What’s the point of rankings if they don’t rank anything?

There’s apparently a trend among some high schools to have multiple valedictorians. Their explanation in part revolves around having many excellent students with perfect GPAs and straight A’s through all four years of school. My high school certainly had several of us who had straight A’s all the way through. We didn’t have multiple valedictorians, though, because we ranked on a 100 point scale, rather than a 4 point scale. Averaging all our grades out of 100 obviously gives more sensitivity for differences in performance, since the person who got a 99 in the class gets a better score in their GPA than the one who got a 91, but this difference is lost on a 4 point scale. So the claim that they have a 20 way tie for number 1 in the class is disingenuous. Assuming the classes are graded on a 100 point scale, they have a very easy solution to the there-are-too-many-good-students conundrum.

I understand the urge to recognize the efforts and excellence of all the students, and certainly of all the top students. I understand the desire to reduce some of the competitiveness that comes from rankings, to reward everyone who works hard enough (or is just smart enough) to get A’s in every class for four years. If that’s the goal, they can just get rid of the rankings altogether, or they can do what my medical school did–we weren’t ranked except by as top 25%, bottom 25%, and middle 50% of the class, which allowed the people who did really well to shine  without having any real competition where one student’s good performance undermines another’s. If they want to recognize everyone’s effort, then they should, but then they shouldn’t have any valedictorian. In that case, everyone deserves recognition, including that poor left-out sap who got one B in P.E. who isn’t one of the 20 valedictorians. If you’re going to recognize certain students based on performance, you have to set a standard somewhere, and making that standard one that includes 20 students is just as much short-changing the efforts of the rest as making as standard that only includes one student. But it’s ridiculous to claim that 2o people are #1 in the class. Either the ranking means nothing, in which case why bother with it? Or the ranking means something, a recognition of the person whose grades were best over 4 years, without any guarantee of future success or wealth, just a prize for excellence by that particular measure. If that’s what it means, then let it mean that, and recognize the ONE person who is #1 in the class. And, in the process, teach everyone else in the class that what matters much more than recognition for your effort is your effort, and that success doesn’t mean awards and being patted on the back. I don’t think “grade inflation” is the issue. I don’t think recognizing everyone’s effort is bad if that’s what the school wants to do. I don’t think having class rankings is bad either. But the schools should pick one way or the other–either there are rankings, or everyone gets recognized for their own unique contributions, efforts, and talents. They can’t have it both ways without making it completely meaningless.


We’re all No. 1! Is 21 valedictorians too many? – Vitals.

Quote of the week

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

-Albert Einstein

‘Fat talk’ is common but is it harmful?



Chained (Photo credit: Christi Nielsen)

The article I included below claims that ‘fat talk’ is very common and very harmful among women. I can accept that it’s as common as they claim, but I think its very commonness calls its harmfulness into question. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in thinking that most, if not all, people through most, if not all, of history have had chinks in their self-esteem. Women have always tried to be attractive by whatever standards they held, and it follows that they had things about themselves that they’d change if they could. Do we think that all those generations of women (and men, poor things, who get to have poor self-esteem without any sympathy) were terribly harmed by having imperfect self-esteem? We all have some things we’d change about ourselves, physical or not, or we should. We shouldn’t hate ourselves for our shortcomings, nor should we hold ourselves to an unreasonable standard, but does that mean that we harm ourselves in acknowledging those shortcomings to ourselves or our friends, even if we exaggerate? Yes, it may hurt my self esteem to admit that I’m not as thin as I used to be, but it’s a true assessment of my size and health, not a false one warped by magazines and movies. I am, in fact, not as thin as I used to be. And I would, in fact, like to be that thin again. And if I fall short of that goal, I won’t hate myself for it. The ‘fat talk’ may damage our self esteem, but does it follow that it’s harmful to ourselves? Is unreasonably high self esteem that comes from not even seeing my flaws better than somewhat lower self esteem that’s in line with reality? Isn’t acknowledging our faults part of accepting ourselves? Expecting me to think that I’m perfect just the way I am is just as unrealistic as expecting me to be a size 0 when I’ve had four children and am pregnant again. And while it might feel great if I actually thought of myself that way, it would also make me insufferably smug and rob me of any opportunity to improve. I don’t deny the harm that can come from a bad body image because we hold an unattainable ideal, but that harm threatens everyone who doesn’t meet the ideal, whether they’re too fat or too thin, and it is in the thought, in the feelings it induces, in the unattainable nature of the goal, not in the bantering talk with friends about being ‘fat’ that is a symptom, not a problem. So what’s so bad about fat talk?

My butt is so huge! ‘Fat talk’ is common and harmful – TODAY.com.

