Jewish World Review April 2, 2004 / 12 Nissan, 5764

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Kids, say it loud! I'm intelligent and I'm p-r-o-u-d proud | Have you heard about the math teacher in Ahwatukee Foothills, Ariz., who pinpoints students and tells them they will ace the math portion of their SATs? He's not just whistlin' theorems. This year, 18 of his students scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the college entrance exam.

Larry Strom, a man whose appearance could be described as dated, disheveled, desperately in need of some hair products and looking as though he'd gladly carry a plastic pocket protector if they still made them, operates the math department on a two-fold principle: healthy competition and high praise for achievement.

The is a stark contrast to Nashville, Tenn., where schools will no longer recognize academic achievement without permission slips from parents. Why? It may embarrass underachievers. Schools have stopped posting honor rolls (contraband!) and some are considering a ban on hanging good work in the hallways.

We can only hope Nashville parents do not adopt the same policy regarding posting school work on refrigerator doors.

The schools also have called for an end to school assemblies recognizing academic achievement. Apparently, watching high achievers slap one another on the back side for a thermo-dynamic science fair project poses an inherent danger to the students who slept through science class. Some schools are considering cancelling spelling bees.

"Ridiculous: r - i - d - i - c - u - l - o - u - s, ridiculous."

Back at Desert Vista High School in Arizona, academic achievement garners as much recognition as achievements on the football field and basketball court.

You aced geometry? High five, baby! Pictures of math students with their names beneath them line the hallways of the school. In these halls, geek is good.

A perfect SAT math score can mean 15 minutes of fame and a taste of glory.

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Does the recognition and praise given to high achievers leave the underachievers in a puddle on the floor in Arizona? It doesn't appear so. If anything, the competition and recognition seem to have a ripple effect. Desert Vista students achieve high marks in many areas of scholastics and athletics.

Perhaps it is time to look at the benefits of knowing you are someone who could achieve a little more and use a slight shove to the next level.

Didn't Avis car rental build an entire ad campaign around the slogan, "We Try Harder"? And what about Susan Lucci? The soap-opera queen was nominated nearly every year for 19 years in a row before winning an Emmy Award for her role in "All My Children."

You think seeing other women walk away with the little statuette didn't keep her coming back, thinking "next year that gold trophy is going home with me"?

What keeps Charlie Brown trying to kick that football? Watching NFL stars like Mike Vanderjagt and Adam Vinaterieri. Charlie tells himself that if he tries a little harder, he too could pull down several million a year and finally have enough money to buy shirts without zig zags on them. Hold that ball, Lucy, he's making a run for it again!

Schools keeping high achievements under wraps, not only rob hard workers of the recognition they have rightfully earned, they do a disservice to those who need a small shove by depriving them of a peek at the possibilities.

The math department at Desert Vista High School has it right. All students need a dose of inspiration, healthy competition and genuine praise: p - r - a - i - s - e.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of , most recently, "Pass the Faith, Please" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) and I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman