Invalidating the Valedictorians

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According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, it seems that schools are no longer going to recognize valedictorians, or, in a more compassionate gesture, expand the term valedictorian to include dozens, and sometimes hundreds of students.   


One could put this on the list as more evidence of the spoiled little snowflake syndrome, (SLSS) where we’re raising a generation of spoiled little brats that have never done anything that they didn’t want to do, have never been told that they failed, or that they were the losers of any contest. The friendly soccer games where there aren’t any losers or winners does not teach much about sports or life. Why work hard if there is nothing to win?


Losing builds character. Losing when your opponent cheats builds even more character. Being kicked to the curb before you were given a chance builds character, along with, sometimes, resentment and distrust in authority. Hard work and sacrifice are supposed to land you the American Dream, and when they don’t, it sure is disappointing. Some believe and after enough attempts, they are convinced that all of their efforts will not lead to what they desire. Why work hard if there is nothing to win?


In the past, ambitious students took advanced classes, worked hard, got straight As and were recognized for their hard work by being awarded the title of valedictorian. High schools aren’t awarding the valedictorian title as much as they used to; some are eliminating the title altogether and others are awarding the title to dozens of students. Why work hard if there is nothing to win? Why work hard when it will not give you any distinction?


Please do not misunderstand me, I respect all valedictorians, because it is not an easy achievement. The reason the title held little value to me was because of the people to whom it meant something, i.e. teachers and administrators. I lost my belief in the relevance of what teachers and administrators believed to be important in grade school and they never regained my admiration. In fact, I believe that the mutual admiration societies that I encountered as an adult were modeled on the same design.


My first grade teacher was an insufferable termagant who, from my jaded memory, seemed to delight in making children miserable, with a special talent for humiliating young children who had made an honest mistake. While children make mistakes, humiliating them for making a first- time mistake is sadistic. I can still remember her belittling the handicapped kids. I learned that the teachers and I didn’t share the same Christian values that I had been taught as a child, at least from my first-grade perspective.


Then there was my fifth-grade teacher, a freshly-minted young teacher who would have made a Marine Corp drill sergeant look like Mr. Rogers. Had she not looked so young I would have sworn she had spent the first ten years of her life in a concentration camp and considered that behavior as a standard to be admired and vigorously pursued. Don’t get me wrong, there were some kind and loving teachers in my elementary school education, but there were a bitter few that planted the seeds of distrust and disbelief with arbitrary rules and selective enforcement of the same, along with, what I considered at least, disproportionate punishments. They weren’t fair nor could they be trusted to be fair, and they had squandered too many opportunities to exhibit that quality. 


The people who ran the school and made my education such a forgettable experience helped me set a goal. Leave. My goal in public school was to graduate as soon as possible. I didn’t disturb the status quo, I just left it alone. The people handing out the title of valedictorian were, in my young and immature opinion, unfair, consistent only in issuing arbitrary punishment, incapable of objectivity, and their institution was rife with nepotism, backstabbing and favoritism. This was only my opinion, and I am not offering it as fact. I just wanted out, and I didn’t complain, I knuckled down, never took study halls, finished and left. It was their game, I left them to it. I am sure that everything was rationalized and compartmentalized to their satisfaction. More’s the pity.


Just like today, I am sure that everything the educators have done is rationalized to their satisfaction. I think that making dozens of students a valedictorian will discourage some students from excelling, but what do I know, I’m just a licensed teacher. Up until now, valedictorians were a minority of a minority, the best of the best, at least in academe. In the same genre of rationalization, we are not holding underperforming students back because it might upset them, the SLSS crowd. We presently have soccer games with no winner. I can assure you that was not how we played little league baseball in my day. You might have hated the other team on the field, but you respected them and played fair, and if you met them later on in life, the small world that it is, you identified with the lessons you learned. To this day I do not remember the score of so much as one contest, I only remember playing the game.                                          

One’s character is revealed by one’s behavior, and hard work usually builds character, although sometimes when it has no reward it brings hatred, resentment and a thirst for revenge. Those seeking valedictorian status now have little to work for, since their hard work will be diluted by those less motivated included in their title. Are we becoming a society where hard work, dedication and accomplishment are disparaged? I would say yes, indeed. Do we, as a society, tend to disrespect hard work? It seems so. How anyone could rationalize giving the same award like valedictorian to someone that has not worked as hard as someone else amazes me, but then, as documented, I am not surprised by unfair behavior of public school officials; I expect it.


