By Alan Levy.
“No stress, no tests, no grades.”
That’s what the electronic billboard is blinking mindlessly, in addition to the statement that fall semester enrollment is upon us, at our local state college branch here in Florida. Thank goodness I first observed that statement at about 9:15 pm the other night, when there were no other cars around. Otherwise, I might have bounced off a few of them as I attempted to control my reaction to that astounding message.
At first glance, I was appalled. As someone who is competitive, as a man who has strived my entire life to excel, I was outraged. Initially. But then, my analytical side kicked in, and I began to be engrossed in the societal ramifications of that sign and the concepts it represents.
And I contemplated changing my opinion completely, because the simplicity that phrase offers bathed me in this soft, incredibly honest and highly realistic glimpse into our future. I resigned myself to the notion that 37th out of 69 nations tested ain’t so bad.
Perhaps, in time, we will also be number 37 out of 69 tested nations in communication skills in the English language. Number two should be expected by us and acceptable, as we will forever be behind Great Britain. An example on the use of language … we post signage on large trucks that states, “Big Load”. In England, their cautionary warnings suggest, “Wide Vehicle”. We say, “We’re waitin’ on you”. Britons calmly proclaim, “We’re waiting for you.” The British/Americanism difference list is endless. But to have other nations eventually surpass us in the tongue we have borrowed will be, for lack of a better word, embarrassing, when and if that occurs.
But enough of mediocrity in our language. The topic here, and the basis of this article, is a different (universal) language … mathematics. According to an article written by John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in January of this year, he cites results in the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Assessment) test done in 2015, in which American children scored their highest marks in the twenty-year history of those tests being conducted. But even with our best showing, thirty-six of the sixty-nine nations tested posted better scores than we did.
Heading into educational year 2019, are we to hold our heads high? Are we to seriously stand on the podium as 37th of 69 and await our national anthem bursting forth as a sea of trumpets announces our arrival? Instead, we have come up with this concept.
“No stress, no tests, no grades.”
What a remarkable idea, so remarkable that we need to rethink everything in our society with that astounding theme in mind. No stress, no tests, no grades. Only “Participant Medals” for all those who compete in the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo, for example, like we give kids at swim meets lately or in the awards ceremonies at 8-year-olds softball tournaments. No pointless tears of defeat. No podiums. No raising of national flags behind athletes with the best Olympic performances. No jealousy and bitter feelings between athletes and/or nations. Instead, one huge stage where all who participated can act as one. Participants, rather than victors. And everyone cheers equally for every athlete. And everyone goes home with joy in his or her heart. And the parades in every nation are correspondingly equal in pomp and magnitude.
And afterward, only one minor question will remain.
From whence will come greatness? From which institution will come the next Louis Pasteur, or the next Wilhelm Röntgen, or the next Edison, or the next breakthrough medical discovery? After all, we don’t need penicillin, now do we? Or cures for cancer or Parkinson’s. If everyone is merely a participant, who will have the drive to excel, to challenge, or to discover?
I attended a three-week-long class recently, and one of the attendees was a young man who displayed a horrible work ethic. He was always late, and on one particular day he arrived five hours late for the class. Not five minutes, but five hours. He turned on his computer, lay back in his chair, and promptly fell asleep. But he managed to pass the final exam, and that’s the sort of behavior we can expect when we no longer have testing, when only participant medals are to be awarded. Mediocrity. Mediocre attitudes. Mediocre attendance, and mediocre performance. Stagnation, as well, will surely follow. Thirty-seventh will someday be viewed upon as the wonder-year, the “Good Ol’ Day” of education in this nation, as our international scores and rankings plummet.
