Success in Athletics v. Success in Academics

Is there a double standard when it comes to celebrating success in athletics and celebrating success in academics?  It’s something that I’ve thought about from time to time, and it’s on my mind today.

In athletics, success is a very public thing.  The baskets are shot and the bases are run in front of an audience, and then the results – good and bad – are chronicled in newspapers, online, and in the form of team photographs and trophies.  When a player hits a home run and throws his hand up in triumph, the team and the fans celebrate with him.  When the team is about to play the game of the season, there’s a pep rally to support its efforts.  We do not begrudge the players and teams these moments, and I would not have it any other way.  It’s true that we don’t appreciate arrogance or grandstanding, but so long as the celebrations are appropriate, we do not mind.

Academic success is different in part because it happens so often in isolation.  A student takes the SAT and the results are sent to the student and a few administrators at the school.  A student takes an AP exam, and the results come in over the summer when school is out and people are on vacation.  Unless a student receives National Merit status or the equivalent, there’s very little fanfare for a job well done.  A student who does publicize his or her score is likely to be called a show-off or conceited, even when that was not their intent.

On Friday, students across the country began accessing their AP scores.  The tweeting and texting of scores around the country and amongst my own school’s students began almost immediately.  I have heard people question why students share their scores and whether such sharing is proper or ethical.  As an AP teacher, and one who received word almost immediately about how some of my students did, I do not completely understand this.

First, and at the most basic level, there’s nothing in any of the guidelines for tests like the SAT or AP that says scores cannot be shared.  Second, the students had worked and trained for an entire academic year like any sports team.  When the scores came in, did they not have the right to celebrate with their teammates (i.e. classmates) and coach (i.e. teacher) in the same way an athletic team does after a win?  Does a student who received  a lower score than she would have wished not deserve to be lifted up in spirit by her classmates just like a quarterback who throws an interception is lifted up by his teammates?

So why the hesitation over sharing scores when we have no hesitation over sharing a team’s win-loss record?  So long as the sharing of scores is not required or forced, what’s the hesitation?  It is true that some students share to brag, but is this any different from a conceited ballplayer or an overboard fan?  We do not hold the entire team responsible for the unsportsmanlike behavior of a few players or fans.  Why is the celebration of academic success held to a different standard?

I honestly did not see any messages from any of my students that suggested they were bragging or feeling superior because of their scores.  They were genuinely excited, relieved, and happy, and they wanted to share that for a brief moment with others. (And believe me, it was brief.  A few hours of sharing and it’s rarely mentioned again.  A winning season on the other hand can be talked about for years.)  Those who received lower scores than they would have liked were seeking consolation and support.  Most of my students shared their scores only with me and one another; there was no large fan base like an athletic team might have, not that we require or want one.  I honestly believe part of my job is to show an interest and excitement about the scores with my students.  I believe it’s important for me to congratulate them on a job well done, thank them for working so hard, and tell them I’m proud of them no matter what the score.

To me, there’s nothing ethically suspect about any of this, but perhaps I’m too close to the issue?  I would love to hear others’ thoughts.

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1 Comment

  1. You are not “too close to the issue” but rather right where you should be on it. Perhaps because our scholars do not ‘entertain’ us as a culture, we do not celebrate them. The difference in our responses to these two groups says more about us than we realize. These students have every right to be proud, consoled, and congratulated. I decided this year to ban the use of the term ” try- hard” in my classroom. I had heard one time too many a student being teased for doing what he should do: working hard and making the grade. It’s a sermon I preach, a soapbox I stand on in room 602, and I may not can change the culture; but at least in my classroom, we are going to honor and celebrate academic achievement. Thanks for writing this.

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