The season of graduation ceremonies is almost upon us. The invitations and announcements are already starting to roll in. My Facebook friends are already posting pictures of their children in mortar boards and academic gowns with captions like, "Look how much Little Johnny has grown!" and "I'm so proud!" and "I can't believe this day is finally here. Little Johnny has worked so hard!"
Great. So you're proud of your kid. That's fabulous.
Only Little Johnny is forty inches tall and four years old.
Which is really just ridiculous. Unless your kid is graduating from high school or walking across a stage to receive a college degree, just stop it.
By the looks of my social media feeds there are "graduation" ceremonies for everything: preschool. kindergarten, elementary school, middle school (and probably charm school and obedience school, too). While a group of clumsy preschoolers tripping over brightly colored "graduation" robes, marching down the aisle to "The Alphabet Song" while their parents maniacally snap pictures might seem adorable in theory, it's really excessively premature and possibly damaging.
Because what has really been accomplished to earn that march across the preschool stage? A mastery of fingerpainting? Superb story time skills? What future employer wouldn't check for where their new hires graduated preschool... or kindergarten... or elementary school? "Good thing your kid graduated from a good preschool or he might not have gotten into kindergarten," said no person ever.
U.S. schools are currently struggling to keep up with global standards. The 2013 Programme For International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluation of students in 65 different countries found American students performing below average in math at every socioeconomic level. They barely make average in language and science. The low level of academic standards in U.S. schools is fairly well known, and yet parents and principals and local school boards continue to devalue the learning process. By the time a child has reached 18 and the completion of high school, he is liable to "commenced" almost half a dozen times. Graduation no longer represents the culmination of years of hard work and study. The ceremony has become empty and boring and blasé, the diploma something that is expected just for showing up.
I realize that the intentions of the school staff that put on these "graduation" shows are well-meaning. They want to celebrate the children and give moms and dads fodder for brimming scrapbooks. They want to make children feel good about themselves. But the key word here is "make". Adults can't "make" kids feel good about themselves. Attempts to force a sense of self-worth from without, with no real sacrifice or effort on the part of the individual, will come up empty every time. Self-worth has to come from the self... from the internal experience of hard work and struggle and the attainment of a goal set and reached.
Preschool and other lower grade "graduation" ceremonies are eerily similar to sports awards banquets where every little soccer player is presented with a trophy, whether they rolled around in the grass singing silly songs through every game or if they played hard, worked together, and actually scored goals. Trophies for just showing up, regardless of any real display of athletic achievement, don't build healthy self-esteem. It only devalues the athletic experience and the thrill of competition. Presenting every small child with academic honors, with no real academic achievement, doesn't build healthy self-esteem either. It only devalues education.
Children aren't stupid (in spite of the failings of our education system). It's not difficult for them to figure out that trophies and graduation certificates for everyone means no one has to try very hard... at anything. Giving accolades for nothing special only ensures that nothing special is ever created or thought or worked for. There is no motivation to strive for great things. Because why try if you don't have to do anything or be anything or think anything? You'll just get handed the reward at the end anyway.
But at least mom will get some awesome pictures of her sweetie in that super cute cap and gown, even if it is little more than a Halloween costume. It doesn't mean anything because he hasn't done anything worth rewarding.
It's all just pretend. Kinda like that rolled up diploma... symbolic of nothing other than our feeble attempts to educate the masses... or raise adults that don't have inflated egos or a false sense of self-importance and entitlement.
The only real winners in this "graduation" mania are those who jump on the commercial opportunities the events provide, the photographers and companies selling graduation paraphernalia (like caps and gowns and invitations and tassels and whatever else parents are willing to dish out money to mark their wee ones milestones).
At least someone is benefiting, because the kids certainly aren't.