In Montgomery County, Maryland, a school district policy urges principals and teachers to consider alternatives to arranging students by alphabetical order. The policy was introduced in 1981 by a school board member named Eleanor Zappone who didn’t want her daughter to be the last to get her diploma.

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  1. Think she ran on that platform?

    Given some of the school board members I’ve seen operate in public I can believe that was the issue she REALLY cared about when she ran.

  2. I once had an American Literature professor tell the class that in Brazil, the class lists are alphabetized by the first names. This was because, as a nation with a legacy of slavery that makes ours seem almost humane, not all students had last names. That was in the 1960s.

    Point? It could be worse.

  3. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Just give the kids a fair chance. The first to learn the alphabet, first in line. The next, second, and so forth. Those that don’t learn it at all can draw lots.

  4. I can somewhat understand where the school board member is coming from. Arranging them by GPA would be appropriate. I suppose you could use birthday or something as a tie-breaker. It was not a big deal 20 years or so when I graduated from high school but I went to my niece’s graduation last year and the family of a lot of the graduates left right after their little darling graduated. I don’t feel strong enough about the matter to get off my lazy tail and run for the school board or anything, but I can understand not wanting your child to be last all the time.

  5. Someone will always be last.

    Someone will always graduate at the bottom of the class.

    Alphabetical is quite easy, and quite common, and there is no reason to abandon it just so the Z’s can go first once. Idiocy.

  6. Two comments:

    (1) I think it’s much more practical at graduations to have each student hand a card with his or her name on it to the person reading off the names. Then they can line up in any order they want.

    (2) Brazil’s lack of last names may stem from more than just slave heritage. Up until the last 150 years or so it was not uncommon for Portuguese in the Azores (where many Brazilian immigrants came from) to not have last names at all, just a given name (received at birth) and a religious name (received at confirmation). Many of my Portuguese ancestors have names like “Jose Francisco” or “Maria Victoria”; no last names.

  7. “Alphabetical is quite easy, and quite common, and there is no reason to abandon it just so the Z’s can go first once. Idiocy.”

    Arranging by GPA, self ordering with cards, random ordering, and a host of other ways of ordering the students are also simple. Also, I don’t think the idea is to let the Z’s go first for once it is to make it where they are not last every time. While it is true that someone always has to be last I fail to see how it follows that it should always be the same person.

  8. PJ/Maryland says:

    I don’t feel too strongly about this now, but as an end-of-alphabet person, I should probably speak up.

    John says, “Alphabetical is quite easy, and quite common…”. I think the idea that kids need to be sorted by last name is a silly bureaucratic impulse that should be resisted. On those rare occasions where students have to be lined up and order is important, I suppose alphabetically is as good a way as any.

    I don’t see classroom seating as one of those occasions. Through most of my school career, we sat where we wanted, tho many teachers asked us to pick a seat and always sit there until they had learned our names. A simple system, and no sorting necessary.

  9. Yeah, and I was always chosen last for basketball in my high school P.E. class. What about kids in this situation?

    The logical outcome of these types of suggestions is “equality of outcomes” utopia. Let’s have more short (and much shorter) people in the NBA!! Social justice for everyone!

    Yeah, right.

  10. RedRaven says:

    I like the idea of a ‘short person’ nba. Only people under 5’10 need apply. We could have another one for people under 5′. We’d have the Tall league, Medium league and the Short league. We could even lower the hoop so the shorter players could play better. Maybe I’d even get to play. A short fat peoples league.


  11. I don’t see what’s the big deal — at my high school, the last person to cross the stage got to stand there and lead us in flipping our tassels to the other side of the mortarboard… I thought it was cute. And nobody got anything special by being first in line.

    I’ve never been seated in a class in alphabetical order, though. Huh?

  12. Seating in class by alphabetical order was easiest for the teacher to check roll without calling out the names. It’s a quick and efficient method, or a lazy crutch, depending on your point of view (and perhaps your position in the alphabet).

    I was an end-of-the-alphabet kid, with a last name starting with W. Didn’t mind a bit, since 1) I was very shy and it took me a while to get up the nerve to do something, 2) my personality is to watch and observe before doing, so I cringe from going first, and 3) I was usually the top student in the class anyway, and my performance (or whatever) would discourage everyone who followed me, so going last was best in the teacher’s eyes.

    Don’t know that I’d still agree with the last point now; kids need to get used to competition in order to prepare for the real world.

