Social promotion then, now and tomorrow
by Melvyn L. Fein
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April 08, 2013 12:00 AM | 1274 views | 5 5 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melvyn Fein
Melvyn Fein
I think I was in the first grade. Anyway, I remember the commotion. My next-door neighbor’s son had been left back. He was only a year older than me, but he was “slow.” While he was a nice boy with whom I often played — once even plotting to burn my sister at the stake — he wasn’t book-smart.

At the time, I did not understand what the fuss was about. In retrospect I realize his parents were deeply distressed that their only child would be stigmatized by having to repeat a grade. They were equally worried that being surrounded by children younger would stunt his emotional growth.

These parents were not alone in their concerns. Others were equally vociferous in their conviction that demoting a child had dire consequences. What is more, the teachers agreed. They too were lobbying for what was called “social promotion.” Children were to be advanced a grade, not because they mastered the materials of the earlier one, but because they were a year older. The theory was that acquiring social skills was even more important than attaining academic ones. Thus, to leave a child behind was to inflict an indelible scar. It marked him or her as a loser who would be ridiculed by age-mates as “dumb” and shunned by classmates as too “big” to belong.

As a consequence, school policies were changed to keep students with their age peers. In the end, all were moved along irrespective of what they knew. Ultimately, when they graduated from high school, as many did, they could neither read nor do simple arithmetic. A diploma ostensibly certified that they were educated, but anyone who knew them realized this was not true.

Today, many states are about to launch on an updated version of the social promotion, only this time at the college level. (Here it is called Complete College Georgia.) Once more, the experts and concerned parents are essentially urging us to move students along for their own good.

What is being proposed (and in some cases enacted) is that states fund universities in terms of their number of graduates as opposed to their number of attendees. This is supposed to make schools accountable. They are, in effect, being told to demonstrate their effectiveness before they are bankrolled.

This, at least, is the theory. But put yourself in the place of a college administrator. You need more money to underwrite your programs, but the only way to loosen state purse strings is to raise your graduation rate. So what do you do? Why, you lower the standards required to graduate.

Higher education, indeed, education in general, has witnessed an alarming grade inflation. Individuals who were once C students are now pocketing A’s as if these were jellybeans. A sense of entitlement has taken hold such that many mediocre learners fancy themselves embryonic geniuses.

So now, in the name of improved quality, we are about to see educational criteria take another nosedive. In fact, this is already happening. A colleague of mine who teaches at state university up north tells me when his students cannot read; they have the tests read to them. Not only this, but they have the questions explained to them.

This then is supposed to be progress. No doubt we will shortly be treated to hordes of college graduates who also can neither read nor do simple arithmetic. Our universities are clearly in trouble. Indeed, ordinary citizens are beginning to ask if they are worth the cost. What, they enquire, is the point when their graduates know less than fifth graders?

No wonder that my colleagues and I question the foresight of this brave new world of “rationalized” finance. We, who daily struggle to maintain the value of what we teach, shudder at finding ourselves, and our students, sold out in the shadows of a legislative night. Let us remember that even good intentions can have unintended consequences.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Ted E. Baer
April 08, 2013
wats rong with having the kewestshun red to you? I wont to go to that skul sune.
Imelda Marcos
April 08, 2013
if the shoe fits.......
East Cobb Senior
April 08, 2013
Melvyn, this so-called “social promotions” of moving students through primary and secondary education has both a financial and political motivation. In the end they both achieve the desired political objective, EQUAL OUTCOMES. It would not be surprising to find out that the genesis of these movements began in very Liberal areas with an undertone of “Political Correctness”. “Fairness”, “Equality” and “Self-Esteem” are all buzz words used by the Liberal Progressives to incite on the one hand and put others on a guilt trip. Anything that offends is or is an affront to ones “self-esteem” is off limits, except or course for Republicans and conservatives, they remain fair game. The end result of this non-offensive, Politically Correct non-sense is that we have scrapped our traditional understanding of right and wrong for the convenience of self-esteem and relativism.

Our sacred Declaration of Independence states “All men are created equal” and that is a truism but “created equal in eyes of the creator, not in the flesh of man”. In the flesh of man there are many inequities, physical, mental, etc. God loves all his creations but God also recognizes that in the realities of life there are many unequal outcomes. When the Liberal Left attempts to “equalize” all outcomes they create ill-intended as well as unintended consequences.

Our creator bestowed upon us “Life”, “Liberty” and the “Pursuit of Happiness”, not a guarantee of happiness and he did not bestow “self-esteem”. That is EARNED not a government “entitlement”. I dare say there are none among us that have not experienced despair or depression or down right failure at some point in our lives. Our self-worth and self-esteem comes from using whatever God given ability we have to overcome adversity. No doubt the atheists who read this will disagree with where our abilities come from so to you I say simply use those to confront and overcome the difficult challenges that we all face in life.

When I was in elementary, Middle, High School and at the University, there were those that failed, some for a lack of intellectual prowess, but many because of a lack of initiative and self-discipline. Finally, we cannot continue down the road of “Equal Outcomes” to address every inequity in life and “Political Correctness” simply to avoid offending while accepting the unacceptable. Yes, there will be pain and angst, and some may be offended, but in the long run there are lessons to be learned through adversity and our failure to learn them could have consequences beyond repair.

April 08, 2013
Your words show good thoughts and good sense.

I remember, clearly, in the eighth grade we had an older student, nicknamed Wimpy, who was two years older than most. He repeated two grades.

--But then again that was Christian school where we were not promoted if we did not pass.

Pat H
April 08, 2013
Achievement without effort. This will cheapen the degree of everyone who has actually earned their success.
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