A little background: At the end of June, the Pasco County School Board took under perfectly reasonable consideration the idea of eliminating the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian in public high schools, a proposal that passed unanimously on first reading, clearing it for a final vote by the school board on August 5th.
From the Tampa Bay Times – July 1st
School officials described the valedictorian/salutatorian tradition as one that had gotten out of control and overly competitive, with students making course selections based on how well a class could boost their grade-point averages and angry parents paying a visit to the superintendent when a son or daughter lost out, sometimes by hundredths of a percentage point.
The committee, which included teachers, district administrators, school administrators, students and parents, also had concerns that the system was not always fair. For example, a student could earn more points for a dual enrollment class than an Advanced Placement class. That fact helped drive class-scheduling decisions for some students.
Instead of valedictorians and salutatorians, schools would be encouraged to use the Latin designations cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude that would give more seniors the opportunity to be recognized at commencement ceremonies for their high-achieving academic performances.
Then what passes for public discourse in America happened.
From the Tampa Bay Times – July 7th
“You are sending the wrong message to our youth,” Mike Hall of New Port Richey wrote to Browning after a Saturday segment on the superintendent’s proposal. “Excellence should be recognized. I would rather hire a smart person as any employer will tell you. … This sounds like the liberal left wing thinking.”
Gina Seidel, who did not include where she lived, went even further.
“Maybe (you) just want dumbed down, stupid students or maybe your teachers suck and can’t teach,” she wrote. “Americans are sick and tired of people like you. YOU ARE A DISGRACE!!!”
Now Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning is waffling, apparently driven by his guiding moral principle, “”The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”
Browning, originally motivated to suggest the change “to give more students incentives to excel, because they would have more opportunities for recognition,” and also “take into consideration the many types of classes students take, some of which don’t provide course grades in a time frame that allows for fair and proper grade-point calculations,” is now caving before social media bullies who have “have painted the district’s position as akin to giving everyone a participation trophy while trying to avoid the few parents and students who want to fight over who’s No. 1. ” and contentions by Fox and Friends anchor Clayton Morris about “whitewashing our academic standards.”
If this were a reasoned dialog about the benefits or lack thereof, of making the change, with logical discourse based on substantiated evidence for one option or the other, then changing course might make sense. If it’s just a knee jerk reaction to … well, jerks… then relenting sets a terrible (although sadly common) precedent for civic decision making.
People who type in all caps with a lot of exclamation marks, and paint issues with the broad brush of generalizations are engaging in fallacious arguments that we would all do well to become informed about and armed against, with common sense and true knowledge.
Our greatest inventors, scientists, civic leaders, innovators , artists, writers, philanthropists and champions of social good were often not trailing legacies of high school valedictorian or salutatorian titles. In no particular order (and feel free to research!), none of these luminaries took top honors in high school: Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Jack Kerouack, Jane Jacobs, William Faulkner, Hedy Lamarr, George Barnard Shaw, Nora Roberts, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Temple Grandin.
This juice, I would counter, is entirely worth the squeeze. Education should not be a competition, but a celebrated opportunity for all children to gain the knowledge and critical thinking skills they need to build their future and ours, so that we can all benefit from common sense decision making by thoughtful intelligent leadership informed by facts instead of baseless opinion. There are few greater lessons we can give our children.