Unit 7 Letter to a B Student
1Your final grade for the course is B. A respectable grade. Far superior to the “Gentleman’s C” that served as the norm a couple of generations ago. But in those days A’s were rare: only two out of twenty-five, as I recall. Whatever our norm is, it has shifted upward, with the result that you are probably disappointed at not doing better. I’m certain that nothing I can say will remove that feeling of disappointment, particularly in a climate where grades determine eligibility for graduate school and special programs.1
2Disappointment. It’s the stuff bad dreams are made of: dreams of failure, inadequacy, loss of position and good repute. The essence of success is that there’s never enough of it to go round in a zero-sum game2 where one person’s winning must be offset by another’s losing, one person’s joy offset by another’s disappointment.2 You’ve grown up in a society where winning is not the most important thing — it’s the only thing.3 To lose, to fail, to go under, to go broke— these are deadly sins in a world where prosperity in the present is seen as a sure sign of salvation in the future. In a different society, your disappointment might be something you could shrug away. But not in ours.4
3My purpose in writing you is to put your disappointment in perspective by considering exactly what your grade means and doesn’t mean. I do not propose to argue here that grades are unimportant. Rather, I hope to show you that your grade, taken at face value, is apt to be dangerously misleading, both to you and to others.
4As a symbol on your college transcript, your grade simply means that you have successfully completed a specific course of study, doing so at a certain level of proficiency.
The level of your proficiency has been determined by your performance of rather conventional tasks: taking tests, writing papers and reports, and so forth. Your performance is generally assumed to correspond to the knowledge you have acquired and will retain.
But this assumption, as we both know, is questionable; it may well be that you’ve actually gotten much more out of the course than your grade indicates —or less. Lacking more precise measurement tools, we must interpret your B as a rather fuzzy symbol at best, representing a questionable judgment of your mastery of the subject.
5Your grade does not represent a judgment of your basic ability or of your character.
Courage, kindness, wisdom, good humor — these are the important characteristics of our species. Unfortunately they are not part of our curriculum. But they are important: crucially so, because they are always in short supply. If you value these characteristics in yourself, you will be valued — and far more so than those whose identities are measured only by little marks on a piece of paper. Your B is a price tag on a garment that is quite separate from the living, breathing human being underneath.
6The student as performer; the student as human being. The distinction is one we should always keep in mind. I first learned it years ago when I got out of the service5 and went back to college. There were a lot of us then: older than the norm, in a hurry to get our degrees and move on, impatient with the tests and rituals of academic life. Not an easy group to handle.
7One instructor handled us very wisely, it seems to me. On Sunday evenings in
particular, he would make a point of stopping in at a local bar frequented by many of the GI-Bill students. There he would sit and drink, joke, and swap stories with men in his class, men who had but recently put away their uniforms and identities: former platoon sergeants, bomber pilots, corporals, captains, lieutenants, commanders, majors — even a lieutenant colonel,6as I recall. They enjoyed his company greatly, as he theirs. The next morning he would walk into class and give these same men a test. A hard test. A test on which he usually flunked about half of them.
8Oddly enough, the men whom he flunked did not resent it. Nor did they resent him for shifting suddenly from a friendly gear to a coercive one.7 Rather, they loved him, worked harder and harder at his course as the semester moved along, and ended up with a good grasp of his subject — economics. The technique is still rather difficult for me to explain;
but I believe it can be described as one in which a clear distinction was made between the student as classroom performer and the student as human being. A good distinction to make. A distinction that should put your B in perspective — and your disappointment.
9Perspective. It is important to recognize that human beings, despite differences in class and educational labeling, are fundamentally hewn from the same material and knit together by common bonds of fear and joy, suffering and achievement. Warfare, sickness, disasters public and private — these are the larger coordinates of life. To recognize them is to recognize that social labels are basically irrelevant and misleading.8 It is true that these labels are necessary in the functioning of a complex society as a way of letting us know who should be trusted to do what, with the result that we need to make distinctions on the basis of grades, degrees, ranks, and responsibility. But these distinctions should never be taken seriously in human terms, either in the way we look at others or in the way we look at ourselves.
10Even in achievement terms, your B label does not mean that you are permanently defined as a B achievement person. I’m well aware that B students tend to get B’s in the courses they take later on, just as A students tend to get A’s. But academic work is a narrow, neatly defined highway compared to the unmapped rolling country your will encounter after you leave school. What you have learned may help you find your way about at first;
later on you will have to shift to yourself, locating goals and opportunities in the same fog that hampers us all as we move toward the future.
Words and Expressions
1. norm n.
1) an accepted standard or a way of behaving or doing things that most people agree with
e.g. You must adapt to the norms of the society you live in.
2) the norm = a situation or type of behavior that is expected and considered to be typical
e.g. One child per family is fast becoming the norm in some countries.
