I didn't grow up on a farm. And it's striking to me how much the seasons mark the passage of time.
This makes me think about how I marked the passage of time when I lived in the city and one of the first things that comes to mind is school graduation. It's the end of a fall-winter progression. It's the end of a cycle. And everyone graduates. Not for doing anything great. Just because.
I realize now that yearly graduation is a messed up way to march through life. Here's why:
1. We already have a way to mark our years. It's called a birthday. And there's no way your kid lets you miss that celebration. The kids don't need two celebrations to mark the passage of time.
2. It should be a given that kids learn what they are told to learn. Graduation is a given for school kids. The kids learn that if they just show up, they get a reward. Beyond the valedictorian, graduation does not acknowledge that some kids worked harder, some kids are smarter, some kids accomplished something special while in school. So graduation is another way to give all the kids a trophy just for showing up. Abby, at Momma Findings points out that she expects her daughter to learn the proscribed lessons for her grade. So she feels wrong rewarding her daughter for meeting the universal expectations. The celebration, then, is that you met the minimum requirement. Surely this is not what we want to tell kids.
3. Homeschoolers should have the advantage in the everyone-gets-a-trophy world. The New York Times shows the history of grade inflation, to illustrate how useless grades are for determining if a kid is actually performing in an extraordinary way. Homeschoolers do not get graded on a curve, so they should, theoretically, not have the deleterious effects of grade inflation. But the mere fact that everyone graduates, no matter what effort they put in, is another sort of grade inflation that we should not participate in.
4. Rewarding kids only for extraordinarily strong efforts builds more resilient kids. Grade inflation promotes ego inflation, the opposite of healthy self-confidence. "We want to encourage effort, especially among young kids," says Jean M. Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. "But the 'everybody gets a trophy' mentality basically says that you're going to get rewarded just for showing up. That won't build true self-esteem; instead, it builds this empty sense of 'I'm just fantastic, not because I did anything but just because I'm here.'"
5. Kids who get rewarded for everything are poor competitors. The current generation of young workers was raised in an environment where everyone is a winner. The result is that, on the positive side, Generation Y are incredible team players in the workplace. The negative, though, is that they can't handle being told someone is better than they are. They want everyone to be equal. Management trainer Bruce Tulgan wrote the book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y, because kids who are rewarded for simply showing up end up thinking that it's okay to simply show up at work as well.
6. The world rewards people who exceed expectations. In the work world, if you have a resume that simply describes the duties of your job, you look like a bare-minimum performer. You go to work and do what you're told. If you have a resume that shows that you exceeded expectations, you look like a star, and you get more control over your career. So we should teach kids that meeting expectations is just that—not bad, but nothing to celebrate.
7. Pick more meaningful ways to mark time. Homeschooling allows you to question the routines of our culture and look for what resonates with you. We can question the world around us because we are not dependent on schools. Graduation teaches kids that you get an award for time passing. Graduation is not an award for extraordinary effort or achievement.
I know not everyone can live on a farm, but everyone can mark time passing in more realistic ways than rewarding a kid for another year of learning.
Times change. Seasons change. Leaves fall. Flowers bloom. Snow falls. But learning doesn't stop. There is not a moment when learning stops or is finished. So graduation seems like a completely inappropriate way to mark cycles of time.