Monday, June 10, 2013

Class of lowered expectations

This week students everywhere are graduating from high school. With all the reports on the news and stories in the newspaper, it reminded me of the last time I attended a high school graduation...

At that graduation I was reminded of a portion of the public that I feel perpetuates a standard that I feel holds our education system behind. A 2012 study placed America's public education system in 17th position among 50 nations. The rankings looked like this:

1) Finland
2) South Korea
3) Hong Kong
4) Japan
5) Singapore
6) United Kingdom
7) Netherlands
8) New Zealand
9) Switzerland
10) Canada
11) Ireland
12) Denmark
13) Australia
14) Poland
15) Germany
16) Belgium
17) United States

What's to blame for this 17th place ranking? I'd contend that it's a lowering of expectations (and inadequate funding). A rewarding and over celebrating of the lowest levels of success. Allow me to provide an example...

At that last graduation, there were families sitting in front and behind (though there were many other like them there). The procession started. Their child walked by, and they initiated their deafening screams of, "You did it!!!!!! You actually did it!!!!!!! That's my baby!!!!!! You did it!!!!!! You graduated!!!!!! Way to go!!!!! " Etc...

Okay, so you're probably asking yourself what is wrong with them being proud of their child? And I will tell you right now that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of ones child. But I am certain all of us have met people like those I am discussing here. The ones who go on and on about trivial successes at the office, expect praise for doing what they should do anyway or rewarded for simple help given.

The way in which these parents cries were emphasized, you would have though the kid had just just won the Nobel Prize or mastered quantum physics. Something truly exceptional and extraordinary. Something... unexpected. These people are proud, and rightfully so. But they should be proud of the journey their child has made... That they are taking that next step in life... If they did above average or exemplary in their studies and of the people they have become. But not of the simple fact of the graduation. But that is the part some parents focus on and make the act of graduating itself something surprisingly remarkable.

And this is the underlying cause that is what actually annoys me. Shouldn't we live in a society where something as important as graduating high school is expected? Where those who fail to, well... failed! We live in a time where where everything seems to be rewarded and shortcomings are sugar coated and swept under the rug. What the hell is wrong with a little accountability and giving credit where credit is due? Every little thing is twisted into a reason to celebrate and congratulate. Preschools and kindergartens are even holding graduation ceremonies complete with cap's, gown's, and diploma's! Sure, they look cute, but what is there to celebrate? That little Joey and Sue excelled at nap time and play time?

But the thing about high school graduation is that it is really just a foregone conclusion for the vast majority of students. So actually graduating really isn't all that special. What you did with that time, what you learned, how it prepared you for life and what your GPA rank was, ARE important. Did the person who graduated with a 2.1 GPA actually do anything remarkable? Or did they simply waste years that they could have used to further their future? The answers are 'no' and 'yes'.

The actual act of graduation for me, was simply a milestone. A marker for memories for what had
been and hope for what was to come. Was I overwhelmingly proud that I graduated? No. I was proud, but didn't feel that act of doing so was anything remarkable. However, doing so as valedictorian and the knowledge I gained, was something I was extremely proud of and will always stick with me.

All that said, I still feel that graduation is a time to celebrate and enjoy. I just hope that everyone focuses on what is really important and hoists the simple act of graduation to be some grand achievement that it isn't. Yes, they may be starting a new chapter in their life, but that is a journey that almost all will take. High school gradation is an achievement, but not an exemplary one. And until we set this task as no more than the minimum threshold of achievement I feel American will continue to fall behind. Lets not celebrate all 'achievements' big and small equally, but instead emphasize the best and the brightest. By emphasizing and rewarding the ideal you will incentivize the reaching for greatness, rather than satisfaction with mediocrity.

-Brain Hulk

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