We need to stop graduating 8th Graders

I’m finishing up my fifth year of teaching in Detroit. Haven’t posted in a while. I’ve learned tons in the last few years that I’m excited to write about and get out of my head through the keyboard. Right now, I want to write about something that bothers me every single year in Detroit at this time during the spring – 8th Grade Graduation.

Why should 8th grade graduation bother you, Joe? This is a time to celebrate, moving on to high school, finish up a phase of life and jumping into another at the same time. 

I do celebrate this and every year I am proud to say that ‘I’ve invested in that 8th grade class.’ I hope to see them bloom into amazing people, citizens, fathers, mothers, workers. Actually, the very first 8th grade class I taught 5 years ago will be graduating high school this year. I wrote them all a personal letter before they left. I am always happy to see 8th graders move to the next level and the next challenge in life.

But the words “8th grade graduation,” the graduation tickets? Caps and gowns given to 8th graders? I have seen 8th grade promotion ceremonies, 8th grade moving along ceremonies, but graduation? Cap and gowns? 8th grade graduation parties? 8th Grade Junior-Prom? Going from middle school to high school is not graduating, you do not put ‘middle school graduate’ on your resume when you apply for a job.

The danger in this is instilling a very shallow sense of accomplishment in our kids. I will clap and cheer and, heck, I may even pay for your cap and gown when you graduate high school but making kids feel like they have reached a mountain top at the end of 8th grade does not send them soaring into the next phase of life, it sets them up to expect to be celebrated and rewarded for even the smallest of transitions and accomplishments.

Send your 8th graders on a trip, have them dress up for whatever ceremony you do to promote them on to the next level, make it excellent and inspirational. Give a speech and a certificate… but celebrate them at the level of a high school or college graduate, in the same dress and in the same atmosphere and you are only misleading your kids.

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