Honors for all

Some schools with lots of collegebound students are trying to limit the proliferation of honor societies, reports the New York Times.

There have been so many honor societies created at Commack High School on Long Island in recent years that some students ended up in six or seven of them, racking up memberships like so many merit badges or thanks-for-playing trophies.

This year Commack cut the technology society and combined Latin, German, French and sign language into one world languages society. That got the number down to 11 societies. Still, nearly a third of juniors and seniors belong to honor societies; among these students, the average number is three.

Students eager to impress college admission officials want as many honors as possible, even if they have no time to attend meetings or to earn A’s.

“This cheapens the currency,” ”said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit educational policy group in Washington. “Once everyone’s wearing rhinestones, you might not notice someone wearing diamonds.”

I suspect admissions people can figure out that the applicant with a B- average and a membership in the Spanish honors society is a B- student.

But, in my day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, National Honor Society was the only honors society. It was reserved for students with high grades and had no meetings or community service requirements.  Students with special interests — or a desire to impress admissions officers — joined clubs.

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  1. I agree with the comment about NHS. For the record, I oppose community service requirements, not just for NHS but for anything at public schools.

  2. This is moronic, when I was in high school in the late 70’s, we had exactly two societies (National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta). Mu Alpha Theta was for students who excelled in math and many students belonged to both. I don’t know how any student can devote the correct amount of time to more than two clubs or societies in high school.

    Just completely insane, IMO…

  3. We (late 70s, early 80s) had NHS and several national language honor societies: French, German, Latin, and probably Spanish. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Mu Alpha Theta.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I can’t help but think that admissions officers aren’t fooled.

    Anyone who has spent any appreciable amount of time around college and high school age students can smell an honestly good, well-trained student a mile away.

  5. The number of honor societies has grown because education long ago bought into the self-esteem myth. Educators place a premium on students’ self-esteem, but not their actual achievement. Then, educators inflate grades so that undeserving students can qualify for the “honor societies.”

  6. anon-
    This has less to do with self esteem and more with the “college for all” philosophy and the desire of teachers to make their subjects seem more important (not saying that they’re not, just that there is an irrational need to promote one’s subject).
    We have 7 honor societies… in a middle school.
    As for the community service requirement… that’s bogus. Luckily back in the late 90’s my service for NHS consisted of tutoring my girlfriend 😀

  7. It's Not Like I'm Fooling Anyone says:

    On behalf of bright kids who have grown up dirt poor around the world, to those who think that community service requirements are a good thing:

    #$%@#&* YOU ALL, YOU ELITIST #$%@#&!$s!

    Community Service Requirements are a nice way of saying “Please don’t bother to apply if you are poor and more interested in school than resume padding.”

  8. Cranberry says:

    Community Service Requirements give an enormous advantage to well-connected students with affluent parents, particularly at-home parents. In my observations of families in our local high schools, the mothers do the lion’s share of the organizing, and transporting (hello, National Charity League!) It’s an enormous imposition on working families, and those families who cannot afford to supply teenagers with their own cars.

    I don’t object to teens becoming involved in their community, but it should never be required. Service is voluntary; servitude is enforced.

  9. Hmm. We just have the NHS, which does one or two service projects a year. I had no idea there was so much more out there… Obviously, communities buy into this far more deeply than the colleges. Otherwise, my kids wouldn’t be able to compete with the kid with 7 honor societies, yet they get into all kinds of selective schools every year.

  10. “anon-
    This has less to do with self esteem and more with the “college for all” philosophy and the desire of teachers to make their subjects seem more important (not saying that they’re not, just that there is an irrational need to promote one’s subject).
    We have 7 honor societies… in a middle school.”

    Then, the situation is even sadder—and worse–than I thought.

  11. Why is community service requirements a bad thing? Membership in honor societies is not a right, but a privilege… “Honor” involves more than just achieving a high enough GPA…

    And Cranberry… what is this nonsense that community service gives an advantage to the rich? B.S. I grew up in a ridiculously poor family (single mother raising 4 kids on welfare)… I had no problem tutoring fellow students, participating in community cleaning initiatives, volunteering with the elderly, etc. as part of my honor society as well as Boy Scouts.


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