Last week was the fifth and sixth grade awards assembly. During the assembly, which all fifth and sixth graders attend, any fifth and sixth grade student who earned all A's during the first quarter was to be publicly named to the Headmaster's List. For many reasons, I am not in favor of this award. First, it puts emphasis on grades, which contradicts the work the teachers are trying to do with the students to help them be intrinsically motivated and attentive to their individual growth. Second, according to my fifth-grade daughter, 10 out of 14 students in her class received this honor. Picture the four who were not called up to the stage to shake the Headmaster's hand and how they must have felt. I have a knot in my stomach imagining it. Third, if 10 out of 14 received the award, what's the great accomplishment? Earning A's is the norm--why reward that?
So, given my beliefs about awarding academic success for middle schoolers, I faced a dilemma. Should I stand on principle and not attend the awards assembly? Would my daughter's feelings be hurt? Or should I just go, clap for her, and be a "normal" parent? It helped that I had a meeting that went until 1:50 (the assembly began at 1:35) and that the assembly was just ending as I headed toward my office (my route there passes right by the theater). Lucky break.
As I passed the stream of students going back to class, I scanned the kids for my daughter. I wanted to tell her that while I don't believe in the award, I love her and am proud of her for doing her best in school. She had already gone back to her class, so I ran up to her classroom to whisper my message to her.
Before I could tell her anything she looked at me and said, "I know why you weren't there, Mom. I know you don't believe in it." That made me more proud than any award she could receive. I gave her a quick squeeze and walked away.
I heard from several fifth grade teachers that the students, who are new to the idea of academic awards, wondered why the certificates weren't just mailed home. If only one of them would start a petition...