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Are School Superlatives Making Us Too Focused on Labels?

June 3rd, 2014

Valerie, a local eighth grade student in Montgomery County, MD, sent this letter to her school administration to start the conversation about the role superlatives play in creating a school culture focused on superficial labels rather than the value that each individual brings to the community. It is common for AWARE® facilitators to hear that relationships are often seen as a status symbol and check out paragraph four for Valerie's take on "Best Couple":

I am writing to you about my concerns toward the eighth grade superlatives. I’m not writing out of sheer bitterness or worry that I won’t be voted for. In fact, I know a bunch of people who are voting for me for various superlatives. I’m writing because I honestly believe that these superlatives are just wrong.

To students with plenty of friends at school and higher places on the social hierarchy (A.K.A, the “popular people”), superlatives are just another fun way to compliment their friends and peers, but to people with bigger friendship circles outside of school, shy students, and generally “unpopular” students, superlatives tend to feel like a big insult. On the surface, superlatives seem like a fun way for students to be recognized for various achievements, but when you dig deeper, it’s just an unfair popularity contest that less mainstream or “invisible” students have no chance of winning. Even more appalling are the very categories within these superlatives. Let’s start with “Most Likely to Succeed.” What does that even mean? Most likely to have a high paying job? Most likely to have a healthy and happy life? And what makes only two people in the entire eighth grade able to succeed, implying that the rest of us are doomed to failure? There are so many different types of success and so many capable eighth graders to achieve that success! “Most Likely to Succeed” not only is too broad a category, but also rather insulting to the large number of eighth graders that are destined to succeed at something. After all, just like happiness and intelligence, success is immeasurable.

Then, there are categories such as “Prettiest Eyes” or “Best Hair.” Looks or facial features are not achievements that should be rewarded. No one can control his or her genes. People with great hair or eyes or an attractive figure are simply lucky, or choose to spend their time managing their looks, which, while it’s a perfectly valid way to spend time, isn’t a great, reward-worthy success. After all, everyone’s values and priorities vary. Not to mention, so many teens both male and female are insecure enough without having some being singled out for looks while others are reminded that they received less desirable DNA. Beauty standards are high enough these days without superlatives that reward people for simply being lucky.Another shocking superlative is “Mr. and Mrs. Stylish.” The first point I have to make is that there are so many different styles that people can have. I can name at least five. For people who have the opportunity, clothes are a way of expressing themselves, if they’re brave enough. Luckily, where we live, goth people can be goth, vintage lovers can feel free to proudly wear their saddle shoes, and mainstream people can stick with popular trends. Point is, like “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Most Stylish” is incredibly broad. So, are we rewarding the most trendy, mainstream students while ignoring those who have different clothing tastes? Or are we rewarding the most unique styles, while completely disregarding the majority group? Also, some people simply can’t afford stylish clothing. Name brand clothing is so expensive these days, and, with hunger and homelessness rates only increasing, it doesn’t seem fair to students who can barely pay for food, let alone, stylish clothing.

Finally, the category “Dynamic Duo” obviously refers to the best romantic couple in the eighth grade. First of all, some students simply aren’t ready to date, and that’s their mature, healthy, and perfectly acceptable decision. Other students have parents that won’t let them date, which is also perfectly acceptable. While having a great couple is a huge accomplishment, especially in the eighth grade, being in love should be reward enough. For students who have not been lucky within their love life, watching their peers win “Dynamic Duo” makes it very clear to these students that others have it better and are being rewarded for sheer luck. Not to mention, love should not be a social status. By making “Best Couple” a superlative, you’re sending us the message that love is nothing but a way to be more popular. And there are different ways to decide on “Best Couple,” because people, again, have different values. Who’s been together the longest, who’s “gotten farther”, etc. This superlative contradicts everything we learned in health class about positive relationships and not judging others because with this superlative, we’re rewarding others for what we see on the surface.Of course some superlative categories, such as “Most Likely to Take Over the World” or “Most Likely to be Famous” are great categories, but they exclude other students who aren’t very popular in our grade and have no chance of winning a popularity contest.

Please reconsider superlatives for next year’s eighth grade class, or at least the categories, as I’m sure it’s too late to make any changes now.Thank you for taking to time to read this.

Does your school do superlatives? What do you think?If you would like to share your thoughts with Valerie, email

Posted by AWARE Team | Topic: In The News

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