Something came up in the professinoal literature I’m reading, about the issue of “valedictorians.” This made me wonder about the idea of a veldictorian. Do we really need valedictorians in our schools?
Do we really need valedictorians in our schools? I don’t. I never did. I don’t even recall who my high school valedictorian was? When I think about it, I recall a couple of students make a comment about the girl in passing. In college? Don’t remember…
In middle school, when I was in Pakistan, there was no such thing as a valedictorian. But there was, and probably still is, this title of a “Headboy/Headgirl” there. I went to an English school. In our building (a big building with internal separations), we had elementary, middle, and high schools. They were separated for the most part almost like a college campus if one can imagine a compus comprised of a group of buildings that are seperate but still physically connected. The elementary was completely cordoned off. But the middle and high schools were only separated by floors. So, as a middle schooler you interacted with high school students frequently and as a result, all kids were familiar with the idea of a headboy/headgirl. I wanted to be a headboy one day because I would see the headboy with his headboy patch on the chest of his headboy blazer. We were a uniform school with blue blazers for the winter – green for the headboy, grey vests – green for the headboy, and dark grey slacks or dress pants, and black dress shoes for everyone including the headboy, although it’d be hillarious if the headboy wore green shoes.
The headboy/headgirl designation was very prestigious in the sense that they were role-models chosen by the school administration that dressed them differently to show everyone that they were different, may be better, and high achievers – certainly the ideal students. They had in-school jobs – special jobs. They seemed to be doing teacher stuff and it was just super cool because teachers in Pakistan (in the school I attended) never allowed students to see their real personalities. But the headboy/headgirl got to see them laughing and joking; they worked with the teachers. It certainly was a reward in so many ways. So how were they “rewarded” with the title? Well let’s see…
The Pakistani public high schools go up to tenth grade – no eleventh and twelfth grades. The Headboy/headgirl at my school was chosen before the end of school at the end of ninth grade (sometimes at the beginning of tenth grade) because all ninth graders took their boards (their first-ever standardized test since they started school). The key determinants of the candidacy of the headboy/headgirl were the score s/he received on that test, his/her marks earned in the current grade, and an overview of the student’s academic record (almost like a background check). Beyond that, the principal and the faculty decided which student among the top scorers on the boards should be awarded the position. What other factors they took under consideration in making the eventual decision is a mystery to me, but they did, and that chosen student started his/her tenth grade as a headboy/headgirl in his/her green blazer with a special patch on the chest.
This is very different from a valedictorian who receives the recognition at the very end of school. My point is that I cared about the headboy/headgirl idea more than the valendictorian idea as a student. I think this is because of attached value of “prestige.” The headboy/headgirl meant more to kids since you got to enjoy a full year of the special distinction. But, did the headboy/headgirl maintain his/her excellence over the next year? They sometimes did, sometimes not. A question comes to mind: is hunger for prestige something that has a place in education? I think not, because prestige can lead to pretentiousness. But at the same time seeking prestige can lead to something good: a goal oriented, dedicated students who is relentless in his/her efforts to achieve mastery in school overall. It’s very difficult for me to dismiss either argument right now.
I don’t think we need valedictorians/headboys/headgirls. However, as a kid, if I had to chose between the two I’d rather have a headboy/headgirl than a valedictorian awarded at my school. It’s like earning a one-year term of presidency, which comes with respect, honor, responsibility, and well, special treatment. For this last “perk” I sometimes think the valedictorian is better to have than a headboy/headgirl; they don’t walk around the whole year, dressed in special uniform, making other kids jealous and angry. I also hear a voice in the back of my head that says, “There are headboys, headgirls, and valedictorians in every field everywhere in the real world; so, why not have them in our schools as well. Nearly every work place has the best worker, the best teacher, revered doctor, distinguished researcher, etc. Aren’t these people the equivalent of valedictorians and headboys in schools? May be we do need them. Our society values headboys and valedictorians in every field, so why not continue having them in our schools?” I haven’t yet been able to give a counterargument to this voice.