Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Encourage, Not Discourage

On honor roll? Keep it to yourself (Knoxville News Sentinel: 01/26/04)

"The school honor roll, a time-honored system for rewarding "A" students, has become an apparent source of embarrassment for some underachievers.

As a result, all Nashville schools have stopped posting honor rolls, and some are also considering a ban on hanging good work in the hallways - all at the advice of school lawyers.
I think that's your key phrase right there - "on the advice of school lawyers".

"After a few parents complained their children might be ridiculed for not making the list..."
Who are these parents? Where are they? I want to sit down with them in their living room and explain to them that they're raising children, not Cabbage Patch Kids. Kids have been disappointed at not making this or that honor roll, or this or that Dean's List for years. It's called incentive, it's called encouragement, it's called impetus. How else do those people, whose abilities may not be a natural gift to them, learn to succeed? By being continually told that their mediocre grades are ok, no big deal, don't get upset?

It's a similar situation where so many youth sports leagues these days don't keep score, and as such don't keep standings, wins&losses, etc. That's fine for younger, training leagues - the point there is to learn how to play the game and learn not to run off the field at inopportune times - but once they're old enough to know how the games are played, scorekeeping should be reintroduced immediately, as should wins & losses, records, and standings. When there's no goal to strive for, there's no growth and no advancement. Sure, it's good exercise but not allowing kids the mental reward for having scored a goal, a run, a basket, a touchdown - you're giving them nothing to play for. Except their parents vicarious thrills, apparantly.

Back to academics: Who exactly is going to ridicule these non-honor roll kids? If a kid is smart enought and/or applies himself enough, they're not going to have the temperment or crassness (in most situations) to see a need to make fun of someone who didn't make the grade. And their even worse-performing peers won't care. Who's left? The teachers? Or are the parents worried about each other demeaning their children for sub-par schoolwork? Maybe this is a crutch to absolve parents from having a guideline to measure their children's work by - if there's no honor roll, there's no sense of really where in their academic career their children are.

When I was in school, I was on the honor roll most of the time. And I know from vast experience that we were never making fun of the kids who weren't - if anything, we were the ones made fun of for succeeding. And it's the same in every school, and has been the same since grades were invented. The brains and geeks and nerds are always vilified by the under-achievers, it's so common knowledge it's unfathomable that it could be any way else.

"Some schools have since put a stop to academic pep rallies. Others think they may have to cancel spelling bees. And now schools across the state may follow Nashville's lead."
It just gets worse and worse till you have to blink and gape openmouthed at the words for a few moments, then move on.

Ok, moralistic rant out of the way. Now on to the legal stuff:

"...Nashville school system lawyers warned that state privacy laws forbid releasing any academic information, good or bad, without permission.


In Knoxville, school district spokesman Russ Oaks said authorities do not think posting good information about a student violates state law. He said they put such information in the same category as sports statistics.


...But Nashville school lawyers based their decision last month on a state privacy law dating back to the 1970s - a law that's not always followed because no one challenged the honor roll status quo.
Some school have begun requiring permission slips from parents to release academic records, but that's just a band-aid.

"Others think it might be a good idea to get rid of the honor roll altogether, as Principal Steven Baum did at Julia Green Elementary in Nashville.

"The rationale was, if there are some children that always make it and others that always don't make it, there is a very subtle message that was sent," he said. "I also understand right to privacy is the legal issue for the new century."
Yes, Mr. Principal - but the subtle message that is being sent is not, "YOU'RE STUPID", but "YOU HAVE ROOM TO IMPROVE". One phrase discourages, the other encourages. Instead of killing the messenger, re-interpret the message.

'"I discourage competitive games at school," he said. "They just don't fit my world view of what a school should be."'
What?? What??? Do some teachers, administrators, parents, school board members, legislators actually think their children will not be required to compete in the real world? From the first day after graduation, they will be competing with other people for jobs, for mates, for houses.... They will be competing against other parents on how their own children will be raised, and what their environments will be like. They will be competing with someone or something every day for the rest of their lives - and you want to deliberately not teach them how to compete? That's like awarding someone a Masters Degree in Physics, without teaching them math...

Here's the thing: Competition doesn't necessarily mean I Win/You Lose. Competition can mean everyone improves. There's the old saw that says a sports team must compete against superior opponents to get better - you think the Lady Vols play UConn, Duke, etc. every year for their health? That's one big reason they are a consistently superior program - they set high goals for themselves, they intentionally play other superior teams, they test themselves, and by time for the NCAA Tournament they're ready to compete, excel, and maybe win.

You're not necessarily trying to be better than the other guy, you're trying to be better than they person you were the day before. If you make the honor roll - congratulations, you're doing something right. If you don't make the honor roll but are trying - congratulations as well because you're better than you were yesterday. If you don't make the honor roll because it doesn't exist and you're discouraged from seeing and recognizing that higher standards and goals exist? You're being cheated, and dishonored by the same people most entrusted to care for your well-being and growth: your parents.

There is some hope:

"The change has upset many parents who want their children recognized for hard work.

"This is as backward as it gets," said Miriam Mimms, who has a son at Meigs Magnet School and helps run the Parent Teacher Association.


Parents at most schools, though, have been close to outrage over the new rule.
Some people do get it, apparently. This is a story that does not need to slip through the cracks.

I could go on and on (and already have). Spelling Bees aren't important who wins, but that the competitors improve their spelling. Baseball games aren't truly important who wins, but that you have a goal to reach for and develop and improve your skills to reach that goal - scoring more points than the other team, and doing it better than you would have the day before. That's it.

Encourage, don't discourage.

UPDATE (01/28/04): It was pointed out to me that I slightly misinterpreted this:

"...As a result, all Nashville schools have stopped posting honor rolls..."
...to mean they had removed the concept of honor rolls altogether. This may not be the case - I would assume with this interpretation students still make an honor roll with good school-work, it just isn't publicly acknowledged or reported. If so, I stand corrected - however this doesn't change the fact that competition is still being actively discouraged in the schools, which is a Bad Thing.

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