02/03/04 — Common sense and sensibilities: Let’s reward excellence

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Common sense and sensibilities: Let’s reward excellence

There is a law in Tennessee that says schools can’t make public anything about a child’s grades or attendance. That means that, if schools abide strictly by the law, they can’t announce the honor roll.

That little nugget of political correctness is about 30 years old, but only lately have some parents thrown it in the face of school officials to stop them from rewarding excellence.

It happened in Nashville, where honor rolls had been posted and good work was hung in hallways at the schools. A few parents decided that their children, whose work had not been good enough to be so honored, might be ridiculed or something. The specter of a lawsuit was raised to bring the schools in compliance with the law.

Now, schools have been having honor rolls, and announcing their honor students, for decades, maybe centuries. But honor rolls are incompatible with the overweening protection of sensibilities that now weighs so heavily on the minds of many educators who make policies for school systems. Anything schools do to reward good work might hurt the feelings of a child who didn’t perform well — that is the theory.

It is altogether spurious.

Yes, a student with a learning disability, or one who is just not gifted, might wish that he could be on the honor roll like his friend. But if the criteria for the honor roll were as high as it should be, those not making it would not be embarrassed.

The criteria should be so high that only a few students reached it. Those who didn’t would still be in good company and wouldn’t feel left behind.

We all know that many of the students who don’t make the honor roll are just as bright as those who do, but they don’t try as hard. The prospect of making the honor roll is an incentive for them to work harder.

In Nashville, school officials are drafting permission slips for children to take home so parents can sign them. The slips would give the schools permission to announce good work done by the children. That sounds pretty silly but, according to the school system’s lawyers, it’s all they can do until the law is changed.

If the law were followed to its ultimate conclusion, the schools would have to eliminate spelling bees, stop awarding perfect-attendance certificates in public, quit having valedictorians and salutatorians in the senior class, and on and on. The law should be changed soon.

Published in Editorials on February 3, 2004 12:36 PM