Honor Roller

This is an exchange on a question some of you probably have to deal with that I was given permission to post. I’m doing so to get your input and ideas on this subject as well. 

Here’s the E-mail I received:

Dear Mr. Kern,

 We are reviewing our policy on having an Honor Roll at [our school].   Right now, we have an “A/B”  grade list and an “All A’s” grade list .  The Honor Roll is posted every quarter.

 We (the Academic Affairs Committee) have begun to have doubts that an Honor Roll is a classical concept..   We are trying to come to grips with the reasons for having an Honor Roll in the first place. And of course our parents place so much emphasis on it! 

 Would you be so kind as to give me your thoughts on this issue?

And here’s my reply:

 Technically an honor roll can’t be a “classical concept” because they didn’t give grades in the classical world so there was nothing to build it on. 

 However, they made a huge deal out of honoring what was worthy of honor (they never would have considered honoring students who didn’t demonstrate virtue in their work just to make them feel good) knowing that “what is honored in nourished and that which has no honor is neglected.”

The ideal would be to honor students for their virtues and to diminish the importance of things that create distractions. That would be the ideal. Ideals are for approximating and moving toward. 

That’s a bit of a hasty thought, but I hope it has some value at least. It’s a big question with a lot to think about.


God bless your decision making!

As you can see, I didn’t say a whole lot. Do you have any ideas that can help this Academic Affairs Committee as they wrestle with this issue? Please reply if you do!


2 Responses

  1. We’ve wrestled with this a good deal as well, not least after I read Neil Postman’s Technopoly and began asking questions about the technique of grading as a whole. It’s a version of the stick-and-carrot model of discipline, and while it might begin as a way of recognizing excellence, it quickly (and I would venture, without exception) devolves into a merit system that encourages not excellence but a higher level of mediocrity.

    What I mean is, set a bar at which students will without exception receive some honor, and reaching that bar will consume the thoughts of most of them. Some of that comes from parents trained to think this way, but some of it is human nature. I’ve seen students break down after a test not because they struggled but because it endangered their chances at honor roll.

    Parents, too, have been frustrated by the system–more because of a concern for tangible reward or self-esteem than anything else. I distrust the system because it sets a high value on efficiency or a particular kind of performance–very corporation-like–and not on character/virtue.

    I”m not sure what the answer is. We seek to be countercultural in a culture that places too much value on data/information. The challenge is that most of our minds and expectations have been formed by that very mindset. Not to mention the fact that it’s very often tied up with money, as it is for high school students in our state. A B average earns you significant college money–but only if you attend an accredited school. And you get accredited if you can cram your program into the state’s Procrustean idea of education.

    Can you tell this is a sore subject for me?

  2. The typical A/B honor roll rewards consistency but not excellence. An 80% performance in every class qualifies as A/B honor roll.

    I’d like to see schools hold up as examples the students who take initiative. Honor the music student who writes an original composition for fun. Honor the science student who conducts an experiment to satisfy his curiosity. Honor the literature student who reads a good book that was not assigned. Honor the students who demonstrate ownership of what they are taught.

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