Abolishing the Honour Roll

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Education

I always start out my grade 10 course with a unit on short stories. We usually cover five short stories in a span of about three weeks. I have always begun my course teaching Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron – a futuristic, dystopian story about the United States’ attempt to equalize all of its citizens. In doing so, its citizens are forced to wear ‘handicaps’ in cases where citizens are too beautiful, too smart, or too strong.

In our analysis of the story, I ask my students whether or not this is the kind of equality we should be striving for to which their response is an overwhelming “no.” Then, we usually find ourselves in a discussion about the celebration of differences, rather than the hindering of them.

Two recent news stories have me thinking about the events that took place in the aforementioned story. The first news story took place last week when a high school football team beat their opponent by a large margin. A parent of a child from the losing team accused the victors of ‘bullying’ her son because of how the end score made him feel. Hmm…

The second news story was one that I heard on the radio this morning about a school in Calgary that has decided to abolish the honour roll program. Why? It makes the students who do not make the list feel bad about themselves. In case you are unfamiliar with the honour roll program, it awards students with a certificate if their overall academic average is 80%+.

In both news stories, it is becoming increasingly evident that we are more like Vonnegut’s futuristic society than we think. Are we trying to abolish success and difference in all its forms? Should the players who are beaten badly in a sport or the students who do not make the honour roll list not just ‘deal with it’? Of course they should! Instead, we seem to be too concerned with coddling the next generation of athletes and learners when they should be using those unpleasant moments as opportunities to grow and become greater.

For example: I never made the honour roll until grade 12. From grades 9-11, I felt awful that I simply didn’t have the average to make the list. So, you know what I did? I continued to work my butt off until I made it. The harsh reality is that sometimes we don’t perform as well as we’d like and not only is that O.K…that’s life! There are standards in life – simply taking these away is not the answer. These standards should be motivating to us more than anything else.

Didn’t make the honour roll? Try harder, get extra help, and study a little more. Your work ethic will pay off.

Got beat badly in a sport? Try harder and practice more.

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