Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Elevation of Mediocrity

There is a growing trend in America and it is sure to have profound effects for our future economic and technological viability. The trend is the practice of lowering expectations for our children and as a result ourselves. The practice is in effect “dumbing down” our society so that no one feels snubbed or not special. The goal is to make everyone feel equal, but the reality is that it is to make everyone the same. Making everyone feel the same is not the equivalent of everyone being equal. Let’s face it we are all created equal, but we do not all share the same gifts and talents. Instead of trying to amalgamate these differences, we need to be celebrating them.

The problem began when in an effort to lessen the effects of failure and defeat some genius came up with the idea that we would reward all children the same regardless of their performance. Win or lose everybody gets a trophy and regardless of your abilities everybody gets to play. If all children were in fact endowed with the same abilities in all the same areas, this would be a good idea; maybe. But the truth is not every child has the same abilities in all the same areas. There are some kids that excel in sports, while others may excel in music, and others in writing. For us to try to reduce these natural gaps in talents to keep our kids from experiencing loss is ill-conceived and just plain wrong. It is wrong for a number of reasons to not reward excellence when it is displayed whatever the venue.

Today we reward kids for their participation in an activity, basically for just showing up. Everyone gets a trophy no matter what their performance or effort. I find this attitude inconsistent with the goals of life. What these people don’t understand is that a child learns as much losing as he does winning and in many cases more. How will a child learn perseverance and dealing with defeat, if he never experiences it? Where is the incentive to get better or to work harder if you’ll be rewarded anyway? We are in effect removing the motivation for greatness so that we can reward mediocrity. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem fair to me.

The trophy backlash is part of what many experts see as a broader reaction to a culture of coddling. Some educators and psychologists argue that recent moves designed in part to build kids' self-esteem -- giving partial credit for incorrect math answers at school, for instance, or overlooking misspellings -- removes kids' incentives to push themselves. "If you are going to get an award anyway," says Jack Lesyk, a Beachwood, Ohio, psychologist who works with kids who play sports, "the message is you don't really have to try your best."[1]

If this were only about sports or other extracurricular activities that would be one thing, but this mentality has invaded academia. If you are a upper middle-class white person who is going to get accepted into college as a legacy, make C’s, and then be elected twice to be the President of America then this system is working, but for those of us with children that won’t have these advantages the last thing we want is for their inspiration to be dampened. Life for us is a struggle and always will be and we want our children to be prepared for that struggle. The way you prepare them for the struggle is not by coddling them or by lowering the standards. Many of the problems facing blacks as a community are from our kids, especially male children, being coddled by their mothers. Now they can’t even take someone insulting them without getting their feelings hurt and then wanting to shoot somebody.

We now, thanks to the “No Child Left Behind” charade are elevating mediocrity in education. With all the focus being placed on the children that are failing, the children that would have a chance to be exceptional are falling through the cracks. I wish we had recruiters in the inner-city that came around in grade school looking for academic superstars instead of the athletic ones. Do you know that many of our young athletes are recruited and offered scholarships to prestigious prep-schools for athletic prowess while still in elementary school, but none of these fine institutions are providing the same for academics. It is no wonder our kids are more focused on sports than education, these are the ones getting the rewards and accolades.

I’m sorry folks but the truth is the truth and the truth is simply this. Not everyone is as smart as me, as strong as me, or as handsome as me, but by the same token I am not as smart, strong, or handsome as some other people. It’s called life and in life sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed. We all have to learn to live with our failures as much as with our successes. The thing about elevating mediocrity is that not only do you remove the stigma of failure, but you also remove the gratification for true success. My greatest triumphs came on the heels of defeats and failures. By elevating mediocrity, we have removed the incentive to strive for greatness.

The report challenges the conventional wisdom that cream will always rise to the top. And because the federal No Child Left Behind Act focuses on raising the performance of the lowest achievers to a baseline level known as "proficiency," there is little help for high achievers who fade over time. As this report shows, the odds are that such a "fader" student comes from a lower-income household. Little accountability exists under federal law for the academic performance of these high-achieving lower-income students. This needs to change.[2]

I wouldn’t have a problem with the theory behind NCLB, but what has happened is that in order to qualify and meet the arbitrary standards set by a group whose sole goal has been the destruction of the public school system, we have lowered the standards and spent so much emphasis on raising the lower end of the scale that the upper end is withering and dying. We cannot afford to allow our most gifted to die on the vine due to a lack of stimulus and support. We now have gifted kids having to struggle to stay engaged while marginal students are taking most of the attention and focus of the instructors. The schools are forced to spend so much time and resources on standardized tests that no real learning is allowed to take place. We are developing a population of little automatons they are able to retrieve rote information, but what about independent thought and problem solving skills?

[1] http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/subtemplate.php?t=inTheNews&ext=news023
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/13/AR2007111301466.html

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