2. shift vt.& vi.
1) to (cause something or someone to) move or change from one position or direction to another, especially slightly
e.g. She shifted (her weight) uneasily from one foot to the other.
The wind is expected to shift (to the east) tomorrow.
2) transfer sth.
e.g. This simply shifts the cost of medical insurance from the employer to the employee. Collocation:
shift sth. (from A to / onto B)转移或转换某事物
shift (your) ground（辩论中）改变立场或方法
e.g. He’s annoying to argue with because he keeps shifting his ground.
shift n. 轮班；移动v.转移；自己谋生
The teacher asked the students to shift the chairs around in the classroom so that the group members could sit together for the discussion.
Media attention has shifted recently onto environmental issues.
3. eligibility n. the qualifications or abilities required for doing something
e.g. I’ll have to check her eligibility to take part in this competition.
eligible (for sth. / to do sth.)
1. Her qualifications and experience confirm her eligibility for the job.
Only those who have worked in this company for at least three years are eligible for housing allowance.
1. I’m certain that nothing I can say will remove that feeling of disappointment, particularly in a climate where grades determine eligibility for graduate school and special program. (Paragraph 1) Translation: 我肯定无论我说什么都不会消除你的沮丧心情，特别是在我们生活的环境中，考试分数直接决定你是否有资格读研究生和申请一些特别的学习项目。
Words and Expressions
4. inadequacy n.
1) being too low in quality or too small in amount
e.g. The inadequacy of water supply for city people has already been a problem no government can take lightly.
2) fault or failing; weakness
e.g. I always suffer from feelings of inadequacy when I’m with him.
1. Unemployment can often cause feelings of _________ and low self-esteem. (inadequacy)
2. He doubted her __________ for the job. (adequacy)
3. Will future oil supplies be _________ to meet world needs? (adequate)
4. While some patients can be ________ cared for at home, others are best served by care in a hospital. (adequately)
5. Our scientific research is _________ funded. (inadequately)
5. essence n. the most basic and important idea or quality
e.g. The essence of his argument was that education should continue throughout life.
Yet change is the very essence of life.
e.g. In essence, both sides agree on the issue.
of the essence非常重要的，不可缺少的
e.g. In any of these discussions, of course, honesty is of the essence.
essential a. & n.
6. offset vt. to counterbalance or compensate for
e.g. In basketball, he offsets his small size by his cleverness and speed.
Forests can help offset human-caused climate warming, and scientists want to know how big
a role these particular forests will play.
offset sth. by sth. / doing sth.
1. The extra cost of travelling to work is offset by the lower price of houses here.
2. He put up his prices to offset the increased cost of materials.
7. go under to fail; to be overwhelmed
e.g. His business went under because of competition from the large corporations.
Poor Donaldson had no head for business, and it was not long before he went under.
8. go / be broke to become penniless; to go bankrupt
e.g. The business kept losing money and finally went broke.
I can’t afford to go on holiday this year — I’m broke.
A lot of small businesses went broke during the recession.
9. perspective n. a way of regarding situations, facts, etc.
e.g. His father’s death gave him a whole new perspective on life. （看法）
The novel is written from the perspective of a child. （角度）
in / out of perspective 比例正确/ 不合比例
e.g. The background of this picture is all out of perspective.
e.g. He sees things in their right perspective. 观察事物很正确
put / see / view sth. in perspective to compare something to other things so that it can be accurately and fairly judged 从（恰当的）角度处置/观察/看待某事物
get / keep sth. in perspective to think about a situation or problem in a wise and reasonable way
e.g. You must keep things in perspective — the overall situation isn’t really that bad.
10. take … at face value to accept something for what it appears to be
e.g. She took his stories at face value and did not know he was joking.
If you take his remarks only at their face value, you will not have understood his full meaning.
If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is never to take anything you are told at face value.
We shouldn’t take failures at face value. Instead, we should learn from our failures.
11. be apt to to have the tendency to
e.g. A careless person is apt to make mistakes.
My pen is rather apt to leak.
be inclined to
be likely to
Anyone who has come to a foreign country for the first time is apt to find everything around him both strange and interesting.
Young men are apt to think themselves wise enough, as drunken men are apt to think
themselves sober enough.
12. proficiency n. skill; ability
e.g. It said in the job ad that they wanted proficiency in at least two languages.
You have to take a test of proficiency in English before you can apply for the job. Collocation:
proficiency (in sth. / doing sth.)
13. conventional a. traditional and ordinary
e.g. conventional behavior / attitudes / clothes / method
I find his art rather dull and conventional.
14. correspond to to match; to be similar or equal to
e.g. The wing of a bird corresponds to the arm of a man.
The American Congress corresponds to the British Parliament.
