During her senior year, my daughter was invited to participate in one of those exclusive evening honors awards programs. I suppose I should’ve felt honored to be invited and happy for my kid. But honestly, I couldn’t wait till it was over.
I liken it to the Best of Breed competition at Westminster—the dogs have all made it through the ranks of the kennel club and now they just stand there, noses in the air, sniffing to see who’s gonna be Best in Show.
The kids have all made honor roll. They’re all getting As and they all know it. Really?! Where’s the mystery? At least in the dog show world, the thrill is seeing different breeds competing and the award comes with considerable street cred.
I think David Fabrizio agrees with me. The principal of Ipswich Middle School in Ipswich, Mass., stirred up a little controversy after he sent a letter to parents to say the annual Honors Night would be changed from an exclusive evening ceremony to a daytime ceremony before the entire student body.
The media and parents descended upon him.
"Honors night cancelled," the headlines read.
Parents chided Fabrizio on TV news, accusing him of punishing students who worked hard and "bringing down" the education system. Some said he was breaking a long-standing tradition.
And they suggested many working parents wouldn’t be able to attend the daytime ceremony and therefore would be deprived of seeing their children honored.
FOX25 News in Boston received more than 500 comments on its Facebook page about the decision.
In an on-camera interview with FOX news, Fabrizio defended the decision saying, "We believe … it’s best for children to have them all together to celebrate as a school."
In a statement on the school’s website, Fabrizio said, "Ipswich Middle School is dedicated to high achievement in every facet of our students' lives. We did not cancel honors recognition as erroneously reported by FOX News Boston. We changed our Honors Night from an exclusive ceremony at night to an all-inclusive ceremony during the day in the presence of the entire student body. During this ceremony we will honor those who have excelled in academics, athletics, the arts and the related arts. Any reports to the contrary are incorrect."
Despite my distaste for these things, my first instinct when I heard this story was to agree this had to be another "every kid has to get a ribbon" case.
But after reading numerous conflicting media accounts of the situation, I really wasn’t sure what was going on. "We had a situation where our best students were being honored exclusively away from the rest of the school. The problem was, those who needed that motivation weren’t there," Fabrizio told the Ipswich Chronicle.
So which was it? Every kid must get recognition or the honors ceremony is now going to be used to motivate students? I hate the idea of the former, so I was hoping it was the latter.
I did the only thing I knew to do. I emailed the principal for clarification, requesting a copy of the original letter he sent home. I didn’t hold my breath awaiting a response.
I was shocked when, less than 10 minutes later, I received a reply: "The original email said that the Honors Night that the school had was exclusionary and that it was not the best forum for recognizing our students’ growth. The follow up email moved the event from night to an inclusive school wide assembly. This is truly a non-story reported badly. There are your facts. Thank you."
While that wasn’t quite the response I expected, if the quote Fabrizio gave the Chronicle was accurate, I have to agree with him on his logic.
I’m all for recognizing the outstanding achievement of students who work hard and earn honors. But many honor students are either inherently self-motivated (as my daughter is) or are motivated by their parents to achieve. That’s great for them, but what about the rest of the kids in the class? Are they to be motivated by the fact that if they work hard, they, too, can attend an event where probably few of their peers will talk to them as they quietly sit in the seats waiting for their names to be called to be given handshakes and achievement certificates by a principal who can’t even remember their names?
Wouldn’t it be more motivating—not to mention unifying—for students if they ALL got to participate in an awards program? Because for many kids, their talents aren’t reflected on tests, but that doesn’t mean they don’t excel. The way Fabrizio explained it, you’d have athletes and artists and book-smart kids all being recognized for their work. Not only would a ceremony like that acknowledge them in front of their peers, it might inspire other kids to find their own passions to work toward.
To me, that’s not "bringing down the education system." That’s working together to build it up.