Achievement matters, so don’t cheapen it

I am heartened, perhaps elated, by Jackie Krawczak’s piece in the April 1 edition of the News. I agree wholeheartedly that this artificially skewing the range of possible marks to avoid injuring someone’s self-esteem is not just nonsense, but antithetical to the very idea of achievement and, if taken to extreme, potentially lethal to a functioning society.

Recall the line from the movie “Whiplash”: “The two most dangerous words in the English language are ‘good job.'” If we tell ourselves–or worse, teach our children–that merely participating is enough, that actual achievement does not matter, that any failure on our (or their) part can be smoothed over, we end up celebrating mediocrity. Which is fine because we end up being mediocre.

This fear of damaging the apparently fragile self-esteem of others (in Ms. Krawczak’s example, college students, for crying out loud) is reflected further in our unwillingness to tolerate criticism, not only of ourselves, but of others. Go ahead, post a less-than-glowing review of a local restaurant on social media. Dare to suggest that a piece of public “art” is not all that it could (or should) be. Say, even in passing, that Alpena desperately needs some sort of zoning ordinance so as not to resemble a mishmashed strip mall with dilapidated houses interspersed. Say any of this or anything in a similar vein and watch the wagons circle. “At least they’re trying. That’s got to count for something.” No, it doesn’t.

I remember the comment from an editor at the News over a year ago, when I suggested that certain glaring errors in a piece were unacceptable in a real newspaper: “Everyone here works very hard.” It seemed to me that a troop of chimpanzees also could work very hard; they still wouldn’t produce a decent newspaper.




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