Some lessons for the Class of 2012

iTEACH - Jose Claro () - May 1, 2012 - 12:00am

Greek philosopher Plato once taught, “there are three classes of men: lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain.” As the last week of March and the first few weeks of April are the usual schedules of graduation for many schools and colleges, it is worth reflecting if our latest graduates are truly lovers of knowledge or only of fame and riches. This question is most significant when one considers that during this time of the year, there are a number of schools that are on the receiving end of a legal suit or a formal complaint filed in the Department of Education. This is because of the tradition of awarding the valedictorian only to the top student of the class. The practice becomes a source of conflict when there are two or more students closely contesting the top honors of the batch. When such an event occurs, there are disturbing stories of parents bribing school authorities or of teachers making sure that their favorite students receive top honors or of students themselves playing dirty by maligning the character of their rivals. 

The practice of students trying to outdo each other in order to stake their claim on being the best of the batch starts as early as when teachers post the names of the top 10 students of each class during the giving of report cards. Many parents are proud that their children are part of the top 10 without thinking of the fact that it is possible for their children not to have learned much but still be on top of his/her class so long as one’s classmates did not learn as much as them. Conversely, it is possible for a student to master difficult concepts and skills but not be part of the top 10 simply because they are part of a class of achieving students. The practice of recognizing the top 10 or ranking students from highest to lowest should make us realize that we are not encouraging student achievement. Rather, we are mediocritizing the youth into thinking that success is tantamount to accomplishing more than what their peers have done. Established standards of education competencies are set aside. What is important is to ensure that one’s grades are higher than that of others. 

Sir Edmund Hillary, first to conquer Mt. Everest, counsels: “It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.” Indeed, some schools have already shifted from a normative to criterion-based system when awarding achieving students. The alternative is for students to aim meeting or even surpassing all the preset expectations or criteria for receiving an award. If they do meet the expectation, then they deserve the award. It should not matter how many students were able to accomplish the feat. What is important is for school administrators to set high but attainable standards for graduation awards. Having such a system would teach students that being an honor student is not a competition with others but a recognition and celebration that they were able to accomplish lofty goals through determination and hard work and not due to politics, dirty tactics or favoritism. 

Many companies, organizations, and political parties in our society today think they are achieving excellence based on the subjective set of standards of how one is better or more popular than the other. Instead of advancing craft and skill, we end up with mediocrity as we only succeed in outdoing the performance of others. Mediocrity will always try to drag excellence down to its level. If we, however, teach our students how to focus solely on overcoming difficult but attainable standards, then we teach them that what is mastered is not others but the self. The youth will feel empowered as they are pursuing their own goals and that they will be rewarded for mastery and not for outperforming other people. Motivation speaker Nido Qubein says it best: “Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare theirs with those of other people.” 

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ERRATUM: In my previous article about TEDx, I was unaware that it was a group of UP Diliman students that was the first to hold TEDx talks here in the Philippines. Congratulations to everyone who takes on the challenge of proving that the Filipino can successfully host TEDx.

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