My old friend and fraternity brother Tom Musgrave, who was an outstanding journalist and is now an outstanding civil servant (and has always been an outstanding musician), gives us his thoughts on a Kentucky high school that had twenty-two valedictorians out of a class of about 400.

To his wonderful and spot-on thoughts, I would add the following.

(1) I would agree that there has to be a way to get that number down. Tom suggests involvement in extracurricular activities as one such filter. He backs this up by referencing a conversation he had with an admissions officer at a selective liberal arts college. I would agree, but in this age of hyperparenting, this would lead (and in some cases has led) to parents demanding their child volunteer/participate 24/7, to the exclusion of sleep and basic mental health. More about this in a moment.

(2) I suspect there’s grade inflation/lower standards at work here as well. I don’t blame the classroom teachers for this (trust me, as a classroom teacher myself, I would never do that), but I do blame administrators. I know it makes the school look good when a whole bunch of kids from that school get fat scholarships for being the valedictorian, but still…when you do this, you do not adequately prepare kids for college. I may not know much, but I do know what kids should know coming into college, and any school that has 22 valedictorians most likely has…issues with standards. Standardized tests likely factor into this as well, but that’s a topic for another time.

(3) Kids know, man. They know more than for what we give them credit. They see through “everyone gets a trophy.”

Tying points (1) and (3) together: Parents, KNOCK IT OFF. Time was, the goal of a parent was to get the kid to adulthood with love, humor, basic human decency and the knowledge that you don’t stick a fork in an electrical outlet. Now, parents are hypercompetitive; they are scared to death what other parents think about them. If their little spawn doesn’t sit atop the class and get into Harvard, the parents get all mopey and are convinced other parents think they failed and should have their kids taken away by Child Protective Services.

You hear people talking about how there’s too much emphasis on self-esteem these days. I would agree. However, the problem is not the self-esteem of the students. I contend the bulk of the problems facing schools today are because people are too concerned about the self-esteem of the parents.

And that, my friends, is the biggest threat to education of all.

Bonus – I wholeheartedly agree with Tom’s last statement (in italics). I’ve even heard that some schools do graduation-like ceremonies for every elementary grade. When everything is made into a ritual or ceremony, the important ones lose their luster. I’m sorry, but getting through Kindergarten is not remotely like graduating high school or college.