Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Making the Grade

At this time of the year, when the academic calendar comes to an end and we begin our transition into summer, schools begin to talk about many things, some of which effect many of our children. Did your child get straight As the entire year? If not, did he or she at least make it onto the honor roll? And how about his or her attendance? Did your child make it to every single day of class? And if your child did not achieve any of those, then why the hell not?

Of course, our schools don't really phrase anything the way I did with that last sentence, but sometimes the sentiment is there and it comes from one of the other classmates.

For example, this morning I was in the office of the middle school, signing in for volunteer duty. A group of kids was next to me, talking about whether or not they'd be going to the All-A breakfast, which is sponsored by the school. As I learned, some of the children will be going to the breakfast and some will not. Those kids who won't be going are still good students: they received mostly As with a B or two along the way, a report card of which many at the school would be proud and envious. Thankfully, they didn't seem phased by the fact that they weren't invited to the breakfast. So the problem wasn't with them, it was with one of the straight-A students. After a moment of discussion about whether permission slips had been turned in, this student turned to the group and said, "You guys are too smart not to get all As."

The words, by themselves, irritated me. The tone in which the words were said incenced me.

I looked at the kids with eyebrows raised, and because I knew them, I knew that yes, these kids are all very smart. Furthermore, most of the group works hard on their school work. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they will achieve all As does it? And if they don't do as such, who cares? Getting a straight-A report card means nothing. It means you did what you were told and tested well enough to get an A. It doesn't necessarily mean you will retain that information for the long term, it doesn't mean you will be a successful person, and it certainly doesn't mean that you will be kind and a good human being. Which, in my mind (and as you know) is far more important than an A on a report card. My blood boiled as I signed my name on the register, wondering if I should say anything to the child.

I thought only for a moment and realized that yes, I would say something. Because I'm tired of this type of child. You know the sort of child of whom I speak. They are the double-sided straight-A kids. The ones (and not all kids who get straight As are like this) who happen to be a pet peeve of mine: they lack humility, shame others for their perceived shortcomings, and feel as if they are (what we used to call) a-know-it-all. They are ubiquitious and have stood the test of time almost as well as the cockroach. They are the kids who consistently brag about themselves and what they can (or think they can) do. They are the kids who have parents that promote and sell their abilities at every opportunity. They are the kids who truly believe that because they get a good grade, they are better than their neighbor. They are the kids who, when I tell them that it's not about the grade, they look at me as if I am from Mars.

But that's exactly what I did this morning. I turned to the child and said, "It's not about the grade. Getting all As doesn't mean what you think it means. Some of my best students were not the ones that received an A in my class."

The child looked at me and uttered a simple, "Huh." I'm not even sure what I said registered within the brain that sat on top of that child's shoulders. But as we walked down the hallway, I wanted to continue the conversation because less than a month ago I had encountered a similar person: the cute kid. (If you haven't read that post, go ahead and read it, and then wonder to yourself how I get myself in these situations. I think I simply need to stop volunteering at the schools. I jest.) And while my reaction might seem like I'm making a leap you can't keep up with, you have to remember that many of my posts come from a combination of events. The one this morning was simply the latest in a long line of "I'm better than you" moments, ones that I thought, as a 40 year old, I had left behind me.

And so, as I ambled to the classroom, I wanted to say so many things to the child who wasn't even listening to me. A multitude of responses leapt to my lips, some appropriate and some not, many of which I've forgotten. But had I fewer manners than I do, I might have shared what pirouetted through my brain -- that I'm tired of you perpetuating the idea that because you have a straight A average, that you are better and more loved and more wanted than anyone out there. You are not the center of the universe, the center of the school's universe, or the center of my universe. You are a child, and one that must not yet know what is really important in life, because if you did, you would know what I'm going to say. That grades, by themselves, are not important. Show me some hard work, put forth a herculean effort, be diligent and determined. Those qualities are worth far more to me than an A is.

Which brings me to another thing I thought of as I went about my school business and shared my morning with a friend. As much as I love the schools my kids attend, where is the reward for the kids that really do make an effort? For the kid that started out the school year with a C average and hauled ass to pull it up to a B+? Or the child who failed most of the tests in the first and second quarters but by the third and fourth has shown growth in maturity, responsibility, and the ability to pass the tests? Isn't behavior like that worth a breakfast? I sure think so, and I bet many of you do, too.

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