I had a brilliant idea the other day as to how change the system for the better. Yes, I’ve rallied against the system for a few years now, and I’m starting to get tired of the taunt from those in charge: “Well, I’d like to see you propose an alternative!” This, of course, has replaced the previous taunt of, “Well, I’d like to see you do better!” because that led people to do things like run for office and actually do better. This idea has to do with reforming our education system.
I’m sure you’ve grown sick and tired of me bitching about my high school years; about how I was the only geek in a class of 12 and every honour roll certificate I got made me an object of ridicule and scorn. I’ve grown to loathe each and every one of those awards. Someday, when I’m finally out on my own, I’m going to have a big bonfire and burn every certificate, plaque, and trophy I’ve gotten simply because I got my homework in on time and did remarkable things like pass tests.
That’s how things work in school. If you actually get the stupid assignments in on time and pass them, you are immediately singled out. YOU are the only one to get a gold star on your paper. YOU are the only one with a number greater than 50% for a score. YOU are the only one to get a suitable-for-framing certificate at the next school assembly, where you stand on stage alone and look like the ultimate kiss-ass as you accept said suitable-for-framing certificate from the principal. This guarantees you at least a half-a-semester’s worth of taunts, teasing, and ostraciziation. And you start to feel abnormal.
It is the goal of everyone on Earth to simply be normal. We all want to be another face in the crowd. We just want to wear Gap jeans like everyone else, find a good mate like everyone else, have great sex like everyone else, and have a nice, normal job like everyone else. Our entire society frowns upon things that make us different, like winning awards for excellence. At the end of the day, we do not want to be singled out for our accomplishments and celebrated for our uniqueness. That just reminds us that we’re not normal.
Hence, the average scene in every classroom. The average school kid today treats tests like golf: the lower the score, the winner. From junior high to my classes at NAIT, this is a very common scene:
Kid #1>> So, how did you do on the test?
Kid #2>> Check it out! 40%!
Kid #1>> Sweet! I got 35%!
Kid #2>> Yes! We rock!
This way, they’re not forced to walk up on stage and accept anything. Failure is normal. The average student today strives to fail because then he or she will be seen as normal in the eyes of their peers.
But then, the average student gets out into the real world. Now, all the rules change. They may adopt some of the habits that made them a successful failure in school: show up late, do a shoddy job, knock off early. But now, they find things have changed. This doesn’t make them just one of the crowd. Now, they are shunned by their coworkers! The boss brings you into his office routinely to chew you out. The office starts looking down on you because you’re bringing the whole outfit down. Now, failure makes you abnormal.
That is how things work in the real world. In the entire summer that I worked in produce at IGA, I never heard one compliment from the store manager. But, if there’s so much as one grape that’s on the verge of turning brown, I get a five minute lecture about what a shitty job I’m doing. Same attitude has prevailed in every job I’ve had to date. Over-performance is greeted with silent acceptance. Under-performance will get you jeers, taunts, and, in other words, make you not normal.
So, we have to overhaul the merit system in our education system. The first thing we must do is stop giving out awards for academic excellence. They have been doing more to de-motivate than motivate our students. And we replace them with something much, much worse.
Now, at every school assembly, we do this. Every student with a failing average is brought up onto the stage. Now, instead of getting a certificate for their achievements, they are reamed out in front of the entire school for their failure. The students who doing OK, well, they’re encouraged to shout things at these abnormal students, maybe even toss a rotten tomato or two. Meanwhile, if you pass your test or make the honour roll, you are simply acknowledged with silent acceptance. We start teaching our students that failure, not success, is the abnormal behaviour. Once this begins, just watch class averages climb.
In 1984, this ritual was called the “two minutes hate,” and it was quite successful at quashing the rebellions.
In the end, all we really have to do to change the system is start redefining what “normal” is. Actually, we should just throw out the whole concept of normal. We are all different, with our different styles and flairs. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. Once we find a proper way to recognize our individual strengths, instead of trying to pigeonhole ourselves into some societal definition of normal, only then can we all finally relax and get along.
I’d like to see you propose an alternative.