Monday, May 2, 2011

Mediocrity: The New Excellence?

A student of mine once told me this story. Her teen daughter, a student in Middle School, was handed a note by her teacher from the principal's office announcing that she had been selected as one of the school's outstanding students. An award would be presented at an upcoming assembly.

When the word  of her achievment spread among her peers, instead of congratulatory responses, she was made fun of. "Look at Myra, she thinks she's so smart." "She's a smarty pants!" She thinks she's better than the rest of us!"

Things turned even uglier, a couple of days later, when was approached by a couple of Cholas (tough girls), who threatened "If you show up to the assembly, we are going to kick your butt, homegirl." Myra shuddered but did not respond. She went home, shut herself up in her room, and didn't utter a word of it to her mom.

On the day of the assembly, Myra was late getting out of bed. "Come on mija", prodded her mom, "you're late for school!" "I don't feel well today, mama, I think I'm getting the flu", Myra shouted through the closed door. "Ok mija", stay in bed and take care of yourself; I'm late for work. I'll see you tonight."  Sometime later, the school contacted Myra's mother about her daughter's unexplained absence on the day of the assembly. The award arrived in the mail the next day, inside an envelope.

The story shook, but did not surprise me. Peer pressure to fail, to be stupid, to be mediocre, to be a pendejo is rampant among our kids today. "All I want from life is a C", is the debilitating mentality. The student who studies, the one who gets good grades, who succeeds in school is often bullied and ridiculed by his peers. There are few things worse than being labeled "teacher's pet."

Students gather in groups when they receive their graded assignments. "You got an F? Me too!! They cheer each other on, excitedly. The few with the A or B papers, even dread telling it to others, fearing the response, "An A?? What did you do, kiss the teacher's butt!?"

The greater tragedy is that their parents, sometimes their teachers, even the greater society, languishes in this kind of mediocrity. The term derives from the Latin "mediocris: to be in "a middle state." We don't want to stand out, to be seen as different from others. Tragically, to be smarter-or more intelligent-to be educated-often becomes a life sentence to separateness.

We need only to look at the long history of great people, thinkers, philosophers, artists to witness the tragic and lonely lives they lived. There is a price tag for success.


V said...

This pretty much sums up my school years. In 5th grade I was inducted into "GATE," the program for smart kids and was relentlessly teased. I tried to not be a "school girl," in order to fit in and played dumb for many years. It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I pulled my head out of the sand and realized that I didn't want to be stupid like everyone else. And I'm happy to say that I graduated from Cal. :)

Rick Rivers said...

V yep, I hear you loud and clear. I'm so glad to hear you wised up! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Don't get much of these!