I’m going to go ahead and say it: my kids are the “smart kids” in school.
Neither of my teenaged children have struggled much, if at all, during their academic careers. From the time they were small, both children read beyond their grade level by several years, excelled in math and science and have maintained high grades while juggling sports, scouts, and school activities.
They are the kids whose names are read at awards ceremonies and we have a pile of certificates, trophies and plaques commemorating their accomplishments gathering dust in our basement.
My husband and I are proud of both of them and, frankly, I know my son does not get his math gene from me. Each and every time we find out that one of our children will be recognized for their hard work, we give them a high five and tell them we are proud of them. And, once in a while, we’ll even spring for an ice cream after the ceremony. Because high honor roll deserves chocolate soft serve with chocolate sprinkles in our house.
But, you know what we don’t do?
We don’t rent billboards when our children are at the top of their games. We draw the line at congratulating our kids with expensive, ostentatious billboard displays that announce that our kids are kings of the county because they are number one at something.
Because that would be ridiculous, right?
Not to Gary Allmon of Wake County, North Carolina, apparently.
Recently Allmon paid $1800 to rent a billboard to congratulate his son Josh on being the valedictorian of his high school class. At first glance, Allmon’s gesture would seem like another eye roll worthy, over the top parenting scheme, but there’s a deeper meaning behind his actions.
It would seem Allmon rented the billboard because his son Josh’s high school, East Wake High School, adopted a policy where administrators no longer named a class valedictorian, choosing instead to switch to a Latin honors system. For those not in the know, the Latin system designates students as summa cum laude or magna cum laude, depending on their overall performances. Students at East Wake High School will no longer be individually ranked.
There’s no longer a number one graduating student at East Wake High School and wider range of students will be honored at graduation for their academic achievements.
And Mr. Allmon isn’t having it. Not one bit. His son was number one and he set about making sure everyone in his town knew it. With a billboard. That set him back $1800.
This is what we are doing now, parents?
Mr. Allmon, I’m going to have to step away from the blinking billboard while I roll my eyes for infinity.
In this day and age, we push our kids hard, too hard, in fact, to succeed. Anxiety and depression rates are through the roof in the teenage population and we have become a nation of parents obsessed with our children excelling to the point of exhaustion. We pay thousands of dollars a season for our kids to play soccer in private clubs at the age of nine and we pay tens of thousands of dollars to college counselors in hopes of our kids being admitted to prestigious universities.
Having a number one ranked kid has become the hottest accessory of 2018 and I, for one, am over it.
There’s more to life to being number one at something and its time we stop glorifying the notion that if you aren’t first, you’re last.
Because studies have shown that fancy college degrees and being first in your class don’t equate to happiness later on in life.
Yes, actual science says that your kid doesn’t have to be named valedictorian to be considered a success.
In his article in Time magazine, psychologist and author William Stixrud, detailed a conversation he had with his daughter about her grades. He offered to pay her $100 for the C’s on her report card because, he explained, the path to success is different for every kid.
That kid who is struggling by a few percentage points deserves to be recognized for his hard work, too. The kid who spent weeks studying to bump his grade from a B to an A deserves to get a pat on the back. And, the kid who barely got by, the one who has to sit in the audience and watch all of his peers be honored as if he’s a ghost, deserves to be told that his efforts are worthy, too.
Despite the fact that a study published by the Census Bureau states only 1 in 3 adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, we continue to hammer it home to our kids that a college degree is necessary for success.
A 2013 study by Pew Research Center found that attending a pricier private college didn’t necessarily equate to higher satisfaction. In fact, the report states, “The answer given by those who have graduated from college is that their feelings of personal satisfaction and economic well-being are about the same, no matter which type of institution they attended.” Yet, we continue to tell our kids that the expensive school will bring better job satisfaction.
Finally, nearly one-third of jobs in the American economy do not require a secondary degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that occupations that typically require a high school diploma or the equivalent for entry, including many production, construction, and office and administrative support occupations, make up 36 percent of employment.
And yet, we take billboards out on busy highways to tell the world our kids are number one.
We are forcing our kids into a reality that was never expected of us.
Parents, come on now.
And, there’s more at play than just the “every kid gets a trophy” argument, too. You can miss me with that tired trope, thank you very much. The playing field needs to be leveled for first gen kids and kids who are at financial disadvantage when it comes to applying for college. Privileged kids whose parents have the means to buy billboards have an easier time paying for college. That’s just a fact.
But, if kids are recognized on a wider, more universal scale, the playing field is made more even. And that’s good for everyone.
Oh, and Mr. Allmon? I can’t tell you the last time I was at a cocktail party and someone told me they were the valedictorian of their class. But, I can remember the last time I talked to someone about a kindness to another human. I can remember the last time I talked to someone about their philanthropic efforts or their dedication to their community. As far as I’m concerned, those are the people who deserve billboards. And unending scoops of ice cream.