Living to work

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

English: An artist’s depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_race Made with following images: http://www.openclipart.org/detail/75385 http://www.openclipart.org/detail/74137 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I think it’s sad that we Americans accept it as a part of life that vacation is basically optional. Many of us who do have vacation don’t use it, either because we get so far behind on work that it’s not worth taking a vacation or because we aren’t secure enough in our jobs to feel like we can or because our employers, while technically offering vacation, make it so hard to use and are so disapproving of us when we do that we don’t. That’s what happened to me when I was in medicine. I was technically allowed vacation, but it was clearly discouraged and then held against us. We have communally given up on work-life balance, even if it is a catch phrase. The less lucky among us don’t even have the option of paid vacation, and we aren’t bothered by that, and sadly enough, those people are largely the same ones that certain better off Americans accuse of freeloading because they need food stamps or medicaid. Despite all our protestations and our stated desire to the contrary, we live to work. Or so it seems to me.


No paid vacation? You must be an American – Life Inc..


Vacation shmacation

English: Pensacola Beach, FL, June 12, 2005 --...

English: Pensacola Beach, FL, June 12, 2005 — Empty orange bucket in the sand at the beach suggesting vacation or leisure time. Fema Photo/Leif Skoogfors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I recently read an article about the benefits of vacations. In addition to the obvious things like relaxation, a break from work and chores, family time, leisure time, and seeing new places and trying new things, there are health benefits such as lower blood pressure and lower incidence of heart disease among people who vacation annually. The article I read didn’t actually cite the study that found these benefits, so I don’t know if they determined somehow that these health benefits were larger than we’d get from merely having ample leisure time and recreation at home. Whatever the case, between the health benefits and the psychological ones (which aren’t exactly unrelated!), going on vacation seems an attractive prospect.


So why am I dreading our annual beach trip?


Well, since you asked–
I have the good fortune to have grown up in a vacation destination. It’s a resort area, and my father still lives there. He can’t be bothered to get on a plane and fly to see me, nor can he bear to see his grandchildren only rarely without passionate, frequent, and loud complaint, so we load up our clan into our van and make a day-long drive to see him every summer, and we call it a vacation. It IS a vacation, technically, since the kids are out of school and my husband is off from work and I have an excuse to make easy, lazy meals that are less nutritious but easier to prepare than what I make at home. We have more time to spend playing in the water and playing games with each other. Truth be told, for all my annual angst, I always enjoy the trip because I really love the beach and because it’s a vacation.


My relationship with my father is–shall we say–strained, largely because he has never been remotely kind or respectful or welcoming of my husband, has never held back in telling me, my husband, and anyone else who will listen or happens to be within earshot what he thinks of us, and disapproves of every decision I’ve made in my adult life. My relationship with his wife, while cordial at the moment, is one I’d break in a heartbeat to free myself from her nearly psychotic delusions of importance, insult, and grievance if I could only do so without ruining what’s left of my relationship with him. Right now, she claims to love me and have a complete life only because I’m willing to let her be part of mine. Two months ago, she was sending me frequent, unprovoked, belligerent emails and text messages, lying to me about things my brother said about me, and lying to my father about things I said to her. He claims it was all a misunderstanding. I think it was a drama queen perfecting her craft. And in just a few short weeks, I get to immerse myself in the drama and see how I can manage it, with nothing but my entire future relationship with my father hanging in the balance. Based on how I get along–or don’t–with my dad, you’d think I wouldn’t really care to put up with her for his sake. But I do. Because he’s my dad. And the burden of being someone’s child is that you always care what they think of you, and you always want to win their approval or their affection. And he does that thing that mean people do where he’s horrible, and then he’s nice, and how do you walk away while he’s being nice? I mean, he hasn’t done anything, right? So if I give up on him when he’s behaving well, then I’m the source of the breach, not him. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it feels. It’s amazing how much power people have over us when we care about them, and it’s amazing how resilient that caring is.


So, I have to let my kids’ enthusiasm for the trip suffice for the whole family. And really, it does, because they think this is just a big fun trip to a giant-sized water park and sandbox. And when I see their enthusiasm, I can’t let my own dread overshadow it. So we’ll go to the beach, and I’ll smile and nod and pretend that I want to be there and wonder if it even counts as a vacation. Maybe I can think of it as a summer drama camp for adults like the ones they have for kids. I’ll give it a try.




What are the Benefits of Taking a Vacation?


Quote of the week


English: Three quarter length portrait of Osca...

English: Three quarter length portrait of Oscar Wilde (en) by Napoleon Sarony (en) . 1 photographic print on card mount : albumen. Français : Portrait américain d’Oscar Wilde (fr) par Napoleon Sarony (fr) . Photographie albumen sur carton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Oscar Wilde


Let’s call the whole thing off


English: Dilapidated house in Paramaribo.

