Paul’s Perambulations

June 27, 2010

How Many Graduates Does It Take to Be No. 1?

Filed under: Education — Paul @ 5:02 pm

An article in the NYTimes today (6/27/10) reports that many high schools have given up on trying to determine who is the class valedictorian and simple give that designation to every student in the class who has a 4.0 GPA or the equivalent, resulting in many valedictorians every year. Each of them can honestly claim to be class valedictorian. Sounds pretty stupid to me, as I expressed in the following two NYTimes Comments:

“We have not lowered the bar to achieve more valedictorians,” he said. “More kids now are getting over the bar.”


“I feel like as long as you reach that point, it doesn’t matter how many you have,” said Yvette Leung, one of the Jericho seven, who is bound for Harvard. “To be named valedictorian is an honor and a testament to how hard we’ve tried.”


First Comment (#173 NYTimes): 
With due respect, the preceding quotes from the NYTimes article indicate a rather pathetic sort of “valedictorian” or “valedictorians.” At one point, I felt that students had been taught (i.e., rewarded) to complain, and so were complaining about their grades when they received Bs or lower. But then my institution announced how talented our incoming class was, with an average GPA of 3.8. Now I’m taking an alternate explanation. They are simply clueless about this, and it appears that they have acquired this gross misconception from their high school institutions. The writing skills of some students I see are atrocious. With so many valedictorians, I’m concerned for the few genuinely very bright students. There IS a difference…I have seen it. Simply put, for whatever reason, we are not all born equal or near equal in this respect. A few, a VERY few, absolutely amaze me. They do exist, and they are distinguishable. I hope they can be identified out of all this mindless noise.

I heartily dislike the notion of standardized testing, but we have brought this on ourselves by our personal weakness and laziness. Yes, we’ll teach to the test, but just be sure the test emphasizes language skills, computational skills, and logical thinking (indeed, the latter can be measured, to an extent, and some folks are sadly lacking here).

Second Comment (#211 NYTimes):
I can readily accept that some of the “valedictorians” referred to in this article and by Commentators #24 and #154 are extraordinarily bright students, having met some of this sort. But what I can also attest to by the fact of direct personal experience is that some whom I have met coming from comparable situations can barely string together a sentence. And that makes the whole concept of “valedictorian” (in the sense that it is described in this NYTimes article) essentially meaningless.

“Forget experience, you lose discrimination. Lose discrimination; you lose life’s only purpose.”    Bhagavad-Gita

Original Article:


  1. p.s. I hate to pick on any individual, but Yvette is the student quoted in the article, so here goes: “I feel like…valedictorian is an honor and a testament to how hard we’ve tried.” I do wish that she could speak correct English after apparently trying so hard. But in any case, she sees the honor as testifying to how hard she tried. Maybe Forest Gump will be the next honoree.

    Read my comments elsewhere in this blog for why affirmative action has produced as many problems as improvements by confounding class distinctions (based on money and power) with racial/ethnic distinctions. It may be interesting to consider that I never saw poor/discriminated blacks (or any blacks) as a child, but I did see poor whites suffering with limited resources. Guess one’s childhood experience is heavily a matter of the locale of your childhood home town. And recall that I am a pacifist revolutionary Christian socialist (old school, and also very much in accord with the late and often misquoted MLKing) who has found himself often on a different track from my very nice reformist liberal friends.

    Comment by Paul — June 27, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

  2. Two articles that I find interesting and relate to issues of justice and wealth, opportunity and victimization, are the following from the NYTimes.

    The Triumphant Decline of the WASP

    Ending the Slavery Blame-Game

    I received the gift of opportunity. Not the thing itself, but the opportunity, and especially, some choice among opportunities. For this I am truly grateful. The example set by my parents was exceedingly helpful in enabling me to make the best use of these opportunities.

    Comment by admin — June 28, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  3. Shame on the NYTimes, for publishing such drivel…AGAIN.
    Also check this blog for the NYTimes article about the graduate who felt cheated by the large debt she had accepted in choosing an expensive college (but Mom won’t help her out).

    Comment by admin — July 7, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  4. Colleges Spent More on Recreation Than Instruction

    This is not news to those of us in academe. But we hear that this is necessary to attract ever-increasing numbers of students to college and to keep them there. I dislike the false implication of the NYTimes headline…what data show is that institutions are increasing their rate of spending on non-academic functions at a much greater rate than for academic functions.

    Fran Sheldon responded: They changed the headline and issued a correction: “The headline with an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that American colleges spend more on recreation than on instruction. The study showed that the share of spending on recreation was rising more quickly than the share of spending on instruction.” Still, it’s not good news for those who care about education.

    (And neither is it good news about the NYTimes. It’s the best hope we’ve got for news, but it’s slowly going broke, and sometimes it shows.)

    Comment by admin — July 9, 2010 @ 8:38 am

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