Listener: North East ISD Strikes Again

Pratt,

I was intrigued when you mentioned what a large Texas school district did in regards to competition…so much so, that I was thinking to myself “Let me guess…North East ISD?”  And sure enough, it was North East ISD!  As soon as I heard that, and their plans to change how they rank students in high school, I knew one thing was for sure: there was no way I could keep my mouth shut about it!

As a naïve kid, I figured this would HAVE to be automatic – you figure out who your #1 is and give them the honor. 

See, as a product of North East ISD (high school and year withheld as the school does not deserve the credit – but I DID graduate third, from the bottom), I can tell you their actions were a long time in coming.  You see, back when I was in high school there nearly 30 years ago, I was exposed to a rather horrific practice.  It was my senior year, and it seemed as if one and all were making a mountain out of a molehill over graduation.  Or, as I put it then, “everyone is acting like I just swept the Nobel prizes when I’m just getting a high school diploma.”  One day, shortly before graduation, in my senior English class – taught by perhaps the best teacher I ever had – we were given ballots.  On the ballot was wording to the effect that by tradition, the top 10% of the class are considered valedictorians and have “valedictorian” appear on their high school transcripts.  So who gives the speech?  Why, that was to be determined by this ballot!

I personally was horrified.  You see, I thought it would be whoever the #1 student was in the class rankings.  (I didn’t care about where I was  – I knew I was in the bottom quarter of the class.  I knew I wasn’t in the running.)  As a naïve kid, I figured this would HAVE to be automatic – you figure out who your #1 is and give them the honor.  Well, instead, it was to be determined by a popularity contest, AFTER watering this down by declaring the top 10% of the class to be the valedictorians.  Why do they do this, you ask?  Because, of course, it was to help with college applications!  (The REAL learning takes place in college, or so we are all repeatedly assured.)

This episode to me just about summed up the absurdity and stupidity of high school.  I took the ballot, and, as they would say in the UK, “spoiled it”.  I was, and remain, an unapologetic headbanger, so for my choice of valedictorian, I wrote in “James Hetfield”, who is of course the lead vocalist of Metallica.  On reflection, I should have written in the recently deceased Canadian poet and percussionist Neil Peart, who penned the famous line “In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out.”

The sad fact is that, while neither you nor most others in your listening audience do not resent success and achievement in any way, such is increasingly frowned upon in society.

I would argue there is something more sinister at work here with both this “tradition” – practiced in all the NEISD schools – and its recent decision to shield its poor dears from the ravages of competition.  That more sinister thing is a long-standing war on success and achievement.  The sad fact is that, while neither you nor most others in your listening audience do not resent success and achievement in any way, such is increasingly frowned upon in society.  I get it, many out there will shake their heads and say “you’re being ridiculous!  This is America!  We still celebrate success and achievement!”  Really?  Then perhaps they can explain why people like Sen Warren and Sen Sanders, among many others, are even IN THE RUNNING for the nation’s highest office.  It has been a constant theme of your program that the problems we see on the federal level begin with politicians’ bad behavior being rewarded on the local level.  The problem with envy, hatred and resentment of success and achievement is not merely an issue of the human condition, but is promoted on the smaller scale in places like schools and school districts before it eventually hits the federal level.  Tumors always start small before consuming the body as a whole.  Such is what you see here.

– Steven, trying to keep warm in Swisher County

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