(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Is this still a country in which people can strive to be the very best at something? Of course it is, but they aren’t encouraged to do it as much as they once were, and even if they achieve it, they might not be recognized for it.

A growing number of high schools in Indiana, including several around Indianapolis and Southwest Allen County Schools here in the northeastern part of the state, have joined the nationwide trend of not naming valedictorians and salutatorians to honor a class’s No. 1 and No. 2 students. In fact, they’re mostly abandoning the practice of ranking students altogether.

Instead, they’re using the collegiate system of honoring students as cum laude (top 25 percent), magna cum laude (top 10 percent) and summa cum laude (top 3 percent).

“I think it’s redefining competition,” said SACS Superintendent Dr. Phil Downs when the new system was adopted in 2015 (it goes into effect after the 2018 class). “One of the things we consistently hear from businesses is they want employees who work together to reach goals. To us, this seems like an easy target that has relevance for a group of kids. Students should work together to get better and to make each other better. It’s certainly something we want to see rather than turn it into individuals fighting and clawing for one spot, why don’t we all work together and get all of us over that hurdle and maybe even higher than what we thought we could have done on our own.”

The schools seem to be trying to walk a fine line. They have bought into the liberal wisdom that “competition” can be unhealthy and that “cooperation” is the key to living the perfect life. But they don’t want to go all the way down to “we don’t want anybody to feel bad, so everybody gets a participation trophy.”

They’re looking for that fine line separating good competition from “unhealthy” competition, and we wish them well. We doubt students can be just competitive enough to turn it off when they’ve achieved “top group” status, but maybe we’re wrong.

Granted there are many ways to sort students and decide which are doing well and which are not; we should be too invested in supporting or criticizing any one of them. But schools had best be careful what incentives they give students to respond to. If “I will be rewarded for my efforts” isn’t somewhere in there strongly, don’t be surprised at the disappointing outcomes.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.