Like so many of our rapidly disappearing traditions, some folks handing out credentials have come to the conclusion that valedictorian recognition hurts others, even when they didn’t work as hard to earn the recognition. The administrators who are devaluing the valedictorian are marginalizing excellence, dismissing hard work, and rewarding mediocrity, but I am beginning to believe that the marginalizing mentality is emerging as the new normal. I understand, from personal experience, how a person can refuse recognition from certain individuals or organizations. “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve,”- WTS. I understand why people, myself included, would not place value upon commendations issued by certain organizations, those demonstrating a conspicuous lack of values and ethics that would be similar to our own.


To those destined to dispose of recognition of hard work, “making their own traditions,” let me explain them: Traditions are made by people who respect and admire the actions of those who have come before them. Those narcissistic enough to consider themselves qualified to initiate new traditions are prodigiously overestimating themselves, and their self-absorption has reached an intolerable level. Unable to best their predecessors, the designers of the new normal are resetting the bar lower and challenging the credibility of their forebears, all the while considering their disruptive behaviors acts of sensitive genius.


Nonetheless, the self-appointed designers of the twisted new reality where the internet determines the truth, the social engineers determined to recreate society in their confused and convoluted vista, have taken it upon themselves to deny recognition of hard work, or to simply degrade the award by giving it out to almost everyone. I close with a realistic view of hard work and its value from someone whose labors are still recognized over four-hundred years after his demise, Michelangelo Buonarroti Simoni: “If anyone knew how hard I have worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” The valedictorians won’t have to say that much longer.





