondering if all the educators and educated who read and write for this blog have any helpful thoughts. It's not my own email inbox that concerns me. I'm worried about the state of anxiety of my students. I'm sad for the lack of kairos in their lives in general, and now even this widely regarded season of kairosdoes not seem to work for them.My initial thought is thatnext year I will withhold my grades until after Christmas (and tell the students in advance why I am doing so).I know I can't change their whole culture, relationships to their grades ortheir parents, and their sense of time. But maybe we could encourage other teachers -- at least at Christian schools -- to do the same. If so, perhaps the most seasonally appropriate day for uploading the grades would be the Feast of Stephen, the martyr.(Sorry, couldn't resist that one.)
Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.