Celebrating Mediocrity: the Lowering Academic Standards and Expectations of America’s Youth…

The last thing I want to do is come off as a “negative Nancy.”  I certainly agree that every person deserves their day.  But we have got to stop the madness.  Are we really throwing graduation ceremonies for graduating Kindergarten? 6th grade?  People, we have to start celebrating SERIOUS accomplishments.  Here is one way to measure:  if you have a class of 20 Kindergarten students, and they all pass on to 1st grade, what is there to celebrate?  Now, if only 5 children graduate, or a much smaller proportion, fine, you win.  But don’t we expect all kids to pass kindergarten?  Are we expected to reward children for meeting not only our own expectations, but accomplishing what 100% of their classmates also accomplished? Graduating from Kindergarten is no big deal and should be treated as such in a society with high expectations for itself and its children.  I have seen pictures of kids’ graduation from 6th grade wearing gowns, robes, and sashes like they just graduated from law school!  Students in other countries probably care less and get less for such an achievement; the standards set forth by the country are much higher.

High school is a whole different issue, but I would argue that the principle is essentially the same.  86-88% of the student population currently graduates from high school.  To me, that pretty much moves it right into the “societal expectations” category, and thus, no longer warranting celebration.  Now, that is not to say that we should do away with high school graduations.  But do they really need or deserve such a big ceremony and outfits that make them look as if they are graduating from Harvard to symbolize accomplishing what 86% of the general population has also accomplished?  And in our current state, is no longer as significant when it comes to getting a job?  If 86% of the population can do it, does it really warrant celebration?  Or should we be celebrating a higher standard?

I feel for the poor, especially poor Black people, so I understand how important that accomplishment may be.  Particularly in cases where the parents didn’t even graduate from high school and the joy one can feel to see their kids accomplish what the parents could not.  Please, celebrate!  But at some point, even we have to move pass that.  Even we have to set the expectations much higher for ourselves and our children.  Graduating from high school can no longer be the bar.  It’s unacceptable; especially given current conditions.

There should be no rewards for meeting society’s expectations.  For one, we already know that the standards set by the majority of the population are already set low; hence, the first reason not to celebrate.  So we certainly want to set our standards much higher than the general population’s.  Secondly, we want to set the example that we are going to celebrate and promote EXCEEDING not only society’s, but our own expectations.  Can you succeed or accomplish more than what society has set for you?  Now that is worthy of celebration!

I have an idea: instead of rewarding kids, we should challenge them.  You graduated from kindergarten? Nice, now go learn the piano or violin.  Congratulations, you graduated from the 6th grade, now here is some community service for you.  Now we as a society are getting somewhere!  We should match each educational transition with a new challenge.  Only then will we set a new standard for ourselves and our children.  When you throw such a celebration for the accomplishment of mediocrity and the status quo, we give children the impression they have truly accomplished something in the world, when in reality they have done nothing of exception.  Then they will want to be rewarded for everything that society expects from them, or just by participating in the status quo, when as we should all know by now, participating in the status quo is far from worthy of appreciation or celebration.  And it starts with our kids.  Let’s not give them the wrong impression; as if they have accomplished some magnificent task worthy of celebration when it couldn’t be further away from the truth.

The worst example of this behavior is the fact that “C’s get degrees.”  “C’s get degrees” is the WORST part of America’s educational system.  It teaches young people that you can succeed working at being average and mediocre.  It sets the trend of rewarding average behavior!  Rewarding mediocrity and mediocre behavior leads to promoting mediocre behavior and society should never get to the point where it actively promotes mediocrity; it will ultimately come at the expense of the exceptional.  We all can’t be winners… the sooner we learn that in life the better.  America’s falling/ declining educational achievement position in the world will continue as long as we continue to promote and reward the average and celebrate mediocrity.

Listen, I understand that we as a country are going through a tough time; a time of transition.  The economy is trying to grow; people need work, school shootings.  The easy thing to do is comfort the people, making them feel better with symbolic celebrations.  It’s very Keynesian:  when going through a rough time, spend money, celebrate, have fun.  I couldn’t disagree with this approach more.  In tough times is when we need to raise the bar a little bit.  Let’s not baby people during tough times, let’s prepare them and give them the tools they need to confront tough times.  I can hear my mother’s voice: “Look baby, we are going through tough times right now, it’s time to buckle up and work extra hard.”  Isn’t the saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”?  Well America, it’s been tough and it’s time to get going. Raise the bar.  Expect more from our children and ourselves.  Challenge them.  But by no means should we accept and celebrate the accomplishment of the status quo and promote mediocre success.

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