The Dishonor of the With Honors System

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photo credit: 07222014 Green Ribbon Schools Awards 62 via photopin (license)

Many years ago, the eighth graders at the junior high where I taught participated in a promotion ceremony. The band  played, students delivered speeches and everyone paraded up to the podium to greet teachers and administrators when their names were announced to a capacity crowd.

I  had the distinct pleasure of calling the roll, a simple task, as long as you don’t miss the designations of “M” and “H” at the end of many surnames.

A student with an “H” is promoted “with honors,” meaning her GPA was 3.5 or higher. The “M’s” are “with merit.”

As I announced the names, in my best emcee voice, I wondered what inflection I should use for an “average” student, who didn’t graduate with honors. Should I use a monotone voice for the riffraff that dared to march with student royalty? Perhaps a pregnant pause, prior to shouting with honors,” in my best vibrato.

In the end, I decided to use the same voice for all students. After all, I couldn’t see a difference in them, before the medals were handed out.

When the ceremony was over, my sense of pride in announcing the names of the graduates was eroded by the realization that there is nothing honorable about the “with honors” system.

While I was often considered for the job, I never called the names of graduates again.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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