According to what I recently read, over half of the high schools in the United States are doing away with recognition of the highest achieving students. They are no longer naming valedictorians and salutatorians at graduation. I find that shocking.
No, I was neither valedictorian nor salutatorian at my high school graduation, so that is not the cause of my
disappointment at this latest piece of participation trophy news. No one is hurt if there is no “best.” Everyone feels good about himself or herself, and there certainly isn’t any unhealthy competition, right? Everyone gets the same diploma. Everyone is equal.
How idiotic! Everyone is not equal just because everyone showed up. Some put more effort into the learning process than others. Perhaps some were not as gifted as others but had a greater drive to learn and to excel. Shouldn’t those top students be rewarded with the recognition they deserve? Shouldn’t they be regarded as role models? They will often go on to be the leaders of our country at the end of the day.
Class ranking is also being abandoned. This is just another example of dumbing down America. In our vast and rich continent, our most valuable resources are the education and knowledge, along with the drive and motivation of our population. When we declare that all men (insert “persons”) are created equal, we mean we have equal rights to excel and should be given every opportunity and encouragement to do so.
I did graduate from a highly competitive high school. I had to pass a test to get in, and I had to pass innumerable tests over the years to stay in. We all moaned about how competitive the school was. Our final grades were posted on the main hallway walls at the end of each semester, along with our rank in our class. “So terrible,” we said, “so unhealthy.” But you know what? I worked harder, studied longer, learned more, because I wanted to see my name higher up on those lists.
Englishman Roger Bannister didn’t break the 4-minute mile alone in 1954 at an Oxford University track. He did it because there were two other runners in the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, who challenged him for the lead. The competition spurred Bannister to give his best and then some. And when he did break the long-standing barrier, the magic 4-minute figure, he thanked his pacemakers, Chataway and Brasher.
Some disagree that winning a prize or trophy of some sort is what we should be encouraging. They say instead we should inspire an internal desire for learning and self-betterment. But if both work together, an external reward system and an internal drive, we have the best combination for success. Take away the external and the fizz goes out of the drink.
We can teach students how to make competition work for them, rather than tell students that competition is bad. Competitors make worthy colleagues. Sometimes they make best friends.
Part of what we supposedly teach in schools is preparation for what we call “the real world.” Now everything about our world is competitive: What school we get into, which college we attend, what job we will be able to beat out the competition for, which of us will get promoted, get pay raises, even who we will marry. Heck, will the hometown team win the ballgame tonight?
Now some people refuse to play the competitive game, and that’s all right too. They get jobs that pay them enough to get by, they don’t aspire to the conspicuous consumption of much of our society, and they live solid lives with perhaps relatively less stress. Not everyone wants to be a record-breaking athlete. Just getting by is enough. They have the right to the pursuit of happiness according to their own wishes. But sooner or later they have to compete for something — or someone. It is the way of the world, and it is a skill that can be learned without damaging our students. The consolation to not being the best is that everyone is special in some way, not that everyone is equal because they all showed up.