A Celebration of Mediocrity

Her new graduation clothes were on the living room floor, scattered amidst plastic shopping bags, tissue wrappers, a couple of boxes.  The Kid had gone shopping with her Godmother, and Godmother had decreed a complete outfit: a deep pink flouncy dress, a white bolero wrap, and sequined thong sandals.   I was vaguely unhappy about the clothes, but it wasn’t just because I thought the clothes and shoes flimsy and impractical …  Something else was wrong.  And a few days later, I knew what that “something else” was.  As I whined to Walter during our workout about the uselessness of new graduation clothes, he said: “Don’t you think these graduations are actually celebrations of mediocrity?”

Of course!

Kids simply do not get held back if they fail to learn.  They are sent on, and they become someone else’s problem.  So this graduation ceremony, with its congratulatory festivities, celebrates at best what should be normal expectations of progression through schooling.  And at worst?  Teachers and administrators telling each other — and themselves — that they have done their jobs, and students thinking they have accomplished something extraordinary.

And DH and I have contributed to this “celebration of mediocrity.”  We have focused so much on all that the teachers should have, or could have, done during the year.  When we quiz The Kid on school subjects and she doesn’t know the answers, we excuse her by saying that “the teacher should have taught that, so it’s not your fault.”  And that’s just wrong.  Because The Kid has contributed mightily to her own failures to learn.

Post-Memorial Day, we asked her to read an article about Arlington National Cemetery in the kids’ section of the newspaper.

“So who is Robert E. Lee, and why is the cemetery where it is?”

Hair twirl.

“I thought you read the article?”

“I DID!!!” she protested.

“Look, the article is only two paragraphs long, and you still managed to miss this sentence here, the one that says Robert E. Lee led the Confederate army?”

Sullen silence.

“OK.  Arlington National Cemetery is in Virginia.  Which side was Virginia on in the Civil War?”

“The Confederacy.”

“Good.  Now, was this the side that had the slaves or not?”

“The side without the slaves,” she answered.

She obviously did not learn anything from our last discussion of the subject a couple of months back.  And it was truly discouraging, because the failure was entirely her responsibility, and she didn’t even know it.  And the fact that she didn’t know it … well, THAT was our fault, for having let her hide behind any shortcomings we, or her teachers, may have had.

On Friday, the school is putting on a graduation ceremony, and when it is over, it will have been a show built on a puff of air, a celebration of false assurances and empty promises.

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