Southern IN Schools May Drop Valedictorians, Hand Out Participation Trophies

Imagine a competition where a winner is never crowned. Instead, the top 10 percent of all finishers are given a hearty pat on the back and warm congratulations.

Imagine an Olympics, where no one received a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but instead, all three were melted down and the top three finishers, no matter who "won," received one of the molten lumps.

Now, imagine a high school graduating class without a Valedictorian, the person who had the very best grades throughout all four years of high school.

That could happen down in southern Indiana, in the Greater Clark School district. They've proposed doing away with the titles of "highest achieving student" and "second highest achieving student" (Salutatorian), and instead giving special recognition to the top 10 percent of all students.

In other words, participation trophies for smart kids.

I'll admit, I was not academically minded when I was in high school. I graduated 93rd out of 272 students in my graduating class. I was in the top 34.19 percent of my class, not even the top third. I was the second highest in the second third of my class.

Even so, I understand what it's like for the honors students who are competing for that number one spot. They want to be The Val. They'll settle for the Sal, with moist eyes and a forced smile, but dear God in Heaven, they want to Be. The. Val.

Even former athletes know the burning desire to win. You'll do anything to beat everyone else. You'll train harder, run faster, and practice more just to be the best.

The brainy kids have that same competitive fire. They'll study harder, read faster, and learn more just so they can give the Valedictorian's speech on graduation day.

It's not easy either. These kids neglect their friends and social activities, skipping the Friday night football game to study instead. They don't go out on dates or have friends spend the night.

They take advanced placement (AP) classes for more credits because an A in an AP class is worth more than an A in gym. They're not cheating the system. The easy classes carry less value and don't help them reach the finish line.

And the pressure they put themelves under can turn coal to diamond. Imagine starting your taxes at 11:00 P.M. on April 14th, and worrying you don't have the right form. Now imagine feeling that way for four years.

Greater Clark Superintendent Andrew Melin told WHAS11 News in Louisville, "When students are competing for the Val and the Sal, they're trying to find ways to maneuver through the system to try and get the best grades they can possibly get, as opposed to taking the course work that's truly in their own best interest."

What classes could they be take that are in their own best interest? These kids are so driven, we should be more concerned that they're learning good stress management skills. These are not kids who will be happy being a regional manager of an office supply store, or owning a mobile dog grooming service.

They're going to become lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers. Why does it matter if they take an AP Shakespearean English class instead of biology or calculus? These are the smart kids, remember? They'll take calculus in college if they want to become an investment banker. They'll take biology if they want to become a doctor. It will cover the same exact material they covered or didn't cover in high school. And because they're so damn smart, they'll surpass everyone else before attendance is even called.

Most importantly, the Valedictory competitors are learning mad study skills. They're learning how to cram a 10 pound textbook into a five pound brain. They're learning how to deal with pressure, and to keep from pulling out their hair at two in the morning and screaming "I CAN'T DO THIS!"

And most importantly, they're learning that you, Greater Clark School district, don't really value achievement, success, or hard work. They're learning you focus on the effort, not the results. The journey, not the destination. They're learning that a pat on the head and "well, at least you did your best" is an acceptable level of achievement.

The Valedictorian competitors are learning skills that will get them through high pressure lives and successful careers. We want them to have these skills, not take an ancient history class a small-town superinendent thinks is in "their best interest."

Because 25 years later, when you're laying on the operating table, getting ready for open heart surgery, the last thing you want to see before you go under is your surgeon flashing you the thumbs up, and saying, "Hey, remember me? I graduated 93rd in my class. Thanks for the participation trophy. It really gave me the confidence to go to medical school in Barbados."

Photo credit: Prayitno (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

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