Monday, June 8, 2009

Premature Celebrations

When I was teaching in a Bronx middle schoo, I was always a little put off by the end of year celebrations that we threw for the eighth graders. There was a prom and a "senior trip" and a big graduation ceremony. I think when I graduated from eighth grade, my family went to celebrate at Applebee's.

I'm not opposed to celebrating the accomplishments of students, but I do think that the celebration should bear some relation in scale to the accomplishment. Frankly, graduating from eighth grade doesn't warrant that big of a celebration.

The Journal-Sentinel out of Milwaukee just ran an opinion piece on this point that got me thinking. The fact is, that for too many kids in Milwaukee and in the Bronx, eighth grade is the last educational milestone that they are actually going to pass. With the graduation rate at about 50%, middle school (at the age of 14) becomes the highest level of education that many students are going to obtain. That's awfully sad.

So does making a big deal out of eighth grade lower the bar? Does it say to kids, "You've really accomplished something here so you can stop now"?

I don't know. I don't think so. It certainly doesn't reflect well on the values and priorities of parents, but I don't think it actually makes the situation worse. In the scope of problems facing urban education, I don't think premature celebrations even cracks the top ten. That said, they aren't exactly among the solutions either.


mathteacher said...

I generally agree with your post, with one caveat. When I was growing up in semi-rural eastern LI, my school district only went up to 8th grade and it was the last time that all of us who had been in school together for 9 years would be all together. AS a result, I think the trip, graduation and dance were all warranted. However, it needs to be moderated. Don't call it a prom or make a big fuss...

appple said...

great thoughts. this seemed a phenomenon localized to nyc, but in a way i'm glad it's not. i do think it lowers the bar for graduation expectations. another component could be school administrations wanting to appease students and parents, end their experience with the middle school on a high note, rather than one filled with puberty, adolescent issues, drama, discipline, and all the other good stuff middle school is made of.

John said...

I think we're all on about the same page here. There's no doubt that graduating from middle school is a passage and a transition. And it's good to acknowledge that (for kids and for adults too). But the bottom line is that graduating eighth grade isn't nearly in the same league as graduating from high school or college. Any attempts to treat it that way do a major disservice to everyone involved.