"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." — Ayn Rand
This weekend there were three news stories caught my eye and really got my dander up. They all have to do with the state of our K-12 public education in our country and are symptomatic of a creeping dumbing down of our youth. They also illustrate the damage political correctness is doing to our society.
Naming a high school valedictorian used to be simple: The school looked at student grades and chose the senior with the highest GPA in the graduating class. But nowadays, picking a valedictorian has become a whole lot more complicated, and, critics say, overly competitive. To address the problem, some school districts in Kentucky are even going so far as to completely scrap naming valedictorians.
Officials say they want students to focus on learning and getting the most out of their classes instead of fixating on a competition to be the "best" student in the school. Indeed, for years schools nationwide have grappled with the problem of students who try to game the system by taking fewer honors or AP courses so they can be declared the valedictorian.
The first story has to do with the drift away from rewarding excellence in our government schools. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the Bullitt County School System will eliminate the class valedictorian beginning in 2012. The report states:
“For four years, Gentry Collins took advanced classes, monitored her GPA and kept a close eye on her class ranking with one goal in mind — to be named valedictorian at North Bullitt High School and speak at her commencement.
“Ever since I started high school, I knew I wanted to be that one person,” Collins, 17, said. “I wanted to be the one up there giving that speech.”
Collins' dream came true when she stepped on stage in Broadbent Arena on Saturday as her school's top student.
But Collins is one of the last valedictorians the Bullitt County school system will name. School board members decided last fall to end the tradition of ranking students based on GPA starting with this year's freshmen, the class of 2014.
The district's decision reflects a growing national trend. Many local school districts, including Jefferson and Oldham in Kentucky and New Albany-Floyd in Indiana, and others across the nation have moved away from naming only one valedictorian, citing their desire to honor all high achievers and de-emphasize competition that could be seen as unhealthy.
Despite the trend, some students say they are motivated by competitive rankings, and being one of many accomplished students isn't the same as being No. 1.
Still, many school officials argue that naming a valedictorian causes students to focus on competing rather than learning, and the tradition has become outdated as colleges are putting less emphasis on class rankings.
“There has definitely been a movement in recent years away from ranking students,” said Mel Riddle, associate director for high school services for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “The reality is that it's about half (of high schools) that do and half that don't anymore.”
The story continues:
“Bullitt ended its valedictorian tradition in part because of the increase in the number of Advanced Placement classes and other college-credit options that allow students to get more points for their grades, said Dave Marshall, Bullitt County's director of secondary education. n classes with weighted grades, an A counts as 5 points instead of 4, which makes it possible to get higher than a 4.0 GPA.
“It means you have some kids deciding their classes based off of whether it will mean they can beat so-in-so by a few hundredths of a point,” Marshall said. “It means you have other kids who are good students but don't even get considered for valedictorian because they aren't ready for AP classes.”
Marshall said he's even heard counselors say competitive students ask them which classes other students are taking before they pick their own.
“That's just ridiculous and it's game-playing,” Marshall said. “We want every kid to be taking classes they're most challenged in, not classes that will help their GPA.”
Under Bullitt County's new plan, students who earn a 4.25 GPA or higher will graduate “summa cum laude,” and students who earn between 4.0 and 4.249 will graduate “magna cum laude.”
Schools would develop a system to determine which students would speak at graduation ceremonies.
Riddile agreed that some students spend a lot of time “gaming the system” so they can be No. 1.”
While Messrs Riddle and Marshal make a compelling case for the elimination of the valedictorian program they are forgetting one important point that in the real world there is always one winner. There is the top salesperson, the most valuable player, the player with the highest batting average or lowest ERA. The quarterback with the most TDs and highest rating. No one takes into account the ERA of the pitchers that faced the ballplayer with the highest batting average. There must be a reward for excellence. In the real world there is — it’s called advancement, bonus or higher pay. Let the colleges worry about SATs, GPAs and AP classes. The school should recognize the person who has put in four years of hard work to achieve the highest GPA in the school.
Our next story concerns a pinhead federal judge in Texas. A Reuters report of June 2nd states:
“The valedictorian of a high school in a San Antonio suburb where a judge has banned formal prayers at graduation ceremonies on Saturday is fighting for an opportunity to lead the crowd in prayer.
On Thursday, the North Texas-based Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that describes itself as seeking to limit government and promote Judeo-Christian values, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the valedictorian of Castroville's Medina Valley High School, Angela Hildenbrand.
