Have Eighth-Grade Graduations Gone Too Far?

An article in the New York Times points to a curious trend in adolescence – the prom-ification and exuberant celebration of 8th grade graduations. A quick excerpt:

Modern eighth-grade graduations have become a tangle of outdated definitions of a successful education, inducements to remain in school, and contemporary values about self-esteem and enshrining a child’s many rites of passage. In some communities those rites begin with preschoolers wearing mortarboards. In their blow-out iterations, the eighth-grade bashes borrow from bar and bat mitzvahs for 13-year-olds, quinceañeras for Latina 15-year-olds and sweet 16 parties.

That picture certainly a bit different from this 1946 8th-grade graduation shot from St. Joseph School in Monroeville, Indiana.

Leaders, including Presidential contender Barack Obama, are speaking out against what they perceive as the overblown pomp and circumstance of middle school graduations. In Arizona, legislators have twice considered bills to ban the practice of handing out certificates to those heading to high school.

Out of the topic, one question emerges as most important for me, especially for our community which faces high drop out rates: What is the right balance of celebration, encouragement and instilling a real love of learning (and not just achievement) among our youth? Because, as much as we do not need more MTV-style Sweet 16 nonsense, we do need to let young people know that each educational milestone is special and that there is much more to look forward to.

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