The Celebration of Mediocrity

Zachary Farley, Staff Writer

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Many parents in today’s America, particularly older generations, believe that children are being coddled. Refrigerators are supposedly littered with participation certificates and “7th place” ribbons. Some may think these complaints are exaggerated, but based on some recent controversy, this common critique may be justified.

Just last month, a middle school teacher claimed that she was fired “for refusing to give [her students] a 50% for not handing anything in.” In her termination letter, Diane Tirado was never informed exactly why she was being fired, but the Florida resident is quite certain that her violation of the West Gate student and parent handbook is to blame.

The bright red, all-caps text in the handbook indicates that the lowest possible grade for any assignment, regardless of the level of completion, is a 50%. But what does this say about the state of our standards of success? What message is this sending to our children? It’s quite clear.

You can get 50% for absolutely no effort.

Imagine a young boy named James who, from a young age, aspires to be a professional baseball player. He spends years on a little league team and always has an opportunity to go up to bat. James strikes out nearly every time, but he’s enjoying himself and doesn’t really care to improve. At the end of the season, everyone on the team is given participation trophies – what a nice way to remember the fun times they had out on the field! This trend continues throughout elementary and middle school, and James’ shelves lined with the award after. But when he heads off to high school, everything changes. He’s immediately ejected from the team. He doesn’t know what to do; his dreams are ruined! James has lost one of his greatest passions and has absolutely nothing to show for the sport he used to love. Why?

Nobody told James that he was doing anything wrong.

He was getting trophies throughout his experience but did nothing to actually earn them. No improvement, and a complete waste of time.

That’s just a single example, but one that’s far too common. And it may not seem like such a big deal because his parents will say “he’ll figure it out quickly, there’s no need to worry!” But he won’t “figure it out” because he’s being fed the same sentiments over and over again to the point that he can’t comprehend the concept of not being extolled for his bare-minimum effort. He’ll go through life wanting to do well, but never thinking critically of himself and working towards improvement. There are numerous solutions to this problem, but they’re commonly ignored as people focus on the easy way out.

 Let’s take a look at another scenario.

A girl in middle school named Emily really, really wants to be an engineer; she’s been influenced by the push to get more women into STEM fields and thinks she has the capacity to do some good things in the world. But, unfortunately, Emily quickly begins to face difficulties once she heads to high school; classes are far more difficult than her eighth-grade year. In her math class, the concepts are a bit too advanced for her level, and her introductory engineering class is getting harder by the day. Her parents and teachers express the fact that she doesn’t deserve an “A” if she doesn’t work for it. So Emily, encouraged by her parents, begins to attend after-school reteaches provided by her teachers. She spends every Saturday doing practice math problems and practicing her drafting skills. And, by the end of the semester, Emily has nearly the highest grade in each of her classes, motivated by her teachers’ critiques and a desire to do better each and every day.

The differences are clear.

Emily was immediately informed whenever she made a mistake and took the necessary steps to improve herself, while James sat around and thought that he was doing a great job because that’s exactly what he was told.

Adult authority figures are among the most influential people in young person’s life. Repeating the same things over and over again — that doing your best but not caring about the results is okay, or that effort and hard work doesn’t really matter as long as you can cheat the system to “earn” a good score.

The key to the youth’s success is above all else motivation. But, always remind them that life doesn’t owe them anything. Discuss the importance of developing a strong work ethic and battling the forces of procrastination. Inundate them with sentiments of confidence, but remind them that confidence is half the battle; preparation is imperative, too.

Was Mrs. Tirado justified in her decision to stand up for a belief that outcome should be measured by both effort and accuracy? Absolutely. Without teachers and adults in general like her, the world may become one in which achievement amounts to nothing, and doing absolutely nothing will be expected to yield success.

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About the Writer
Zachary Farley, Staff Writer

Zachary Farley (12) is a first-year journalism student at Santiago High School. He is the president of the Silver Pen Writer's Society, and Vice President...

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The Celebration of Mediocrity