Autumn Cote Added Oct 14, 2017 - 5:20am
Please note, the second best way to draw more attention to your work is to comment on the work of others (I know you've commented recently, but one sentence comments don't count). I know this to be true because if you do, I'll do everything in my power to draw more attention to your articles (there is a lot I can do and would like to do on your behalf).  Below is a few articles whose authors are deserving of more comment activity:
Neil Lock Added Oct 14, 2017 - 8:15am
Jeff, over this side of the pond we don't really have a tradition of valedictorians. But we have a similar issue to the one you bring up - in education, there's a tendency for many of the mediocre to hate the best simply because they are the best. Being top of the class doesn't make you popular, to say the least.
I think the problem over here is more that they hate talented people than that they hate hard workers - maybe it's the other way round in your bailiwick?
Disclosure: at school (in 1965) I won a prize of which the first winner, back in 1936, was Freeman Dyson. I won it again the next year, too. </brag>
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 8:20am
Congrats Neil. One of the other problems over here, at least, is that certain progeny get special favors and might not have worked as hard but "knew the right people."
George N Romey Added Oct 14, 2017 - 8:37am
Today its become about your birth right. We now have the CEO class. They are CEOs by age 30 never working in the trenches.  Privileged since the day they were born. No surprise they can fire in mass or pay unliveable wages and not loose an ounce of sleep.
Leroy Added Oct 14, 2017 - 8:54am
The degradation of the valedictorian began decades ago.  In my day, it was based solely on grades.  However, in my senior year, a male had the best grades.  He didn't give a hoot in hell about being valedictorian and some teachers opposed awarding it to him.  Too many males had won the distinction.   One teacher asked him to voluntarily step aside in favor of granting the valedictorian status to a female.  He agreed.  Other teachers revolts and it was eventually restored.  It was political in my day.
Step forward to today.  My niece had the best grades, but she was not made valedictorian.  Community involvement and need were considered.  It came down to the day before before the announcement was made.  The girl who needed it more got the distinction.  My niece was college-bound regardless.  The other girl needed encouragement to continue her education.  It was need-based.
Two years later, her brother had the best grades.  He was well-known for his community service.  It came down to the wire.  He didn't give a damn.   That's probably why he lost out.
Neither of them was upset.   I suppose that speaks volumes in itself.
I'm convinced my fifth-grade math teacher was a NAZI.  She was demanding and arbitrary.  She often said, "Mark my word; someday you will thank me for being so hard on you."  Today, I use a calculator to add 2 + 2 to spite her.  She looked much older than she was.  She had to use a walker to get around.  She was bitter about her lot in life and took it out on the students.  She put students in their place and told them they were wrong when they were right.  I met her some twenty years later at a party.  She apparently found a solution to her health problems and looked younger than in her day as my teacher.  She was even pleasant.
Dino Manalis Added Oct 14, 2017 - 9:04am
That's unfair and less competition leads to even less effort.  We should teach our children life is tough and competitive!
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 9:17am
Right on target George. I'm not sure how we ever arrived at the conclusion that people who can't do something manage people who do it. I have a friend that worked for a large manufacturer who never gave his supervisors any information on why things they ordered didn't work out. He concluded that if they were the supervisors and they knew how to do it, they needed no help from him. From his accounts, this made them very angry, but I understand his reasoning. If they don't know, and they're making dozens of times your compensation, let them screw it up and take responsibility. Lord knows if you make it work they're not about to give you credit for it. Been there, done that.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 9:22am
Nice story Leroy. I still remember my first and fifth grade teachers as unusually cruel, but I was young. Still, even young people can make comparisons between behavior, and they were just plain mean. It wasn't as if the classes that they taught were filled with street-wise ghetto children, this was a suburb of middle-class God-fearing working people. I am sure that of they would have had to teach at some of the classrooms that I have been in charge of, they would have lost their minds. After they would have finished beating half the class and achieving no results, suicide would have been a viable option.
Charles Frankhauser Added Oct 14, 2017 - 12:46pm
I wrote a memoir to present what can result from failing the 5th grade.  As last student of a retiring teacher, her after class message to me was, "Charles, you have not done well this year.  You will have to repeat the grade. Mark my words, someday you will thank me." All I cared about at the time was my shattered social standing among classmates on the playground. Without failure, I would have failed at more than the 5th grade. Amazon title: Miss Williams.
Don Added Oct 14, 2017 - 2:43pm
As an older person, I despair at what is happening in the molding of snowflakes. Our country was settled by exceptionally ambitious people who risked all to leave their homes. Besides the call of freedom, this type also made us the dynamic country we are. I spent a lifetime teaching school teachers. I am without an explanation of where this current crop of teachers came from. Do you suppose we have been invaded by aliens without our realizing it?
Charles Frankhauser Added Oct 14, 2017 - 3:26pm
