Saturday, June 6, 2009


I read somewhere a blogger ranting over the banners congratulating high school grads. They went on to say that there is actually a smaller percentage of people eating breakfast every day than the percentage of students who get a high school diploma.
"Schools have been reduced to a lowest common denominator; the requirements to graduate are so basic that one has to make an effort not to graduate by (1) being absent from school excessively and failing to make up work, (2) refusing to do assigned work, or (3) being a constant disciplinary problem. Simply by attending school regularly and doing all assignments, a student is virtually guaranteed to graduate."
Parents act like the world should recognize their child's "achievement." They host big parties; they send out announcements in anticipation of gifts; they band together and print up those aforementioned neighborhood banners (on which they frequently misspell "congratulations"). But that diploma is not a measure of achievement--it's little more than a certificate of attendance.
The superlative student, the true scholar graduates right alongside the minimal achiever, the socially promoted, and the slacker who graduates only because his parents create so many problems for the school that it's easier to graduate the student than to fight the good battle to deny the student the diploma he didn't really earn.
High school's value comes not in graduating, but in realizing that the core skills and knowledge necessary for success can be gained there. Certainly, college and post-graduate studies can build on those skills. But all the basics are there already, if one simply chooses to take advantage of all that high school has to offer.
How many of those graduates actually do that? Not so many--certainly not the majority. Far too many students shoot for a minimal level of achievement, and society endorses that by acting like the minimal achievement of graduating is the only goal worth achieving.
This enabling of mediocrity and the rewarding of undeserved merit unfortunately follows the student throughout their lives; from the school system and into the business world. A business world which does not reward mediocrity, and does not offer social advancements for longevity for the most part (union shops being one of the lone exceptions). Clearly, the schools are not doing these students any favors by their acceptance of sub-par performances. In fact, the only thing they are preparing the students for is a continuum of sub-par, mediocre positions which will never reward the student/worker with anything but a sub-standard wage.
You want to reward your under achieving, unmotivated student with a realistic banner? Drive them around town looking for "Help Wanted" banners, then have them go in for an interview. You might just open their eyes for the first time in their coddled childhoods.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I was called for jury duty, and to pass the time in the waiting room I bought myself a copy of the Palm Beach Post (a publication I hardly ever read). Imagine my surprise when I opened it to the editorial page and saw a letter to the editor from my own father, a retired elementary school principal. He was responding to an article that had appeared in the paper about "gifted" children. It seemed, he wrote, that everyone and his brother had a child in the "gifted" program. Could there possibly be that many gifted children in this part of the world? My Dad was a teacher and school administrator for over 30 years, and came across many children who he considered to be extremely bright. Many children exhibited impressive artistic talents, or were exceptionally good in math or reading. Gifted students, however, were few and far between. Of course it depends on one's definition of "gifted." My father defined it as a child who exhibits exceptional abilities in many different areas. We can say that someone is a "gifted" pianist, but what we really mean is "talented." To be truly gifted, one must shine in a variety of ways. Certainly we must make sure that schools are able to challenge the bright and nurture the talented, but it is a disservice to categorize someone as gifted when they are not. If everyone is gifted, then no one is.