Eliminating Excellence

Burlington High School in Burlington, Vermont has abolished the tradition of honoring a valedictorian “to reduce competition among students and do away with what some say is a false distinction — selecting one student as the best in the class when the next-best is a statistical hair away.”

God forbid anyone should ever be officially designated as the best for anything, or the winner of a competition.  I guess I’m not surprised that the mealy-mouthed liberal saps in Vermont would go for this, but it still disgusts me. 

The kicker is, the muddleheaded school administrators lauding the change acknowledge that the students will still be ranked as they compete for college admission and scholarships:  “BHS provided colleges with a detailed class and school profile. While it did not provide numerical rankings for students, the profiles made it relatively easy to measure students’ performance against their peers. The school did provide ranks on request for schools that award scholarships on this basis.”

Maureen Breen, whose daughter Keely would’ve been valedictorian (instead she graduated as one of two summa cum laude students), thinks the change is “probably good because, if it cuts down the chance of hard feelings, that’s worth it.”  Little Keely received the University of Vermont’s Green and Gold Scholarship, which is bestowed upon the top student in each Vermont high school.  Sooooo. . . the students are still ranked, and the high school still maintains rankings, but in order to protect the precious tender feelings of sore losers and almost-rans, Burlington pretends the rankings don’t exist.

What does this prepare these students for: a world where there will never be winners?  A world that cushion the blow of not being #1 at everything they do?  These adults know good and well—or they damn well should know—that their kids are going out into a world where the best will rise to the top.  Unless Hillary Clinton et al. get their wish and the United States converts entirely to a European-style cradle-to-grave nanny state, we live in a meritocracy.  The vast majority of wealth in this country is first-generation: aside from a handful of mega-trust fund babies, our millionaires and billionaires are self-made.  When these kids vie for spots in law school, medical school, or any other graduate program; when they apply for highly sought-after jobs in the private sector; and when they compete in any athletic endeavor, they will be judged against other competitors.  And yes, they will be judged by the smallest of degrees; in other words, “statistical hairs.”

The nine years I spent training as a gymnast were the best years of my life because of the mental strength, aggressiveness, and love of competition that sport instilled in me.  I learned how to win gracefully, and I learned how to lose gracefully.  I learned to relish the hard work itself because it gave me the opportunity to compete at something I loved, regardless of the outcome.  Those lessons have made me better at every single thing I’ve ever done since.  At the final state meet I competed in, I came in fifth place, behind four of my teammates (my gym dominated the state–oops! there’s that unhealthy competitiveness emerging again!).  The girl in first place was less than a tenth of a point ahead of me: talk about “statistical hairs!”

What is so stupid about eliminating competition because of “statistical hairs” is that when you lose by such a narrow margin, it really isn’t disappointing.  I lost the state title in my class because one of my toes hit the mat during my bar routine.  In my mind, I really didn’t lose at all: clearly I was just as good as the four girls ahead of me and any one of us could’ve won the competition.  I was just as happy with 5th place as I would’ve been with 1st, precisely because the margin was so slim. 

I suspect the real reason for Burlington’s decision is the tendency of parents to threaten litigation when their precious babies don’t win and come home crying and whining about it.  But children learn from their parents.  Tittybaby parents produce tittybaby children, and round and round we go.  Let’s just hope the youth of Burlington don’t absorb the idiocy of their elders.

~ by lewdandlascivious on June 11, 2007.

3 Responses to “Eliminating Excellence”

  1. Great post! I’ve heard of this same kind of thing in little league sports. All the teams get trophies and all the kids are told they are all winners! Bull! Somebody has to lose if somebody wins – that’s the way it works. You are so right about how this is NOT preparing kids for the real world. It’s just downright ridiculous!

  2. The class which graduated one year before mine had three valedictorians and two salutatorians because some dimwit figured GPA’s incorrectly. Consequently, my class was the last to have valeditorian; 1995 marked the change to summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. Somewhere I read something that said, “If you win at high school, you lose at life” Hmm…

  3. Great job. 🙂 You’re right – parents often don’t give their kids enough credit for their mental toughness, and, if they are properly assessing their kids, the kids need to toughen up.

    I’ve seen track meets won and lost by hundreths of a second. Don’t want to lose by that margin? Run faster.

    Some of this madness is because of the Blair Hornstein mess a few years back. A girl in a NJ high school who was “disabled” got to waive phys ed and home-study a lot of courses. She was able to engineer a schedule that provided her with a higher GPA than her classmates could have gotten (phys. ed., art, and other non-honours courses will bring your grades down if you have more than a 4.0). Her school listed two valedictorians – Blair and the numerical saluditorian, who had to take all those required courses that brought down his GPA. She sued to be the sole valedictorian and won.

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