Don in my opinion, the snowflake phenomena has multiple causes. Overly protective environments populated with teachers lacking the capability condoned my management to enforce discipline.  Students learn to act-up in a hurry when substitute teachers take-over.  
I could never resist talking in class while a teacher was teaching (not college) and the school janitor always had a bucket of warm water and rags ready for me to clean the boards on a continual basis. It was a good social experience for me because he instructed me to erase first, then wash, then wash the chalk trays.  At times during class, I had to write "I will not talk in class while teacher teaches."  This sentence was written over-and-over until I filled at least two panels of board space.  Then I got to erase it.  I was sent to the Principal's office many times until she decided to have me tested for eyesight and hearing problems.  
I passed both tests. I was left-handed until my mother wrote a note to the teacher asking her to slap my hand with a ruler whenever I wrote with my left hand. Teacher read the note aloud in class before my first conversion lesson toward becoming a right-hander. It always caused a hush in the classroom when teacher walked toward my desk while carrying a wooden ruler. 
After winning a championship softball game, the other team yelled, "OK you guys know how to play ball. Now let's see if you know how to fight."  Surely there must be a middle road somewhere that's more reasonable? 
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 4:10pm
Don, this crop of teachers came from politically-correct universities that don't allow anyone with a differing opinion i.e. conservative or "old fashioned" to be heard. Just like so many here on WB, the older theories that made this nation great are being tossed by the wayside in favor of unsupportable notions. They get their information from questionable sources that would not stand up in any academic institution,or at least the academic institutions that trained you and me. They claim people like you and me are remnants of old, outdated theories and are just waiting for us to die so that they can espouse their ignorant philosophies without challenge. No matter how many times you can offer evidence that destroys their theories, they simply won't listen or consider what you and I were brought up to understand as facts. I understand that what we learned was challengeable, and certainly not perfect. But I am amazed at what they believe, even in the face of new evidence that questions their validity that comes out every day.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 4:31pm
Charles, it was wrong of them to insist that you write with your right hand, unless you were truly left handed, and that is a test. Being right handed or left handed is the way your brain is wired. We know that now, but we probably didn't when you were in the classroom. What we called discipline in schools in your and my day would be considered cruelty today, but it was effective.
I have had students that were ADHD and I understand that it is a condition that they cannot control, and while I am not in favor of giving drugs to young children, I understand that in certain cases it is a necessity. (I'm two classes from a psychology degree, so yes, I understand it fairly well. The problem is that ADHD is a "waste basket" diagnosis when they can't find any other explanation. I do not deny its existence, I simply disagree that as many students have it as they claim.) I allow many things to occur in my classrooms that would have not been tolerated when I was in school. I know things change, and we realize a lot of the things done before were simply cruel, and my essay does not defend some of those really cruel treatments. The handicapped kids in my day were humiliated, and that was downright cruel, no doubt. I know of one of them even today, and his life is pretty ugly, with a misdemeanor crime record and substance abuse as long as your arm.
The team that wanted to fight might have been a team, but they were not involved in sports, they were just a gang that wore uniforms. Gangs do not have character, they have only brutality. Sports are a metaphor for character. I might not have known it when I was young, but I realized it at some point. Unfortunately, I was taught to play fair, and that lesson has served me little useful purpose in real life, where there are cheaters that prevail. I have the satisfaction of being fair, but fair isn't wealth now is it?
Don Added Oct 14, 2017 - 5:24pm
There are all kind of rules now about bullying.  When I say something, people inform me that I don't know what bullying is all about.  They may be right.  I was a little guy and my father taught me that if someone bigger than I picked on me, take up and brick and cold cock him.  One thing I even enjoyed was tangling with bigger guys.   They were in a lose lose situation and they knew it.  If they  beat me up, shame on them and if they lost. shame on them. 
Charles Frankhauser Added Oct 14, 2017 - 6:02pm
Jeff the supporting events re Mom's determination to change my writing hands are tempered by the fact she was asked to leave high school a few months before I arrived in the world.  Dad was a Big Band musician and both of them were on the road much of the time until the night a food-fight ended when I was verbally forced to choose the parent to "go with" after they defined the word, divorce. I spent much time on the road while growing-up and I realized education on the road was nearly impossible. I choose to "go with Mom." And all these events were in process during my attendance in the 5th grade.  My friends in school went home to "normal surrounds." I went home to a divorce riddled situation with professional musicians playing jazz in the basement while I picked-up empty beer bottles.  Dad drove away and I didn't see him except for one time 18 years later.  Mom and I joined the ranks of being busted financially.  An elevator operator was my mentor and without the advice garnered from books and persons, I shutter to think what might have happened.  I share my "advice" in the memoir, Miss Williams, to encourage disadvantaged youth to do their homework. I was raised by several relatives after I traded leather suitcases for grocery bag suitcases. The letters, LFI, to me mean "Listen For Ideas."  Thanks for your comments, you know of what you speak. My name or memoir title on Kindle allows a free "Look Inside." This work is not a misery memoir, humor keeps it moving. Best, Charles 
