Monday, June 2, 2008

Low honors

In the olden days (when I was young), being valedictorian of one's high school class meant that one was the best student in that class. It was, and should be, a singular achievement. One could envision a situation in which, perhaps, two students were inseparable after their high school years, but in some school districts today, naming a valedictorian has reached the point of ridiculousness. For the past decade or so, we at the newspaper have been receiving commencement announcements from area high schools that contain six or 10 or 14 or even more valedictorians. Peters Township School District might have set the record for the sheer number of valedictorians with 28 of its 359 graduates receiving the "honor" this year. That's one of about every 13 students being named "top in the class." There still are some districts that "get it" when it comes to bestowing the honor. Fort Cherry and Jefferson-Morgan, among others, stuck with the standard valedictorian-salutatorian formula. I commend them. McGuffey named three "honor graduates" among its 160 seniors. Waynesburg Central honored six students among its 153 graduates, but at least Central didn't call them valedictorians. They were referred to as summa cum laude graduates, which seems fine to me. Peters Township isn't alone in devaluing the meaning of the valedictorian honor. Carmichaels, with 77 graduates, had six valedictorians and one salutatorian. That's one of every 11 students receiving top honors. The honor, such as it is, has been diluted. It's just hard to believe that after four years of high school, more than two students legitimately can be said to be equals at the top of a graduating class. Surely one has risen above his or her classmates, even by a slim margin. And the problem is evident not just at graduation time. One of our editors remarked the other day that about 55 percent of the student body appears on the honor roll at Canon-McMillan High School. What's the honor in that? And nowadays, we don't have just highest honors and honors. We have honorable mention. We don't want too many people feeling left out for even the most modest academic achievements. Back in the day, receiving an "A" on a report card meant something. As I recall, a student had to get 94 percent or above on a test or project in order to receive the top grade, and that percentage was reflected on report cards. I'm not sure whether the percentage has changed, but the value of an "A" certainly has. I feel pretty certain that teachers, especially at the high school level, are somewhat afraid to give a top student anything less than an "A" for fear that angry parents will call to raise hell and, if they don't get the grade changed, will take their complaints to the administration or the school board. And, sadly, there are some administrators and school boards that would take the side of the parents over their own teachers. This is just another sign that in this age, everyone is entitled to everything, and everyone must be made to feel "special."



Blogger Ellipses said...

I know a lot is made of making kids feel special (you didn't lose, Timmy, you were the last winner!)... but I would think that most school districts have benchmarks in place to measure who is the "best." Those benchmarks are either too low, or kids are super smart these days... Standardized test score trends suggest that the latter is not the case... I was in high school not that long ago. I gave no speeches at graduation... however, I certainly didn't feel I deserved to. High school was just an inconvenience between childhood and adulthood. I did make the most of college, on the other hand. I see a concerted effort to move kids through the school system. There is no reason that an 18 year old should graduate reading at a 4th grade level. It is blatantly obvious when a child cannot read. I was one of those naturally smart kids through most of my public school career. I could read. I could read well... and I could tell you every kid in my class who couldn't. It couldn't have been more clear if they wore big yellow hats. Yet, we all graduated. None of them gave speeches either... and most of the kids who did give speeches were truly gifted kids. But certainly, 1 of the 8 was more gifted than the others. It's the lower overall standards that allow the top 10% to look like the top 1%... I had suggested on a poll a few weeks ago that it would be perfectly acceptable for bibles to be available to students in English classes as supplements to such works as the Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, Candide, and the epic of Gilgamesh. Not for any religious value, but show the context in which these great works were created. I expected much of the "separation of church and state" rhetoric as well as the accusations that I was a bible-thumping neo-con thought nazi (I am an atheist, btw)... but what I didn't expect were the comments like "kids aren't learning the basics of reading, now you want to teach them context!?" "Where do you think they will have the time to read TWO books at once?!" Wow, that got the dotted one's head aswellin'! Perhaps that one kid who could manage to articulate the parallels and contrasts between Paradise Lost and Genesis would distinguish himself as the legitimate #1.


June 2, 2008 at 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I don't live in Peters. It's been going on for years. Combine that with the 'support groups' that oust their superintendent and spend tons of cash on the Hajuz situation, and you have an abortion of a school district.

June 2, 2008 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

In Virginia, we have the Standards of Learning tests, or SOLs for short. Each school must strive for the highly ballyhooed "full accreditation" status which puts that school in the elite group of schools that have also reached that goal. Of course, the ultimate goal is to have all the schools fully accredited, so in a way it's oxymoronic.

What happens as a result of this is that students aren't taught how to think in terms of how, why, or how to learn from context. They're not taught to think. They're taught exactly what is on the SOL for that subject for that grade. It's crucial for schools to get this accreditation because state funding is hinged to the test scores. In short, we aren't teaching our students to think and learn; we're teaching them to memorize; and not just that - we're teaching them to memorize only what they need to know to get past the test. To be sure, there are students who excel and rise to the top, but as Brant pointed out, it's pretty much anti-climactic.

I did some substitute teaching for two years. I was considering teaching as a career and wanted to test the waters a bit. I learned quite a bit in that time, including that I didn't want to be a teacher. Many of the teachers I talked to lamented the fact that students are "taught to the test," and there really is very little actual learning going on. The other complaint, the one that actually was the major gripe of veteran teachers, is that the parents are a massive pain in the ass. Every parent believes that his or her precious progeny is the next Einstein, and despite this little snot struggling to learn even the simplest topics, the entire school system is expected to accommodate what often is just a mediocre student - despite what mommy and daddy think.

