Mike Zielinski

Mike Zielinski

Granted, it’s always so comfortable to follow trends. After all, the nail that sticks out often gets hammered.

But is it right?

Following a national trend, fewer Berks County school districts are naming a valedictorian to ease students’ anxieties over the battle to be No. 1.

Those poor babies.

First not keeping score in youth sports, now punting on class rankings.

When did competition become such a dastardly evil? OK, at times hostility can be a comrade in arms with competition. But our kids must learn to deal with hostility because it is everywhere.

We are coddling our kids, putting them in bubble-wrapped cocoons that will do them a disservice when the rite of passage into adulthood melts those protective wraps.

Life in the real world is all about competition. In the workplace not everybody is the boss.

We have to harden our kids, so they have the courage to face whatever life throws at them – whether it is cancer or heart disease or an apocalyptic axis of bad bounces and bad luck.

History stretching back to Cain’s quick knockout of Abel shows us that we are all engaged in a brutal endgame struggle.

Who knows what will be staring back at our kids when they are old enough to remove the hinge on the door that opens tomorrow?

If we raise a bunch of namby-pambies, they won’t have the guts to speak up when they discover that the arithmetic of their bartenders doesn’t add up correctly.

For decades school districts, students and parents worshiped class rankings so fervently they glowed with an elegant cathedral-like ambience.

But that was then, and this is now.

Some Berks County high schools have dropped or will drop class rankings, shunning valedictorians and salutatorians as if they suddenly were lepers.

Talk about a jackknife in direction. Once upon a time valedictorians and salutatorians were the shining beacons to a better future.

Instead, the districts group students in percentiles, reporting whether individual students are in the top 10 percent of their class, or top 20, and so on.

It's a move away from the traditional ranking system used for generations.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, about half of high schools across the nation no longer report class rank. In Berks, five districts have eliminated either class rankings, valedictorians or both.

Brandywine Heights, Conrad Weiser, Exeter, Reading and Wilson all have moved away from the class rank/valedictorian model. At Conrad Weiser, the change will take effect with the class of 2020. Exeter will make the switch starting with 2021 graduates.

Reading will stop naming a valedictorian and salutatorian with the class of 2021, but district officials said class rankings still will appear on students' report cards.

Each of the five Berks County districts making the switch are trading the traditional model of recognizing top students for a Latin model similar to colleges – summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude.

I will concede that the Latin system does allow schools to recognize more top-performing students. By only naming a valedictorian and salutatorian, other students are left out even though their GPAs may differ by only hundredths of a point.

By extension, should the Olympics now give gold medals to all competitors because their times in the 100 meters or marathon may differ by only hundredths of a second?

Apparently, class rank now isn't all that important when it comes to getting into a good college.

Class rank somehow has become as obsolete as the dodo bird.

The National Association for College Admission Counselors in its 2018 State of College Admission report said that a survey of college admission officers placed class rank as the ninth most important factor when considering an applicant. Only 9.3 percent of those surveyed said it was of “considerable importance.”

Grades in high school courses ranked first, followed by grades in college prep courses and admission test scores.

What’s next in the overprotection of our kids?

Keep them in car safety seats until they get their learner’s permits?

Make them wear seat belts at dinner?

Make them wear crash helmets while playing in the yard?

Make them wear life jackets while getting a bath?

Pre-chew their food until they’re 18?

And then expect them to be ready when we send them to war?

Mike Zielinski, a resident of Berks County, is a columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

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