I can honestly say, I am not a fan of school awards. When a student wins the “math award”, it is thought to be a testament to his or her proficiency in math. Theoretically, that student is the best math student in the class. That student had the best performance in that environment. Well that’s just it. We assume merit awards are based on intellect and performance. In the eyes of most people, these awards are a measure of how “smart” a child is.
The challenge with this philosophy is this. Many of our schools teach with only one kind of child in mind, although there are many with different learning styles. Some are auditory learners, they need to hear it to learn it. Some are visual learners, they need to see it to learn it. And some are even kinesthetic learners, they need to do it to learn it. Unfortunately, most schools and teachers teach one way or the other. I’m not blaming the schools or the teachers. It’s just impossible to teach that many styles to that many children. They just don’t have the time.
This is well understood among educators. They know that it is almost impossible to reach every single kid in every single class. Despite their best efforts, even the best teachers and schools admittedly struggle with this. Even though most experts recognize this difficult deficiency, they still participate in the archaic ritual of rewarding one student over another. In their hearts and minds, educators know that math award recipient may not be all that special. That student may just be the auditory learner who excelled, because of her auditory teacher. While the auditory learner was on stage and smiling from ear to ear, the kinesthetic learner was ghost writing numbers in the dust on the gym floor.
We have incorrectly attributed peak performance to students, rather than systems, teachers and schools. Parents rush up to the podium with their cameras, smiling from ear to ear, snapping picture after picture of their future MENSA, valedictorian, rocket scientist. They do so only to be disappointed the following year, when their visual learner just can’t seem to understand the kinesthetic teacher.
If a school or teacher is really doing their job, they shouldn’t be giving awards to anybody for performance. If you have students that are doing “better” than other students, it is natural to think that it is a function of the student. However, it could also be a function of what and how students are being taught. Instead of individual students marching up to the stage with their chests out, we should probably recognize the teachers and schools that elevate their entire class.
If that’s the case, what should we measure? How would we separate one child’s performance from another? That’s easy, one word. Effort! There is one award that is a true measure of a child’s commitment to learning. That award is perfect attendance. Perfect attendance shows the commitment of the child and the family to education. Of course there are unforeseen circumstances that could limit who could get this award. But for the most part, perfect attendance measures what is truly intrinsic to the student. Learning is impossible, if you are not present. If you are from a family when even Disney’s overwhelming happiness can’t pull you away from the pursuit of education that should be rewarded.
Failing a test or missing an answer is correctable. Most people can learn, given the right opportunity, time and teaching style. However, learning is impossible if the student isn’t present. Success in your career is impossible if you are always calling in sick. Being a good parent, a good spouse or a good anything all have the same prerequisite. They all require perfect attendance.