David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents of his plan to eliminate the school’s Honors Night last week.
“The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average,” Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents.
Fabrizio also said he decided to make the change because academic success can be influenced by the amount of support a student receives at home and not all students receive the same level of emotional and academic support at home.
I do not have a problem with moving a school assembly, but I do have a problem with pretending that kids are fragile little flowers who will be forever broken and will never blossom, should we dare to hurt their feelings. (Okay, I wouldn’t be surprised if people were projecting their own issues onto kids, but that’s a different post.)
Last weekend was the Massachusetts Science Olympiad state meet, the entire purpose of which is to rank kids, give them medals, and see how well they fared after six months of practise. (Disclosure: I’m an SO alumna and was an event supervisor at the middle school division state meet.) It is not “fair” – some teams have coaches for every event, budgets in the range of tens of thousands of dollars, and years of experience. Other teams can’t even get enough students and funding to compete in all twenty-three events. Yet almost every kid there had a great time, and some kids even come back to watch the teams compete when they are older.
One kid wrote a grant to his school’s science department to get funding for his device, started working on his event over the summer, and ended up taking home a medal. Is it fair to that kid to say, “Hey, we’re not going to give you a medal, since it might make other kids feel bad”? Because that is exactly what Principal Fabrizio is doing to his middle school. That kid worked his arse off because the possibility of recognition, of getting a medal, of excelling. Is it fair that his science department had grants to give away when other kids’ science departments don’t?
No, middle school isn’t a competition, but I’m pretty sure that I saw kids thriving and having fun competing, and I saw kids who were justly proud of all the work they did, even if it didn’t net them a medal or a ribbon. I remember being in middle school, being happy when all the work paid off, and being upset when it didn’t – but when that happened, I worked harder the next time. Not ranking other people who outperformed me wouldn’t have made me feel any better when my Egg Drop egg rolled of my desk and broke. (The subsequent rule change, enabling students to get a new egg with a 10 cm penalty, would have made me feel better.)
I, for one, would rather have students compete in science competitions, for recognition in school, and in sports, than attempt to construct a hierarchy based on whose clothes are the nicest and who has the most boyfriends. Unless you want to impose a Madeline L’Engle-esque mind-control sameness on children, they will find ways to differentiate among themselves. We can’t defy reality by pretending that kids are entitled to compete on a perfectly level playing field or not at all.