No stress, no tests, no grades. Harvard and MIT can hire staff members accordingly, as can the administrators at Berkeley. Professors can glide through a syllabus with empty lecture halls, while their students engage in “feely-good” activities rather than attend class. No exams, no grades, no diplomas. Law firms may then select graduates purely from a selection applicant pool, wherein a person from Southeastern Northern Western Missouri Valley State Tech has an equal chance of employment as one with a non-diploma certificate of non-attendance from Princeton or Yale. And General Electric may choose a future department head from Eastern Arkansas Agriculture and Mining Polytechnic Institute over an attendee of Cal Tech. Maybe that’s actually a good choice, because the attendee of Cal Tech is deeply tanned, an avid surfer who received his non-degree and letter of participation and non-attendance parchment for his requisite four years at that formerly fine institution and is ill-prepared from an engineering perspective to contribute in any meaningful way to the advancement of civilization. He ends up at Google and is an avid participant in every activity of interest to him there, refers to his boss as, “Dude”, and alienates every female at the Google campus because he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable (since he failed to attend Rhetoric or Sociology classes) to refer to them as “Dudettes”. But he keeps his job nonetheless, because mediocrity and inability are the new norms, and there are no longer standards to which employees in industry are measured.
No stress, no tests, no grades. The concept is pathetic and entirely ill-conceived. Let us applaud the days in which collegians were tested, and some flunked out. Separate the wheat from the chaff, and let us honor our language by speaking and writing it properly. A bad joke seems in order now. What do you call the guy with the lowest GPA in his medical school graduating class, the moment after you hand him a diploma. The answer is simple. We all refer to him as “Doctor”. But at least his 2.15 GPA on a 4.0 scale demonstrates that he took a few of the required exams for a number of years. Did he graduate with honors? Nope. Would I make an appointment to put a loved one in his care? Absolutely not, assuming I might have access to his school records. Not too keen on seeing a doctor who failed Spleen in medical school, by the way. But at least the guy tried. Well, sort of, anyway. A 2.15 is far better, methinks, than surfing nearly every day and failing to attend any lectures while in medical school.
Are we so concerned with the anxiety caused in our youth by the rigors of attending school that our solution is to fail to test them at all? Are we so concerned with the feelings of the swimmer who comes in last by an entire length of the pool that we feel it necessary to fail to honor the achievement of the winner? Ludicrous, and oh, so very pathetically liberal a stance.
When I was in grammar school in the public school system in Chicago so very many years ago, we played a bunch of kids from a local parochial school in a basketball tournament. They thought it proper to dribble the ball slowly and allow it to bounce up to chin-height as they repeatedly attempted to advance toward our basket. We opted for a relentless full-court press, and it worked pretty well. Final score … Hibbard Elementary 81, St. Mathias 0. The article in the Chicago Sun Times the next day didn’t say, “St. Mathias Participated”. It said, “Hibbard Clobbers St. Mathias in Lopsided Victory” and I’m still proud to have been on the winning team that day. Can’t take being clobbered? Take up another sport or none at all. But they had one kid who was determined to score just one basket, in order to avoid a shutout. We didn’t allow that to happen, but I respect and admire his tenacity. Great try, kid. You deserve a medal for the effort, perhaps “Participant, First Class”.
Here’s a toast, two full years early, to the United States Olympic Team. May they capture gold medals in every event in Tokyo, and to hell with the grieving sob stories of those who come in last, especially if those athletes are dope-filled representatives of the Russian Federation.
Greatness is earned. No longer by centuries-old candlelit hours of study in relentless preparation, but by being thorough in every aspect of your modern-day life. People fall by the wayside as you persevere, and yet you press on as the number of competitors on your path dwindles. Shall we fall farther and farther behind other nations and wonder why our way of life seems to have less depth, less meaning, and fewer achievements? Or shall we take a stand against mediocrity. Shall we rise to the challenge knowing that to be thirty-seventh is unacceptable and beneath our dignity? Shall we strive to be alone on that podium where only one nation has the right and genius to prevail? Read the Constitution of this great nation. Not for content, but for the extraordinary use of language within it. Those words are our heritage, our definition of pride and honor, and if our status and direction defies those words, we must redirect ourselves.
Teach your children to study dauntlessly, prepare, and persevere.
“No stress, no tests, no grades.”
Design by Steven S. Drachman from a photograph by Klimkin/Pixabay.