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Bill Kalmar


Let’s All Strive to Be Mediocre

A surefire way to ‘earn’ an F for effort

Published: Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 12:01

Several high schools throughout the country are now experimenting with eliminating recognition of students who have high GPAs. In fact, some schools have curtailed the labeling of a valedictorian or salutatorian. The rationale is that some students feel intimidated by other students who are studious, are educationally driven, and strive to be accepted at prestigious colleges.

On the other hand, there are some who counter that many of these high GPA scholars do not avail themselves of the more difficult courses and thus their high grades are somewhat inflated. The solution might be to mandate that certain advanced-placement core courses be included in the student’s curriculum before any recognition is provided.

This whole situation smacks of an attitude that wants everyone to feel good about their study habits, and thus discourages some students from achieving educational performance excellence. We see the same mentality in middle school and Little League sports, where some teams no longer keep score—where everyone gets a trophy, win or lose—and a championship team is not recognized or rewarded.

With that attitude in place, we might as well not have a Super Bowl. We should eliminate the World Series, place the hockey Stanley Cup in a museum, never have a Most Valuable Player, and of course give all players a “participation trophy” for just showing up.

Perhaps someone should alert local television station WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit that its “Best and Brightest” tribute every year wherein the students with the highest grade point averages in each tri-county school are duly noted at the station and invited with family to attend a recognition event.

So let’s quit trying to soothe the feelings of those who are not high achievers, and provide instruction and direction to our offspring about doing the best they can, knowing that will be their goal. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where George is introducing a student to a board looking for a summer intern. The position was based on grades. George brings the student into the boardroom and states, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Steven Koren. His GPA is a solid 2.0—right in the meaty part of the curve. Not showing off, not falling behind.” That works in a sitcom but not in the real world.

Locally, I want to applaud the Lake Orion School District for a program called “Lamp of Learning,” wherein students who have demonstrated exemplary achievement in the classroom are honored each fall. Awards are earned based on the work of the entire school year. Students earn pins of bronze, silver, or gold based on a GPA of 3.5 or greater. Sorry, Steven Koren—a 2.0 doesn’t cut it.

In recognition for being the best, I pride myself in usually winning my age group in races, since at my age there are few people who are still competing. And next year when I turn 75, that age group category will be even emptier.

So yes, I subscribe to students and people being recognized for their achievements. Let’s abandon this foolishness about making everyone feel good about their grades and their sports accomplishments. It’s a tough world out there, and we need a citizenry of strong leaders and people with accomplishments. Some of you will agree with this philosophy. Others will not. And some will have difficulty reconciling their position with the University of Michigan Fight Song line, “The leaders and best.”

As for me, I’m getting ready for my next race this month. I may not be the best that day in my age group, but my goal is not to be mediocre!


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.



Collaboration is a great tool but can you imagine your organization with no hierarchy? At the lowest level, for example the production floor, it has been shown that it is possible. But, where this has been successful, the group has the powers, among others, to accept or reject new hires and to discipline or eject members.

Winners and losers.....

On the flip side, if a collaborative fails to achieve its goal(s), can they said to be "winners"?

Competition Vs Collbaoration

I was reminded this morning of the models of competition Vs collaboration. In sport and recreation, we accpet and support the model of competition. There is a winner and a loser. But in other situtations, collaboration may be much more beneficial. In a class room, do we want students to compete against each other? For what gain? When there are winners and losers, do we have a zero sum game? 

Does competition aid leadership in attaining an organization's aim? Do we want employees to compete against each other resulting in winners and losers within the organization? Winners and losers that supposedly have the same aim? We dont want collaboration and maybe a win-win situation? Government is an organization with an aim, by the way.

The models of competition and collabaoration have their place. How do we know in which place they should be applied? 

More Comments

Winner and Losers are categories. They are time bound and specific. Continuum thinking would not have winners and losers but would have things like improvement or decline. 

Winners and Losers are part of life just as continuum concepts are part of life. Both models can be useful and both can be a detriment. The key is having a theory about those models and testing them in a controlled way to determine the benefit and appropriateness of the model. 

Age group swim team has winners of heat and events but most swimmers concentrate on the continuum of personal improvement.

