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A Maryland middle school has sparked heated controversy by holding an end-of-day pizza party for high-performing students. As Donna St. George reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring only invited straight-A students to the final period celebration, while allowing B and C students to join after school. Students with less than a C average (306 of Eastern’s 865 students) weren’t invited at all. Some parents and education professors complained bitterly, with one Mount St. Mary’s professor denouncing the school for “creating a caste system.”
I’m not unsympathetic to the concerns, especially when students with special needs, for instance, may have a tougher time earning an invite. Educators must always strive to strike a healthy balance between encouraging hard work and rewarding merit, on the one hand, and creating an environment that embraces and supports all their kids, on the other. If the school was routinely holding exclusionary events or assigning cafeteria seating based on grades, I’d think they’d probably have gone too far.
That said, c’mon! We now live in a society where the scales have been decidedly tipped away from encouraging hard work and towards making kids feel okay. Kids play on soccer and basketball teams where every child gets a trophy, just because. Playground games like dodgeball have been discouraged because they create winners and losers. Schools of education work assiduously to teach aspiring educators that everyone is a victim. Teachers are hesitant to demand too much, punish too firmly, or be too blunt in criticizing unacceptable behavior, for fear parents or lawyers will make their lives miserable. Heck, the US Department of Justice is doing everything it can to defang discipline policies that ensnare misbehaving students. And students who study hard can face ridicule and ostracism from their peers.
The result is that too many kids attend schools and live in an orbit where excellence and hard work are exceptional and uncool. Educators are to be commended when they work to change that state of affairs. Now, a balance has to be struck. But we should respect and encourage those educators who step up and seek creative ways to recognize and reward hard work. In this day and age, the presumption should be that more of that is generally good. And we certainly shouldn’t be second-guessing and giving grief to educators trying to make tough but reasonable judgment calls.
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