Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gradual Decline

I have only graduated twice. Back when I was growing up, I had a lot of last days of school, but only two graduations. Once from high school, and once from college.
(There was some question about the validity of one of them, but I can assure you, it was cleared up. Really! There is no need to check any records. Let’s all just let it go.)

Nowadays, it seems as if kids graduate from everything. For instance, this past Saturday night, I attended Son Number Two’s preschool graduation ceremony. Yes, preschool. By the age of five, my two oldest boys have already graduated half as much as I have my entire life.

I know some of you parents out there are asking, “What’s wrong with that?”
I know this, because I have seen pictures of your children on Facebook graduating from preschool in full cap-and-gown. Thankfully, my boy’s preschool did not take the “graduation” that far, but I still thought having a ceremony was a little much.

Seeing those pictures got me thinking. First of all, where on earth do you get miniature preschool-sized mortar boards and robes? Graduates-R-Us? Does the Baby Gap have a Baby Grad section?

Secondly, why are we making such a big deal out of events that used to be non-events? Is making it all the way through preschool nowadays such an achievement that it requires public recognition of each student by name? And does it require said public recognition to take place on a precious weekend evening? As near as I can tell, my boys’ greatest accomplishment during their years at preschool was learning to keep over 50% of the paint on the paper. And being in charge of the laundry, my wife is pretty sure it never got much better than a 60/40 split.

Now, maybe you cap-and-gown preschools have students matriculating that are reading Dostoevsky, interpreting the constitution and reciting the quadratic equation, but I doubt it. Let’s be serious, here. These are five-year-olds. My guess is the main reason we feel the need for any kind of ceremony is merely the photo op. It is obviously an event that is only for the parents, since the kids that are doing the graduating could really care less. They don’t know what graduating means, they don’t know why they have to stand in line, they don’t know what to do when their name is called, and all they really want to do is make fart noises and eat cupcakes. (Come to think of it, that actually sounds a lot like my high school graduation. Hmm…)

Anyway, our need for graduation photo ops has obviously gotten out of hand. I was grateful that my oldest son’s kindergarten didn’t have a graduation, but the sixth grade classes at his school had a large ceremony at the end of the year, with parents in suits and dresses, cheering and snapping photo after photo as their children graduated from elementary school.

At least a sixth-grader can understand the concept of graduation, but that fact, in and of itself, is one of the problems. We’re celebrating and recognizing an “achievement” that didn’t used to be quite such a big deal. That sends the same message as the ever-popular “participant” ribbon. Those kids have already graduated from preschool, possibly also kindergarten and the third grade, and will now go on to graduate again in a few years from junior high school, with another ceremony honoring their wonderful awesomeness, making sure that they are fully recognized by name for their amazing ability to show up.

My wife is pretty sure that all this preemptive graduating is one of the reasons that high school drop-out rates have risen in our lifetime. By the time they get to the ninth grade, many kids have already “graduated” five times. A lot of them probably figure, “What’s the point of one more? Been there, done that.”

Anyway, the more I thought about the oddity of a preschool graduation ceremony, the more I got to thinking about how the school system has changed over the years. Not only are we celebrating smaller non-achievements, but we have the opportunity to do it more often now.

We didn’t even used to have preschool. Or kindergarten for that matter. Those things are a relatively new phenomenon in our country’s history. Kids used to play outside until they were six, then start school in the first grade. That’s why it’s called the first grade.

At this point, with an average of two years of preschool and a year of kindergarten, we should really re-number the grades. First grade should be changed to fourth grade and so on.

I started out wondering why we had preschool graduation, but now I’m wondering why we have preschool at all? Is it just for the graduation photo op at the end of the year? If so, that is a pretty expensive picture! If that’s all it is, I’m just going to Photoshop Boy Number Three into one of the other two’s graduation photos and save some money.

We’ll just keep him home and throw paint on him in the backyard, and send him directly to kindergarten (third grade) when he’s five. We’ll take pictures of him in a cap and gown when he successfully completes the fifteenth grade and graduates from high school.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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