Middle School Principal Was Wrong to Cancel Honors Night

by Bill Brenner on March 22, 2013

David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich (Massachusetts) Middle School, canceled his school’s Honors Night because he believes it could be “devastating” to students who work hard but fall short.

A lot of parents are understandably angry.

Mood music:


Fabrizio has been widely quoted in the press as saying: “The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average.”

I get it. I have a son who has a hard time losing. A lot of us do. To this day, I turn to mush when my work has been nominated for an award because I’m so afraid of getting beaten. Few things make you feel rejected and unloved as badly as losing. So I admire Fabrizio’s intent. He clearly loves all of his students and doesn’t want any of them to feel alienated.

But he’s wrong.

We’re all going to suffer defeats in life. It’s a pain that can make us wiser and kinder or angry and mean. If we never taste defeat, we can’t identify with those who struggle. To put it another way, we become assholes who have no problem kicking the losers when they’re down — or kicking the winners when they’re up. We also need those defeats so we can learn how to do things better. Competition is a critical part of learning.

Read another story of adults depriving children of the lesson of losing gracefully in “When ‘Helicopter Parents’ Get Easter Egg on Their Faces.”

I suffered my share of defeats growing up. I could never seem to come close to making the honor roll, and it hurt, because despite the perception of some teachers, I worked hard for better grades. My brother died when I was in the seventh grade, and I missed a lot of school that year. As a result, I didn’t make it into the B group in eighth grade; I remained in the C group, despite studying hard. I’ve also been the kid who played baseball but didn’t get a trophy because my team lost too many games.

I’m not scarred by those losses. I thank God for them, because they helped me learn two critical lessons. One was that there is life after losing and that it’s never too late for a comeback. The other is that losing can help you identify and fix shortcomings.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s Humanity 101.

Proceed with Honors Night and let some kids walk away in tears. They’ll be better for it later.

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