Charles Frankhauser Added Oct 14, 2017 - 6:15pm
Don it's obvious that you have been out there in the trenches so to speak. When I was in diesel submarine training, the instructors reacted to encourage situations for students to make more mistakes--All at the start of a first mistake.  The theory was that a casualty can easily move from bad to really bad and to recognize that fact might ensure proper responses to bad situations.  There is not much a bully fears more than to be "called-out" and good for you.  Best, Charles
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 6:54pm
Charles, as Oscar Wilde said: "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 14, 2017 - 6:57pm
Don, I had a girlfriend whose son was being bullied. I showed him a couple of moves that would flatten his adversary in a second. It worked, and they didn't mess with him again. Of course, I refrained from showing him how to deliver a lethal or debilitating blow, but sometimes those are good to know.
Dave Volek Added Oct 14, 2017 - 8:04pm
Great article Jeff--and all the comments. Gives us something to think about.
Last night I watched my son's football game. Unfortunately he is not good enough to crack the lineup, but the coaches do give him a set of downs when the team is handily winning or losing. I am instructing him to take those few plays and learn from them. And I tell him to keep going to practice. Next year, he will be bigger and stronger--and just maybe the playbook will kick in with him. He just might be good enough to handle both the offense and defensive line.
Last night's game was close, so he didn't get to play. But I admired his teamates, who were two touchdowns behind, play the fourth quarter as if they knew they could win it. And of course, there was the great playing from the opponents to make sure my team did lose. Great character building on both sides. 
My son has ADHD. I think there are a few other learning disabilities, which contribute to unwillingness to work with the playbook. 
Rather than keep him in mainstream classes, the school moved him to a "levels" program, where he works independently on material more suitable to his academic ability. And he has a teacher nearby to help him focus--and give him the appropriate physical activity breaks.
Last May, we reluctantly put my son on the medication.
This month he has moved out of levels and back into the mainstream classroom. He is not acting out as much. He is completing his assignment (albeit the quality is not yet that high). We are still not sure where this is going to go, but it is a good sign.
Back in my days, the school system would have deemed my son as someone who is not going to amount to much. It would have put him in a corner of low-achievers, which released the teachers to deal with average and bright kids. Not much effort would have gone to my son. 
WB has a lot of critics of America's education system. All I can say is that the Canadian system is doing things much better than a generation ago.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 15, 2017 - 12:39am
Thank you for the kind words, Dave. Yes, the educational system is better than it was, especially for those who have learning disabilities, many of which can be addressed. When a teacher has a student (in the districts I deal with) with disabilities, they must write an IEP (Individualized Education Program) for that specific student, outlining what they are going to do to keep that student up to par with the other students. (I know because I have read these.)
If the medications help your son, then by all means keep using them. When the meds show positive results, I unquestionably approve. While I condemn the teachers of the past for being unforgiving and mostly giving up on students with what would in today's world ADHD, in their defense, they were not aware of it and were not trained to deal with it, but the new teachers are.
Success in school and success in life are completely different things. I never tell "bad" students that they will not succeed in life, because there are many that just don't like classrooms. I do say, however, that if they misbehave on a job like they do in school, it will not turn out well for them. Bosses dislike disruptive employees even more than teachers do.
It is more that parents do not discipline their children and when they get bad grades they want the child to be considered ADHD when, in reality, the parents have not done anything to teach the child to behave. Many are tested, and when they're not identified as ADHD the parents insist that the child is and that the test was wrong. Tests are wrong sometimes, and sometimes the children have never had to sit down and concentrate on something. I understand that children have limited attention spans, this is something teachers design lessons around, at least they should. A lot of learning begins at home. We have a generation of parents that think the school should teach their child everything from tying their shoes to how to hold silverware. You sound quite involved with your son, and that is a very important aspect to your son's education. I hope with some coaching and maybe some help from the meds, he can find his place in the world and live a happy life. A lot of what we learn in the classroom wasn't anything near what the lesson was about, if you know what I mean.
Stephen Hunter Added Oct 15, 2017 - 8:46am
Great article and topic Jeff!
Recognition for achievement is important.  And the best should be highlighted so that others have a benchmark to aim at. Part of living a fulfilling life is learning every day how to get better at the things one is passionate about.