We live in an age of instant gratification. We are raising a generation of selfish little brats who expect the world to accommodate them and all of their shortcomings. So having double-digit valedictorians can only be considered normal for these times. We can't have any hurt feelings or sad children. At graduation time, we always read about students having a GPA of 4.6 or even higher. I don't understand how that can happen, because I always thought 4.0 was perfection. But we continue to bend the rules and adjust the system so that little Johnny and Susie will never have to know what it feels like to be second to someone.

I was a restaurant manager for a few years, and one of the hostesses who was in my charge was a stunning young lady, an extremely bright, gorgeous girl who had the world at her feet. She was in all advanced placement classes and had colleges courting her. One day at work, she was on the verge of tears for her entire shift. She got a B on a physics test. It crushed her. It didn't dawn on her that she was in advanced classes and that a B is hardly a grade to be embarrassed about. I had to be the one to tell her that there will always be someone taller, prettier, smarter, friendlier, more one else ever told her.

Parents of today's children don't want anyone to be less than perfect, so as ellipses pointed out, there are never losers. What a disservice we are doing to these kids because the real world doesn't give a damn about feelings or self-esteem.

June 2, 2008 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

It's high school. Who cares?

June 3, 2008 at 12:15 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I think you're missing the big picture, Scott. Sure, it's high school and five years later none of it matters. I really think the issue here is that we're producing a generation of people who are never told no, who have never known what it feels like to lose or to fail. They don't know how to compete fairly and don't know what sportsmanship is. Failing at something or losing a game or competition should make you want to try harder, and to dumb it down or make it easier is a slap in the face to those who make the effort to excel at something.

The generation of kids who are in high school now is self-serving and self-absorbed. Have you seen the video of those girls who robbed the girl scout?

This generation doesn't give a damn about anyone but themselves, and their parents and the school systems are feeding this narcissism by continuing to make everything warm and fuzzy with no consequences or repercussions for their children.

June 3, 2008 at 7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Beveridge - you should care. High school is where it starts. Then these kids go to college and then out into the work world. They will live in your neighborhood, work next to you at your job and affect your life. This new generation of self-entitled students with parents who cater to their every need are in the world. Thanks Brant for speaking up on this issue. It is getting out of control.

June 3, 2008 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

According to the Mayan calendar, the world is going to end in 2012... 4 years away... that should kinda be a pass for the incoming freshmen...

I sorta agree with Scott... it is just high school. Those 35 kids with top honors probably would have done pretty well for themselves even if they didn't get to give a speech at graduation. Chances are, 20 out the 25 kids who didn't give a speech won't do too bad either... and the 5 kids that suck at life... well, they graduated with all of us, regardless of when you graduated. I just want to point out that there is subtle satire in the numbers I used.


June 3, 2008 at 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

High school is very important….

When I was in high school, 31 years ago, I had a blast. Grades weren't that big of deal. I was a member of an elite group called, "the gang." Our main objective was to have as much fun as humanly and legally possible. As I look back, I wish that I would have taken high school more seriously. For those students that did, most of them went on to college, and now have successful careers. It took me over 20 years after I graduated to understand that I needed a college degree in order to make a better life for myself. So I feel that high school is foundationally very important in a young person’s life.

People often point the finger at the parent’s when the kids are spoiled rotten, undeserving brats. Maybe it's time to realize that there should be more classes and a mandatory curriculum for parenting. I had one class in college called, “Marriage and the Family” that I choose instead of Basket Weaving. It was a fun class, but it really didn’t learn much.

But what would a “Super Parenting” classes teach? Now that's the $100,000 question. What’s the ideal logical format that would be used? I think the state of education reflects the overall state of our society. It's hard to know what the universal answers are, but I agree with Brant, that there should only be one valedictorian per graduating class that excels above the rest.

And to answer one of Brant’s other blogs about our favorite movies. Remember the movie, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and when Sean Penn ordered the pizza to come to his classroom? Now that’s a classic movie. Priceless!

This is Grog, but I couldn't get my user name to work.

June 3, 2008 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh...ahhhh...

The pizza scene is a classic! "You dick!"

June 3, 2008 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I've always been a firm believer in having a quality public education available to all children, but we've gone so far down the wrong path that I wonder whether we can ever find our way back. A good start would be to get the government, both federal and state, our of the business of mandating what local school districts present to their students. No Child Left Behind is leaving more and more children helplessly behind. As Priguy said, it's become way too much about "teaching to the test," filling kids' heads with information they'll forget soon after taking their exams. When I was in grade school, we were getting heavy doses of American history, geography, good old basic math, English grammar and other courses that provided us with a well-rounded, solid foundation. We were learning about Whitman and Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Today, you'd be lucky to find a kid who knows who those people are, let alone anything else about them. We are creating hollow people who may have a shell of knowledge but are empty inside. When I got to high school, I became a very indifferent student, mainly because I realized that what was being offered to me had no application to anything I was remotely interested in doing with my life. Even as a 13-year-old, I correctly predicted that I would have no use for algebra, trigonometry and calculus in my daily life. I dropped out of the "academic track" and took a general/business curriculum. Yet, lo and behold, when I took a college entrance exam, even after four years away from school in the Army, I scored so highly that I was awarded a scholarship. I believe we need to provide all children with a strong foundation in math, English and social studies, then let them, with the guidance of their parents, decide what additional courses would be most beneficial to them as they proceed through junior high and high school. And, again, to avoid "teaching to the test," I think the SAT should provide an alternative test, with a more basic math element, for those students who intend to pursue a liberal arts education. And, finally, for Scott: High school education does matter. Throwaway, non-sequitur comments do not.

June 3, 2008 at 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott doesn't care about high school. After all, it's not like an education is required to write for the O-R.

June 5, 2008 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

And it's not like any guts are required to take an anonymous slap at someone.

June 5, 2008 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...


C'mon! Do this like MEN... on a blog with a pseudonym?


June 6, 2008 at 4:53 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home