Honors Aplenty, Sticks and Stones in Kansas, and Psyching Out Sports

By Mark Toner — June 24, 2005 3 min read
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We’re in the thick of graduation season again, and the only thing more predictable than the canned “Climb the Ladder of Success” speeches is the ballooning numbers of kids assuming the valedictorian’s mantle. Sharing what was once considered a singular award for a school’s top scholar is a growing trend, both nationally and at Seattle’s Garfield High, where the number of valedictorians rose to 44 from 30 the previous year and 27 the year before that. School officials say that each of the top seniors—one out of every 10 graduates—deserves the honor, pointing to a program that guided many into advanced classes as early as 1st grade. “It’s definitely a sign of egregious grade inflation,” disagreed one senior, whose choice of words does little to belie his own 4.0 GPA. All 44 students had a chance to speak during the ceremony, but a mere 35 opted to take turns uttering inspirational quotes.

In the Washington, D.C., suburbs, graduation was a bit less inspiring for one senior who wanted to honor his Native American roots. Thomas Benya was denied his diploma because the senior wore a bolo tie to graduation, despite the principal’s warnings that the string tie wasn’t in keeping with the ceremony’s dress code. After a flurry of media attention, McDonough High School principal Garth Bowling reversed his decision and dropped Benya’s sheepskin in the mail. But it’s still sitting at the Waldorf, Maryland, post office, pending an apology. “They want it to go away,” says Benya’s mother, Marsha. “We do, too, but not with them telling everyone he broke the rules.”

Of course, once you ascend to the rarified air in which state policymakers operate, you wouldn’t expect that level of behavior—except maybe in Kansas, where the state board of education’s deliberations over how to teach the origins of life have devolved into a series of personal attacks. The bitterly divided board met to review proposed changes intended to expose students to more criticism of evolution, with one conservative member calling the theory an “age-old fairy tale.” A moderate board member countered by calling his counterparts “dupes” of the intelligent-design movement, labeling the basis for their proposal an “absolute and total fraud” not rooted in science. Chairman Steve Abrams, who helped draft the proposed changes, countered that he had studied a “huge amount” of science while training to become a veterinarian. The board is expected to vote formally on the standards change in August, but some suggest that international attention has already made monkeys out of them. “If we’re going to ask the citizens of the state not to attack us, we have to be professional and not attack each other,” one board member said.

Part of being a professional educator is ensuring that kids get to class on time and that cafeterias don’t get overcrowded. Which is why, at Van Wyck Junior High School in Wappingers Falls, New York, officials are reluctantly considering adding another lunch period, starting at 9:36 a.m. Principal Steven Shuchat resisted the idea of adding it later in the day because “a great deal of kids don’t eat breakfast,” he said. Kids stuck with the brunchesque shift would receive dispensation to have an afternoon snack. One parent pointed out that the real problem is the limited time kids have to eat. “It’s their only time to relax and chill,” Shuchat agreed.

Getting student athletes to relax, or at least to keep games from degenerating into melees, is the goal of Massachusetts state lawmaker Peter Koutoujian, who introduced a bill requiring high school athletes to study sports psychology. A former prosecutor who witnessed violence stemming from sporting events gone bad, Koutoujian wants a written curriculum intended to help students control their emotions before pitches turn into punches. Some coaches and educators are balking at the thought of a required, unfunded prerequisite to letting students play, and one boys basketball coach pointed out that it might not be the kids who need it most. “What would be more beneficial,” he said, “would be a sports psychology program [for] parents.”

And finally, everyone loves the apocryphal story about the penniless miser who, upon dying, leaves millions to a worthy cause. So we note the story of Whitlowe R. Green, a man so cheap that he bought expired meat, wore secondhand clothes, and stopped talking to a family member following an argument over $6.76. But Green managed to donate $2.1 million to his alma mater, Prairie View A&M in Texas—not bad for a retired Houston public school teacher who made $28,000 during his final year in the classroom. To be fair, he did teach economics, proving, perhaps, that it’s not such a dismal science after all.

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