My six-year-old granddaughter just graduated from Kindergarten. The children wore blue mortar boards and academic gowns and received rolled diplomas. They marched to a syncopated song called “I love my ABCs.” Some of the children moved to the beat, dancing in their little flip-flops. It was all very cute and the parents were snapping pictures like crazy. But it was a totally inappropriate way for five and six year olds to end their first year of school.
Kindergarten graduation may be cute, but it is excessively premature. An end-of-year party with cookies and punch would surely be enough to please the little ones. If a program is desired, let them recite poems or demonstrate math skills. If dressing up is wanted, let them dress up as characters from the books they’ve read or had read to them. Mortar boards and gowns belong to the university. Using them for high school graduation is questionable, but at least students completing the twelfth grade have–one hopes–learned considerably more than the alphabet.
Graduation events for grades below the final year of high school should be seen for what they are: a commercial opportunity for manufacturers and photographers, and a manifestation of the grade inflation that infects the U.S. educational system at every level.
Americans complain regularly about the low academic standards in U.S. schools, yet U.S. parents and school personnel devalue the learning process out of a well-intentioned but misguided desire to “make children feel good about themselves.” The operative word here is “make.”
A sense of self-worth cannot be bestowed from without. Presenting every Little Leaguer with a trophy, regardless of achievement, serves only to devalue the trophy. Presenting every child with academic honors, regardless of achievement, devalues education.
Children are not stupid. It does not take them long to figure out that “trophies for everyone” means that no one has to try very hard at anything. The lucky ones have adults in their lives who counteract the effects of public education by setting standards that reward achievement and self-discipline. The unlucky ones grow up self-centered, partially educated, and angry at a world outside school that doesn’t reward them for simply being themselves.