It has taken me several weeks to decide that I had to write this post. There are going to be people who disagree with what I’m about to say – feel free to comment. I’ll delete any comments that contain obscenity or direct attacks on other commentors, but otherwise the floor is yours.
John was invited to an awards dinner at his middle school. The invitation specified semi-formal attire, so Michael and John were in ties and I was in a dress and heels when we made our way through the school hallway along a paper “red carpet” along which student paparazzi stood with cameras. We found our places at one of the tables set up in the gym and I pored over the program listing the students who would be recognized. I didn’t recognize any names or faces, although it was immediately apparent that there were students from all three grades present, not just eighth-graders. I asked John how many of the kids on the list were in his Advanced Placement classes. None. I started to become suspicious.
As soon as everyone had been through the buffet line the ceremony began. Each teacher (or their designated substitute) came on stage and read a statement about why they had chosen a particular student to receive this award. After the first three or four presentations I was having a hard time keeping the shock off my face. I looked at Michael, and his eyebrows were raised so high he looked like he’d had a bad face-lift. Even John seemed a bit puzzled.
One girl got an award for “using good table manners in the cafeteria”. I wish we’d been seated with her instead of the girl sitting across from me. She’d just leaned down, put her mouth on the edge of her plate, and scraped tuna casserole in with her fork. At least she used a fork. A boy a couple of tables away was dressed in a tuxedo and rhinestone-studded sunglasses (indoors, at night). He played games on an iPad throughout the entire ceremony, except when his name was called. He received his award after a long, enthusiastic speech by his teacher about how proud she was of the progress he’d made this year. Evidently at the beginning of the year he refused to do any assignments, take any tests, or even answer direct questions. Now he would “usually give things a try”. Hmm.
Then there was the girl, all smiles on the way to the stage, who had been nominated for an award because she’d started actually going to her classes instead of just hanging out in the school hallways all day. Seriously. She got an award for that. John’s award was for improvement in choir. When he started sixth grade he was very unsure of his voice and would hardly sing above a whisper. By the end of eighth grade he was performing short solos quite well. I appreciated his teacher singling him out for recognition, but John would be the first to tell you there are many students who deserve an award in choir more than he does. Kids who’ve taken private lessons, competed on a national level, performed in community theater, and been accepted to performing arts schools. John just does choir for fun.
There were seventy-five awards given out that night. I can remember only two situations that actually sounded like something that should be recognized by a catered awards dinner and a speech. One was a sixth-grade girl who’d given up an hour every day to be paired with a special needs student and help them with gym class. That sort of compassion certainly deserves recognition! Another was a girl who had stepped in and defused a bullying situation before it could get out of hand. The person being bullied wasn’t even a friend of hers – she just saw the right thing to do and did it. Again, that sort of behavior deserves as much recognition as possible.
Eighth grade graduation was earlier this week. Of course I went, and was proud of John and happy for him. But are graduation ceremonies necessary every time kids switch schools? Kindergarten graduation . . . really? I clapped like crazy for the five students who made straight As throughout middle school, but then they gave a perfect attendance award to a young man who had not missed a day of school since first grade. The principal told everyone assembled how wonderful it was that he had come to school even when he was sick. I turned to the mom next to me and said, “We can thank his parents for all the times our kids have gotten sick.” Of course his parents were right behind me! Oh well, maybe my comment will give them something to think about.
They had all the eighth graders come up row by row to be recognized and receive their “eighth grade diploma”. The audience was instructed to hold their applause until the end of each row, but of course there were many parents in attendance who could not manage even that small measure of self-control, and had to shout, scream their child’s name, and clap . . . which kept the parents of the next child in line from hearing their son or daughter’s name called. Who got the loudest and most disruptive response? The girl who got the award for showing up for class.
Michael and I talked about it later, and when he told me the current graduation rate in our county’s public schools is about fifty percent I thought, “This graduation will be the only one a lot of those kids get.” And that is tragic. But will setting the bar lower – rewarding kids just for “showing up” and “trying” help? I don’t think so. We educate our children to make them productive members of society – to prepare them to support themselves and their future families. I’ve never had a job where “showing up” and “trying” are good enough.
Of course this is a concept that applies to many more situations for parents today. There are soccer games where no score is kept so no one “loses”, baseball games where kids swing until they hit so no one is “out”, and high school graduating classes with fifty valedictorians so no one’s self-esteem takes a beating. Are we doing these kids any favors? Or are we harming them by not preparing them for the real world, where people lose jobs, fail classes, and get hurt? Where do you stand?