Sailboat race has winners and losers. Sailing and boating on given day does not. 

The system of transportation does not benefit from winners and losers. Driving to win harms the effectiveness of the system.

Do church services have winners and losers?  Do you label your children winner and losers within the family?

For years I played soccer at lunch during the work week and we never kept score. Our aim was exercise, fresh air, and camaraderie. 

All employees of an organization should be working towards a common aim. What is the benefit of having a single member being labeled as a Winner? Explain awarding a sales person the title of Winner but the organization goes out of business. What is the benefit of production worker being the Winner of a weekly output contest but the organization has to shut down because of over production? Do we really want to reward suboptimization? 

How are the grades for the students in Bill's article determined, measured, etc.? That is for all classes and all students included in the competition. I assume there were controls for the interaction and impacts of each student's teacher, class mates, home life, life events, community, etc. In each case, what is being measured? How is it measured? How do we know the measurement is repeatable and reproducible? 

Finally, I would rather not tamper than to rank and measure without a proven method. Using a wrong model is better than using no model at all? 


Ahhh, yes, we must bring politics and our President into this, mustn't we?  Probably because DVANPUTTEN is still sore that his candidate lost in the "wrong" election "ranking".  Losers often seem to find a way to blame the measure. 

Sure, all models are wrong.  Sure we need to give due dilligence to how and why we rank and determine if said ranking methodology is helping or harming the system.  But while ranking most things may not be perfect, it beats the heck out of the alternative of not ranking most things. 

Yes, kindergardeners don't need to be ranked as often or as harshly as a high-school senior, but do you think kids would even play the kindergarden games of duck-duck-goose or tag without there being a winner and a loser?  Even they know there would be no point to even play.

Our "western mentality" of comparing ourselves to others isn't so unique.  Whether you study an Aboriginal Australian tribe, or African tribe, or Japanese society, you will find the same behaviors.  It's nature.  To deny that, to supress it, is folly.  I suggest that nowhere will you find a society that actually lives by the code of "we're all perfectly equal here".

Well said!!!

Social entropy... a heated race to sort of average... more or less... kinda....

An excellent companion for Robert Wilson's "Nobody Wants You to Be Creative" 

Achieving Outside of the System?

Do students achieve by themselves independently of the system theey are in? Do students achieve independently of other students, parents, teacheers, administrators, the community? 

This is the same question I ask about sales people being on commission. 

This also reminds me of performance reviews at work. 

What is the benefit in having Valedictorian and Salutatorian awards? What is the benefit of ranking? In what context? How is performance measured?

Does this article suggest that we need to have winners and losers?  

This is not about making everyone feel good. It is about the the poor models and theories behind casually measuring human activity.  

Value of Rankings

Winning and Losing are not options, they are reality! Also, unfortunately, nobody ever guaranteed life to be fair. 

That being said, let's take a hypothetical... you have just been diagnosed with a very serious medical problem. What would you look for while choosing a doctor?

It is relative

Hello Alan:

1. I didnt mean to reply to you. I meant to post a geenral comment.

2.  Winning and losing are options in different contexts. A symbiotic relationship doesnt have losers. Do we have to have winners and losers in kindergarten? There are options. Try going out and telling everyone in whatever organization that they are "Winners" or "Losers" and that they must be categorized that way becasue there are no other options. 

All models are wrong but some are useful. Bill seems to be offering that all models of not ranking are wrong. I am offering that some models are sometimes useful. Sometimes they are not useful but are harmful. I do not think the model of winning and losing in sport can always be applied to all of life. I have seen student rankings to be very harmful. I have seen employe rankings to be very harmful. I have seen employee reviews to be harmful. I have seen sales comission models to almsot always be harmful. 

Do I want a doctor that graduated last in a class? Probably not. Do I want my child to be given the #1 award? Depends on how it is measured and the context. But mostly I woldnt care much. I wold want to know ther things like ability to apply knowledge.

I beleive the western mentality of constantly comparing ourselves to others is harmful.  

To make a politcal comment, look at the comments and word choices of our president. He is all about winners and losers. A zero sum game that I don't think improves the system. 

In the end, I am making the comment that Bill's offering is much too broad and overarching.