English: Dilapidated house in Paramaribo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been looking at houses recently, and I’ve not seen even one that I like as much as my own. That’s partly familiarity, but mainly it’s personal taste. I would like a lot of these houses, if they had furniture, blinds, colors, flooring, and landscaping to my taste. It surprises me how often I see houses that make me cringe but that I’d like if redecorated. What would possess someone to paint the walls that color? Why would anyone want that bed? Who would want pink carpet in the dining room? Who would want to live somewhere that looks like that? Before we moved here, we had a condo painted in colors that I intended to repaint white. Before I got around to painting, I began to like having colorful walls. When we sold that condo, the woman who bought it planned to paint the whole place stark white. Meanwhile, we had bought our house, which was all white, and we planned to paint it in colors similar to our condo. We wanted those colors. She wanted white. And we all completely repainted our new homes before we moved in. So much of life is subjective–whether we’re talking about home decorating style, or food preferences, choice of neighborhood or town, book or movie or TV preferences, family size, or career choices. The list is endless–things that are right for me but wrong for someone else because they boil down to personal preferences.

It almost surprises me now that we ever agree. If the hideous houses I’ve seen are any indication, assuming that the people who live in those houses actually like them, there are a LOT of people in my neighborhood whose taste is across-the-board different from mine. How do we ever have a blockbuster movie? How is there ever a bestselling book? How does any artist manage to sell his art? How is anyone confident enough to share what they make? I would never decorate a house like some of these houses. I would never dress like my sister-in-law dressed this weekend–presentably, respectably, in a dress so hideous that I would sooner dress for a wedding in old scrubs with “Property of University Hospital” printed all over them than wear that dress. I will never read some of the books my husband has recommended, and I never expect my husband read some that I love. How is it that we ever agree? And why do we ever think that anyone else agrees with us?

It’s liberating to see how poorly I can guess the preferences of others because it means that I really shouldn’t care what others think of my home or clothes or hair or lifestyle or career path (i.e. complete absence thereof). I can’t tell what will appeal to them anyway, so why bother? But then I consider how easily, in the face of all the subjectivity, the people whose business is making things that the rest of us like could have thrown in the towel and given up. There are a lot of books that I’m grateful the writer didn’t keep to himself and music that I’m glad the musicians recorded and distributed. It would be a shame for us all if those people had not shared. They shared what they made with no assurance it would be well-received and exposed themselves to the derision of all the people whose tastes were different. I’m grateful for the dumb luck that what they liked enough to share pleases me too.

You like potato and I like potahto,

You like tomato and I like tomahto;

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!

Let’s call the whole thing off! (George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin)

Quote of the Week

The image of American Poet Laureate Howard Nem...

The image of American Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is full of mostly invisible things,
And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye,
Or its nose, in a book, to find them out,
Things like the square root of Everest
Or how many times Byron goes into Texas,
Or whether the law of the excluded middle
Applies west of the Rockies.

Howard NemerovTo David, About His Education

Why I hate mother’s day


I hate Mother’s Day. I hate anniversaries. I hate birthdays too (mine at least). No, I’m not a horribly negative hateful miserable person. I actually LOVE the little homemade cards and gifts and pictures my kids give me for Mother’s Day and for my birthday. I love all the sweet fawning and hugs. What I hate is the pressure.

On my birthday two years ago, my oldest son fell off his bike and needed stitches. On my last birthday, my youngest son dislocated his forearm and had to make a trip to the ER. On my husband’s last birthday, I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember his telling me later that it was a horrible day. All three were worse because they were birthdays. My oldest son recently turned ten, and he ended his day crying at the dinner table because he got in minor trouble at school and was scolded by his favorite teacher, and on his birthday it was too hard to take. On any other day, it wouldn’t have bothered him. I wouldn’t have been happy that he needed stitches or that my youngest dislocated his arm, even if neither accident had been on my birthday, but I sure wouldn’t remember those accidents as well as I do if I hadn’t noted the irony of spending my birthday in the ER with an injured child.

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was a sunny day and a peaceful family. What I got was a sunny day (hooray) and a spectacular fight with my husband about, of all things, where to put a basketball net in our yard. There was a lot more to the argument than just a basketball net, of course, as there always is when a small disagreement becomes a big argument. And while we haven’t resolved the question at hand, we have resolved the underlying issues that led to the fight in the first place. So I guess I could consider that argument a success. But my eyes are still burning from crying, and I  remember my daughter trying to convince us that we shouldn’t argue on Mother’s Day, and I will never forget feeling that I wasn’t particularly deserving of a day in my honor today.

We all have bad days. We all argue with our spouses or upset our children or set poor examples sometimes. Maybe it’s good for it to happen on a day that makes it memorable, so we can learn from our mistakes better than we would on just any old day. But somehow the pressure to make the day special seems to make it more likely to be bad, and I’d rather have my good days and have my bad days and take them for what they are–just good days and bad days–instead of making one day represent all I mean to my family and all they mean to me.

I’m glad my husband and I ignore Valentine’s Day. I’m glad we don’t make a big deal about our anniversary. And boy am I dreading Father’s Day.


Quote of the week

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ca. 1857

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ca. 1857 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people.

 –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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