"After all that I've been taught about the freedoms of speech, expression and religion in our country, I am disappointed that my liberties are being infringed upon by this court's ruling to censor my speech," Hildenbrand said at a press conference at the Alamo.
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ruled on Tuesday that the Medina Valley School District may not proceed with plans to include an invocation or benediction at the ceremony, saying that doing so would make it sound like the school is "sponsoring a religion." He said student speakers may reference God in their remarks.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to overturn the order.
"This is part of an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting, while at the same time demanding from the court increased yielding to all things agnostic and atheistic," Abbott said.
He said Congress begins each session with a prayer to God, and Biery's ruling would allow a student to "bend over in honor of Mecca," but not lead a prayer to the Christian God.
The case has been seized by both sides in the ongoing debate over references to religion in schools and in public places.
The judge's ruling followed a lawsuit against the district by agnostics Christa and Danny Schultz saying their son might not take part in graduation if he were forced to participate in religious activities”
Fortunately the decision of the pinhead judge was overturned by a three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Fox News reported on June 3rd:
“A federal appeals court has lifted the order banning public prayer at a Texas high school graduation Saturday.
The reversal comes on the heels of increasing criticism of a federal judge's earlier ruling that agreed with the parents of one graduating student that religious expression during the ceremony at Medina Valley Independent School District would cause "irreparable harm" to their son.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals thought differently, reversing the judge's ruling Friday and allowing students to say the word "amen" and invite the audience to pray during the ceremony.
"This is a complete victory for religious freedom and for Angela," said Kelly Shackelford, president/CEO of Liberty Institute, which had represented class valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand in the appeal. "We are thrilled that she will be able to give her prayer without censorship in her valedictorian speech tomorrow night. No citizen has the right to ask the government to bind and gag the free speech of another citizen."
Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery's initial ban had been denounced as an "activist decision" by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who called it "exactly the wrong civics lesson to teach to the class of 2011."
Finally we get a victory for the First Amendment. Biery’s decision was blatant nonsense. How could he define what speech a student could give in a valedictorian address? To Biery bowing to Mecca was okay, but “amen” and God were out. Under Biery’s ruling the Declaration of Independence could not read aloud in a public, school sponsored event.
The final story is the most egregious. It involves a middle school, yes a middle school in Russellville, Arkansas. Fox affiliate KLRT reports that Arkansas Middle School Yearbook Names Bush, Cheney Among Top 5 All-Time Worst People:
“A quasi-scandal has broken out at Arkansas’ Russellville Middle School. The school’s yearbook featured a list of the “Top 5 Worst People of All Time.” Some of the world’s most horrific murderers and maniacs were included: Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Charles Manson.
Few people would argue that these individuals don’t deserve a spot on that roster. Each went on murderous rampages and were, arguably, mentally-imbalanced. However, it‘s the list’s last two names that are causing a stir: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The former president and vice-president don’t seem to share many characteristics with the other men they were clumped with.
Once the yearbooks were printed, the district attempted to remedy the alleged oversight. KLRT-TV has more:
Superintendent Randall Williams calls the list “an oversight.” Parents caught it after the yearbooks were printed. The district’s solution was to cover the list with tape. It didn’t work.
“Really?” said Williams when told the tape could be pulled off. “Well that’s disappointing because the yearbook supplier told us this was a definite fix.”
There’s no word yet on potential disciplinary measures for the teacher responsible for managing the yearbook’s production process, though the principal maintains that it was an accident. Mediaite asks another important question: Where did the list come from?
Williams explains that the teacher in charge of the yearbook didn’t put it in and is “very, very, very upset” about missing it before printing. Apparently some of the students pulled the thing off of the website Ranker.com, a site where people just make lists of stuff. A cursory search didn’t find the exact list in question although there are a ton of “worst people” rankings that do feature members of the Bush administration like this one, this one, and this one.”
How can this happen in a middle school? These kids are 12, 13 and 14 years old. Where was the supervision for the publishing of this book? How did it get to a printer where thousands of dollars were spent before the “error” was noticed? Or was this a case of the teacher not caring and now she is trying to cover her derriere so she doesn’t get fired.
This is a sad state of affairs in our middle schools were kids having no knowledge of the grown-up real world can something like published in a school yearbook. I wonder what would have happened if Barack Obama had been on that list?