In a recent post I linked to a site that is a prime example of how ridiculous our society’s attitudes are regarding school and its importance. Caps and gowns for preschool graduation?! You gotta be kidding me – what exactly is there to celebrate? What exactly did these kids do that is cause to applaud them?
I’m reminded of a line from The Incredibles: Mrs. Incredible is harping on Mr. Incredible for not being more involved with the family; case in point: her son’s “graduation”. Mr. Incredible replies:
It’s not graduation! He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade. It’s psychotic – they keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!
I experienced this “celebration of mediocrity” firsthand last night. I attended my best friend’s son’s high school graduation. My first shock came when the emcee welcomed us to their “School-Leaving Ceremony”. Huh??
It seems that the kids aren’t done with their exams yet, and so nobody has officially graduated. Why not wait until they know they passed? Well, that might leave out the ones who didn’t. And one may presume from the title of the ceremony that those who don’t graduate won’t be doing their repeat year at this school (apparently that would be a social death sentence). So instead of celebrating graduation, the entire evening was celebrating the fact that they are leaving high school. In fact, when the kids walked up to receive their diplomas, what they got instead was a “School Leaving Certificate”.
I shit you not.
This was a pretty fancy shindig. It was held in The Orpheum, an ornately decorated and beautiful theatre in downtown Vancouver (pictured here). There were representatives from the School Board, and of course the friends and families of over 200 graduates (my entire high school had just over 200 kids!). There were florid speeches about “going out into the world” from the principal and cheesy songs from the senior choir. The speakers used words like “dedication”, “accomplishments”, “perserverance”, etc….
All this to describe the fact that they are leaving high school???
And you know, even if we are talking about getting one’s diploma, really – what exactly are we celebrating? As the principal said, the kids “have met the requirements for education as established by the BC Ministry of Education”…blah, blah, blah. It all sounded so institutionalized.
These kids did nothing more than what they were told to do and what was expected of them. It’s pretty safe to say that none of these kids chose to be in school, none of them had any say in what they learned, how they learned it, or when they learned it. The measure of their learning is a subjective one at best, and those who scored highest on the tests are not necessarily those who will meet end up happiest or most successful.
There were academic awards handed out, and I found myself wondering about the kids who received them. How many of those kids felt intense pressure to maintain high scores so that they could meet their parents’ (and society’s) expectations that they go to college or university? What was the attitude of the parents – were high marks rewarded and anything short of an A punished? What were the kids’ lives like in terms of finding a balance between striving for academic excellence and just being a kid? How many of those achievers were motivated by their own inner dreams and aspirations, rather than those that others imposed upon them?
As I sat watching the ceremony I felt as though I were at the end of some giant assembly line, applauding as yet another package of product was wheeled out the factory door. This featureless crowd of 200 faces appears on stage every year, getting the same cliche-riddden speeches and the same vague acknowledgements. It seemed all laid out for us there, for those who choose to question what they’re watching, rather than accepting it as the immense rite of passage our society makes it out to be. I think only those who contemplate a life for their kids where the children lead their education, create their own successes, and have the freedom to truly revel in their own accomplishments can appreciate the irony of last night’s pageantry. The cogs and wheels of planned, institutionalized education grind on, spitting out those who are lucky enough to navigate the system and discarding those who do not.
But not without awarding them a “School Leaving Certificate”.