Perhaps the lessons in school should add a component about humility. Teach kids how to deal with the ego, and they will be better equipped to deal with life. 
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 15, 2017 - 9:11am
Thank you Stephen. From my experience, I do not see a majority of people who, after they finish their education, continue on with learning things. I see too many that think they graduated from college and that is about all they will need to know.
Stephen Hunter Added Oct 15, 2017 - 10:24am
Must admit Jeff I was one of those people. After graduating from University said to myself 16 straight years of schooling is enough. Was I ever wrong! 
Tamara Wilhite Added Oct 15, 2017 - 10:41pm
I understand the schools recognizing multiple valedictorians. With grade inflation, it is far harder to distinguish first from fifth, so just reward them all. And given the scholarships and guaranteed admissions to colleges for those with that title, schools WANT to award multiple top students that way.
Refusing to award the title, though, is shortchanging students and undermines them. You can't all get the coveted job, the internship you really want, the pretty girl at the dance.
Pretending competition doesn't exist leaves students unprepared for the real world - or justifies government intervention at every level to try to make it "fair", even if by lottery, and that erodes quality.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 15, 2017 - 11:04pm
Well Tamara, I have had experience with grade inflation and I can say I find it disgusting and foolish. I have ran into some students that said they have a 4.5 GPA, and I asked them how they got that, and they said that an A-plus was 4.5. Um, 100% is 100%. This making up stuff to make them feel better is nonsense. Leroy had some interesting comments on valedictorians being in a tie, and one conceding the title, rather chivalrously at that. I can see having a tie between maybe 2 to 4 but no more than that. I suppose if you have 175 valedictorians then your school gets 175 scholarships? That notion won't walk very far, or, that dog won't hunt. Grade inflation is just more SLSS dung. We agree, not giving the title is unfair. I graduated from college four times, none of the diplomas opened up any doors for me, unless you think college-educated janitors are the in thing.
Leroy Added Oct 16, 2017 - 9:51am
I think you misunderstood, Jeff.  There was no tie, not even close.  He was asked to give up the title in favor of a female.  There was nothing chivalrous about it.  It meant nothing to him.  It does raise the question of why anyone should attach such importance to it.  I don't know about today, but, at the time, there was no automatic scholarship.  It was bragging rights for a day.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 16, 2017 - 2:02pm
Yes, Leroy, I mentioned in the article that there are people who might give me awards, but if I disagree with their ideological position, or their behavior, I would not accept it. Sorry for the misunderstanding. It would be like the Clinton Foundation giving me an award. No, thanks anyway. I wouldn't walk across the street to shake either of the Clintons' hands if they paid me 20 bucks to do it.
Leroy Added Oct 16, 2017 - 2:19pm
There was a certain stigma attached to vocational schools when I was in high school.  College-bound kids weren't supposed to go to vocational school.  I took three years of vocational electronics.  I also had one year at the vocation school in the Future Farmers of America program.  I am not worse off for taking the courses when I enter college.  I would hope that we could remove that stigma, regardless of whether a kid was college-bound or not.
Ari Silverstein Added Oct 16, 2017 - 2:58pm
“The people handing out the title of valedictorian were, in my young and immature opinion, unfair, consistent only in issuing arbitrary punishment, incapable of objectivity, and their institution was rife with nepotism, backstabbing and favoritism.”
If your opinion is accurate maybe invalidating the valedictorians isn’t such a bad idea. 
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 16, 2017 - 4:41pm
I agree, Ari, but at that time the universities took what the high schools said as the gospel. Certainly, not all valedictorians did well, some, I'm sure, didn't. But at that time whatever GPA your high school gave was considered gospel. I didn't have a  really great GPA, but I did well on the ACT with mid and upper 20s, so the universities liked me. Thanks for your comments.
Jeff Jackson Added Oct 16, 2017 - 4:43pm
Leroy, I remember that as well. If I had to do it all over again, and I'm not kidding, I would have been a plumber. Good trade, and people will always be using the services of a plumber.
B.E. Ladin Added Oct 16, 2017 - 5:41pm
It sounds like you may not have liked school as a child.  Every person is an education expert for the simple reason that every person has been through at least some formal schooling.  It is tough to watch the educational values you perceive as permanent to change.  The truth is a school, and a classroom, is not how you either think it is or may want it to be.  Since 1 in 8 children are on the autism spectrum, and only a percentage of those receive services, there is a need for classrooms to adapt to circumstance.  If you have noticed, we have also benefited from this more open way of looking at the world.  Instead of one journalist, everyone can find a way to voice and vent.  If you extend this concept to the school environment, the "top" student may be brilliant, yes, but there are so many students who strive hard, and the idea is to may recognition accessible.  The education world is a microcosm of the larger universe we inhabit.  
B.E. Ladin Added Oct 16, 2017 - 5:42pm
make not may
Tamara Wilhite Added Oct 17, 2017 - 6:57pm
I agree that grade inflation is bad, and it contributes to too many kids having perfect A+ GPAs.
It is the same ethos as "everyone gets a trophy" that leaves people ill-prepared for the real world, because they've always gotten the good grades.