15. assumption n.
what is thought to be true or will happen, without any real proof
e.g. These calculations are based on the assumption that prices will continue to rise.
I’m working on the assumption that the money will come through.
assumption of sth.
The theory is based on a series of wrong assumptions.
Some people assume that there is life on other planets when they see UFOs.
1.Through this failure, he realized his personal ____________. (inadequacy)
2.The ____ of his speech is that this accident will bring great impact on the factory’s production.
3.He gave his wife a luxurious car to _____ her hard work in bringing up children. (offset)
4. A great many companies ________ in the fierce financial risk. (went under)
5.Everyone sees things from his or her own _______. (perspective)
6.She _________ live in the country, but her husband wanted to live in the city. (was apt to)
7.Tom’s ________ as a professor is well known. (proficiency)
8.England is always thought to be a ________ nation. (conventional)
9.The working of this machine _________ that of the human brain. (corresponds to)
10.The _______ of their son’s coming back after the war proved to be wrong. (assumption) Sentences
2. The essence of success is that there’s never enough of it to go round in a zero-sum game where one person’s winning must be offset by another’s losing, one person’s joy offset by another’s disappointment. (Paragraph 2)
Explanation: “Zero-sum game”refers to a situation in which if one person gains an advantage from it, someone else involved in it must suffer an equivalent disadvantage.
3. … winning is not the most important thing — it’s the only thing. (Paragraph 2) Explanation: This is a special type of negation. The author is not negating the importance of winning; rather, with the sentence that follows the negative one, the author gives the utmost emphasis to the importance of winning. What the author wants to say is “Winning is of primary importance; nothing could be more important than winning.”
e.g. To improve your oral English, practicing is not the most important thing — it’s the only thing.
Ours is a time of information explosion; to keep up with the times, updating our knowledge is not the most important thing — it’s the only thing.
4. In a different society, your disappointment might be something you could shrug away. But not in ours. (Paragraph 2)
Paraphrase: If you are in a different society, you could just ignore you disappointment, but in our society, it’s inescapable.
Words and Expressions
16. make a point of to take particular care to do sth. 重视；强调
e.g. He makes a point of jogging for an hour every morning, rain or shine.
To prevent loss of data, I always make a point of making a copy on a floppy disk of what I have done during the day.
As would-be English teachers, we make a point of having a good knowledge of English grammar.
She makes a point of keeping all her shopping receipts.
17. flunk vt.
1) to fail an examination or course of study
e.g. I flunked my second year exams and was lucky not to be thrown out of college.
2) give a failing mark to sb.
e.g. If he is no good, flunk him.
e.g. Dan won’t be in college next year — he’s been flunked out.
18. resent vt. to feel angry because you have been forced to accept someone or something that you do not like
e.g. Her father seems to resent her new boyfriend for he has no job.
Her roommate seems to resent my being in their dorm.
19. gear n.
1) the machinery in a vehicle that turns power from the engine into movement
e.g. Don’t turn off the engine while you’re still in gear.
2) a piece of machinery that performs a particular job
e.g. The landing gear of a plane has jammed.
3) a set of equipment or tools you need for a particular activity
e.g. We’re only going for two days; you don’t need to bring so much gear.
change / shift gear换档
20. coercive a. using force to persuade people to do what they are unwilling to do
e.g. coercive methods / measures
The president relied on the coercive powers of the military.
coerce sb. into sth. / doing sth.
e.g. The Chamber of Commerce was making efforts to coerce the strikers into compliance.
You can’t coerce her into obedience.
5. … when I got out of the service … (Paragraph 6)
Explanation: Usually the plural form “services” is used to refer to the three armed forces, i.e. the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
Paraphrase: … when I got out of the army …
6. ... men who had but recently put away their uniforms and identities: former platoon sergeants, bomber pilots, corporals, captains, lieutenants, commanders, majors —even a lieutenant colonel … (Paragraph 7)
Explanation: Here “men who had but recently put away their uniforms and identities” refe r to former GIs, who, like the author himself, had taken off their army uniforms and changed their identities from servicemen to civilians. Many of these men had been officers of various ranks. Translation: 他们刚脱下军装、离开自己军人的身份，他们曾是：陆军副排长、轰炸机飞行员、下士、海军上校、中尉、指挥官、陆军少校――甚至还有陆军中校……
7. Nor did they resent him for shifting suddenly from a friendly gear to a coercive one. (Paragraph
Explanation: The word “gear” originally means a device in a vehicle which controls the rate at which the energy being used is converted into motion. While driving, a driver sometimes shifts or changes gear. In this sentence, the shifting of gear refers to the change in the instructor’s manner of dealing with his students. When drinking with the students in the pub, he was easy-going and friendly; but in the classroom, he became stern and severe.
8. To recognize them is to recognize that social labels are basically irrelevant and misleading. (Paragraph 9)