  13. Just John says:

    If they’re really serious, they should do the same thing that’s done on ballots to scramble the names of the candidates – create a randomized “alphabet” with the letters out of order.

    Of course, they might also try “least whiny” to “most whiny”, and put Ms. Z at the end of the line once again.

  14. Hey – my sister married up — having grown up a T she became an M, and it was quite a transition. She said that at first it was just odd to have a different name, then she realized that rather than lounging around and chatting with the other S-T-U-V-W people she had to start paying attention earlier!

    The simple solution is to flip, periodically. Let the Zs go first. I teach at a joined-at-the-hip pair of colleges. In even years the men graduation first (in alpha order, I’ll admit), in odd years the women graduate first.

  15. I went from T to B, and it was a huge change. My daughter doesn’t know what it’s like to be toward the end of the alphabet.

    When we registered at college, we had to show up at a certain time depending on our last initial. Then we were lined up outside, by a professor with a very booming voice. He called out the names and we scooted into place. By the time he finished he was always very tired and glad to get to the end, and I’ll never forget – having heard it 8 times over 4 years – “…and ROXANNE ZOSKA.”

  16. Mrnumbersman says:

    If we are talking about arrangement at graduation then we arrange by height. The tallest are in the middle and the shortest are at the beginning and the end of each row. When you view it from the audience from above, you see guys dressed in red in the middle of the graduating class and girls dressed in white surrounding the red section. The last people to be called are the students on stage. These students are the speakers and the top students in the class.

  17. Some of us have been doing what Michael Tinkler suggests for years. In a large class, you need to have some efficient way to match up an alphabetical roster with a mass of faces and places, but there’s no reason to put the A’s always (or ever) in front of the class or the beginning of the roll-call. Switching back and forth is easy, or even putting the Z’s up front all the time, if none of the other teachers do that.

    I found that in a college Mythology class with 170 students (and no TAs) it took 20+ minutes to return tests. I always returned the first test alphabetically from A to Z, but told them to remind me to do the second one from Z to A. One of the Zs always remembered to remind me. Of course, I returned them at the end of class, so they could leave as soon as they got theirs back, or hang around and complain about their grades.

    By the way, Eleanor Zappone’s nomenclature problem may be complicated by her first initial. I know an Emily Z. (not Zappone) who says that having the initials ‘E.Z.’ made her middle-school years a living Hell.

    Then again, I know of an (American female, not French male) ‘Jean’ who spent her high school years trying to get her fellow students to stop saying “Hi, Jean” because it sounded like they were saying “hygiene”, which she found nasty. Of course, her repeated demand that they say “Hello, Jean” instead only made matters worse.

  18. Arranging by GPA stigmatizes kids even more than arranging them by name. It will be clear to everyone who got good grades and who didn’t. That sort of imformation should be kept private, and not broadcast to the kid’s social group.

    Names are innocuous. My maiden name started with “H” so I was always in the middle. Big deal.

  19. >That sort of imformation should be kept
    >private, and not broadcast to the kid’s social

    Of course, as soon as the graduation ceremony is over, it’s no longer their social group anymore. ;>

  20. Tammy in Texas says:

    Comment by Anne: Arranging by GPA stigmatizes kids even more than arranging them by name. It will be clear to everyone who got good grades and who didn’t. That sort of imformation should be kept private, and not broadcast to the kid’s social group.

    I’m not necessarily advocating arranging them by GPA; but if they did, no one would be broadcasting anything that the kids didn’t already know.

  21. Richard Nieporent says:

    Well it is good to know that all of the important problems of the world have been solved so that we could spend our time debating this issue. All I can say to Eleanor Zappone and all those who agreed with her is: get a life.

  22. EricTurner says:

    You could always arrange it by height! In the Army during parades and pass-in-reviews for changes of command we would arrange ourselves in formations by height. Tallest in front, shortest to the rear! Did it matter the short people couldn’t see what was going on? Nope, you’re just a soldier, you didn’t have to see the speakers and such. And I’ll tell ya what, even the tall people tried to shrink down so they wouldn’t have to be up front. Take it from a guy who stands 6ft tall and was usually in one of the front rows!

    As a guy with the last name beginning with a “T,” I can tell you I was usually #27 in the old class gradebooks kept by my teachers. It was almost a comforting fact. Didn’t ever bother me that I was one of the last in a class. We’d always joke (those at the end) that they should do it by first names or start at the end every once in a while, which they did sometimes. But we just considered it our lot in life, not that it was a reflection on us personally. Too much touchy-feely stuff going on nowadays. Get over it already.