Honor roll an endangered species

Every once in a while you read something so outrageous in the news that you find yourself rereading it just to make sure you didn’t totally miss the point. Then you find yourself turning to the front of the paper to make sure you haven’t accidentally picked up some sort of satire publication.  Then you look at the byline to see if it’s by some world-renowned humor columnist.

Only after exhausting all these avenues are you forced to admit that in fact, just when you thought life could get no weirder, someone pushed the envelope a little further.

And so it was that on Sunday while reading the paper, I came across an article that said the following, “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.” (Now you knew lawyers would be involved somewhere, didn’t you?) The article goes on to state that some school have also put a stop to academic pep rallies, and are considering canceling spelling bees.

Once I ascertained that this was, in fact, not a spoof but reality, my first question was “Why is this being confined to just academics”?  If not making a publicly announced honor roll destroys a child’s self esteem, what must it do to that poor child’s ego when he or she doesn’t get to play varsity basketball or soccer.  How badly those poor children must feel when they go to athletic sports rallies and are not the kids all suited up who come running out to the cheers of the rest of the school.

If we have to cancel academic rallies, then I think it only fair that we cancel sports rallies. And it’s only fairer that every child who tries out for a team automatically makes it on the team and gets equal playing time so there is no sense ot failure ever felt by any child in their whole childhood.

What’s that you say – we can’t mess with sports that way?  Well, of course. What was I thinking?  In sports you can honor and reward those with talent but in academics we have to pretend we are all on a level playing field.

I will openly admit that I never made a sports team in my academic career. That is partly due to the fact that I went to a small, relatively poor Catholic grade school and high school and what money they had was for some inexplicable reason diverted into academics so there were few opportunities at sports. Part of this is due to the fact that I am incapable of steady, continuous motion in any given direction without tripping over my own two feet. And part of it is due to the fact that I went to school before the feds made it mandatory to have women’s sports programs in schools with men’s sports programs.

And so the only place I could excel was academics. And I did.  I was always on the honor roll.  My papers were hung in the hallways.  And I was proud of that.  I didn’t begrudge the boys who won trophies on our basketball team because I knew I had a chance at being recognized for what I did well.  And no one worried about anyone’s self-esteem who didn’t get an award because ten minutes after school was out, we were all playing together and no one cared who made honor roll or who didn’t.

I think everyone should have an opportunity to feel good about themselves – to develop self-esteem. And I think teachers and schools should work hard to find that spark that can be encouraged in every child they encounter.  But I don’t think taking away the self-esteem of students who do excel is the way to achieve that goal. And certainly not taking away from academic achievement, which is, I think, why we send kids to school.

At least not while there are still pep rallies in which football players are touted as mini-gods who will fight to honor the school’s name while the debate team bringing home national awards barely has enough money for the bus ride from the airport.