Sunday, October 24, 2004

“A” is for Average

Reader’s Digest runs an article called That’s Outrageous in which they cover several situations and the related concepts that fail the test of common sense. In the November 2004 issue, the topic of the month is schools eliminating the recognition of student achievement.

Examples run the gamut from normal liberal hogwash (like not posting the names of Honor Roll students) to industrial strength fertilizer (like not being able to name the high scorers of basketball games, not naming a spelling bee champion, and banning the game Tag in the schoolyard). One school eliminated grouping and teaching kids according to their ability, another has replaced letter and numerical grades with “developing”, “exceed”, and “modify”, and others have decided to honor up to 100 “valedictorians” per class.

In almost all these cases, the presiding mentality is the need to protect the self-esteem of those students who did not achieve similar results during their academic career. They don’t want any children feeling ashamed, discouraged, or left out because they weren’t honored.

This is problematic on at least two fronts. The first is the issue of protecting self-esteem. People can be embarrassed in a variety of ways, and it isn’t always a bad thing. If a child gets picked on because his family is too poor to afford fashionable clothing, this is a bad situation. On the other hand, if a schoolyard bully gets thrashed in a fight with a small new kid, the embarrassment felt by the bully is good because it is an incentive to quit picking on smaller kids. The point here is that embarrassment can serve as an incentive to change for the better.

The other reason why this failure to recognize student achievement is a bad idea is that we (Americans) live in a capitalist society. A business survives because its prices, products, and/or services are more desirable than that provided by other businesses in its industry (otherwise known as “competitors”). Job applicants, however passively, compete for job openings. Even our academic institutions use competition both for admission and for scholarships (unless you are a “special class”, such as some minorities, but that’s another gripe).

The only jobs non-competitive students can hope to achieve are either government jobs or jobs in a communist society. In a capitalist marketplace, if an employee’s job performance is substantially inferior to his co-workers’ and there are other qualified job applicants available, that employee will soon be an ex-employee. And this is the future for students subjected to this “feel-good” abomination being fostered in some schools.

This is another case where academics and policy makers simply do not inhabit the “real” world and thus do not understand the consequences of the ideas they produce. Communism sounds like an excellent idea from a purely theoretical perspective, but it fails miserably in the real world. Likewise, the failure to actively recognize and reward exemplary performance will lead to several more failures throughout our society because fewer people will be motivated to produce the extra effort necessary to rise above the mundane.


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