It is an actual true fact that many if not most educators in our high schools do not allow students in general to see the exemplary academic work of their peers in their own school. (Academic work in this case does not include dance, drama, newspaper, music, band, yearbook, etc.).
The feeling seems to be that if students are exposed to this good work they will be surprised, envious, discouraged, intimidated, and more likely just to give up and stop trying to do good academic work themselves.
For these reasons, it is another actual true fact that many history and social studies teachers at the high school level have taken care not to let their students see the exemplary history research papers published in The Concord Review over the last twenty years, for many of the same reasons, including a general desire to protect their students from the dangerous and damaging effects of academic competition, which are believed to have the same risk of producing those feelings of envy, depression, anxiety, and intimidation mentioned above.
Putting aside for the moment those risks seen to be attendant on having students shown and/or told about the exemplary academic work of their high school peers, isn’t it about time that we turned our attention to another potential source of those same harmful feelings we have described?
In fact, many, if not most, high school basketball players are known not only to be exposed to and to watch games played by other students at their own school, but also they may be found, in season, watching college basketball games, and even professional NBA games, with no educator or counselor even monitoring them while they do.
Surely, the chances of the majority of high school basketball players getting a four-year college athletic scholarship are slim, and their chances are vanishingly small of ever playing for an NBA team. And yet, we carelessly allow them to watch these players, whose skill and performance may far exceed their own, even though the chance of their experiencing envy, anxiety, intimidation, and so on, must be as great as they would feel in being exposed to exemplary academic work, which we carefully guard them from!
While there may be nothing we can practically do at present to prevent them from watching school concerts, plays, dance recitals, and band performances, or reading the school newspaper, we must take a firmer line when it comes to allowing them, especially in their own homes, or visiting with their friends, to watch college and professional sports presentations.
We should try to be consistent. If we truly believe that showing students and/or telling them about fine academic work by people their own age is harmful, we must take a firmer stand in blocking their access to games and matches, particularly on national television, which expose them to superior athletic performances.
If, on the other hand, we become convinced that HS student athletes of average ability and skill are not really damaged by watching games and matches at a higher level, and if it appears that doing that not only does not evoke unmanageable envy and anxiety in those observers, but also may, in many cases, be a source of feelings of admiration and pleasure, and even a basis for the inspiration to try harder to improve their own athletic performances, then we may be forced to take another look at what may prove to be some slight advantages in showing HS students exemplary academic work by their peers, or at least telling them where to find it.
Of course there are more four-year scholarships for athletes than for the unusually good work of high school students of history, for example, but if we could persist in this effort to be more consistent about what is presented to our students for emulation, perhaps the day may even come when the value seen in academic achievement may more nearly approximate that seen in athletic achievement when the awarding of four-year college scholarships is considered.
These changes will take time, and what is more, they will take a new perspective on the relative value of our high school students’ efforts in school. Anti-academic and anti-intellectual attitudes in our education system are almost as widespread as support from booster clubs is for high school sports. But, as we consider the need for 21st Century Skills, perhaps we can gradually learn to place more value on good student academic work than we do now, at least to the extent of showing some of it to our students or perhaps telling them about it.