Letter: A triumph of egalitarianism over excellence
I read with dismay, but no surprise, of the recent Gloucester School Board decision (Nov. 4 issue) to no longer recognize honor students at the front of the processional during the GHS graduation ceremony. This decision is another example of Gloucester County’s enthusiastic embrace of egalitarianism rather than excellence in its public schools. For years I have been underwhelmed by the policies of the county’s gifted education department, and disheartened that the idea of grouping together high achievers to encourage their potential is considered taboo and "elitist." It is unfortunately a reflection of society’s adoption of the politically correct "I’m O.K., you’re O.K.; we’re all the same" mantra and part of the anti-intellectual, anti-achievement movement prevalent in today’s culture.
Interestingly, it does seem that the alleged overly "reverent" attitude toward young academic achievers does not extend to other fields or disciplines. How about the child whose feelings of "angst and inferiority" stem from sitting on the bench during the game—should he be allowed to play just like everyone else, even if he doesn’t measure up? Or should everyone be allowed to play first chair in the band, regardless of their talent—because it hurts the feelings of those who aren’t at the top? Should everyone on the cross country team run together as a pack, so the runners at the back don’t feel bad? I, for one, believe in setting the bar high for my children—if they work hard and achieve, they are rewarded; if they work hard and don’t quite make it, or fail to work at all—then valuable lessons are learned.
Several years ago while on a college tour at the University of Virginia, I heard an admissions dean tell the audience (without apology) that the university admissions policy was based on a system of meritocracy—that individuals who displayed the requisite talent, intellect and aptitude were rewarded for those attributes. Isn’t that what we, as parents, teachers and administrators, want to teach our children—in real life, hard work pays off, and true "self-esteem" comes from personal accomplishment, not from lowering the bar so we can all be "equal?" Effort, competition, and excellence should be recognized; if everyone is "special," then no one is.
Finally, as the mother of two recent GHS graduates and one child still in high school, I have nothing but respect and great affection for the many teachers who have enriched the lives of my children. From Achilles Elementary to Page Middle School to GHS, I have been routinely impressed by the energy and passion of these teachers for their work and their students. My children have excelled because of the encouragement and expectations of their teachers, and I believe that the school board’s decision to no longer differentiate the honor graduates is a disservice to all the hard-working students—and the teachers (and parents) who motivate them.
Laurie M. Hardaway