Archive for July, 2010

The E-Book Revolution

For several years now, various prophets have predicted that e-books would be the wave of the future, and… lo and behold, has just recently announced that for the first time ever for some period, e-books outsold hardcovers.  It’s to be expected that Amazon would be the first outlet to report such news, given Amazon’s emphasis on e-books and its own Kindle, and given Amazon’s appeal to the tech-savvy readers. But what exactly does this mean?

Is it the great revolution in publishing… or a sign of the end of culture in the United States and the rest of the western world?  Of course, the obvious reply to such an absurd question would be neither… but I’m not so sure that the rise of e-books doesn’t contain some elements of each.

The rise in e-book sales, especially given the marketing models and patterns in the publishing industry, is going to have a very hefty impact on true professional full-time authors, and by that I mean those authors who make their living solely by writing.  That impact is already being felt, and it’s anything but positive.  Moreover, the e-book impact is being exacerbated by other social trends, most notably the marked decrease in paperback book sales.  According to my sources in the publishing industry, initial paperback book print runs in the F&SF are averaging 40-60% fewer copies being printed than was the case for comparable books ten years ago.  Even noted “mainstream authors” who sell millions of paperback books are seeing significant drops in paperback book sales numbers.

Now that e-books are being made available, at least in my case and that of other authors, on the same day as hardcovers, any e-book sale that replaces a hard-cover sale results in a direct drop in income for the author.  Depending on the author’s royalty rates and sales numbers, that drop in income could be as little as 10 cents per copy or as high as $2.60 per copy.  As for paperback books, the impact varies by when the e-book is sold, because the agency model has a declining price for the e-book over time.  In general, however, authors will theoretically make more money by selling e-books than paperback books.  That’s because for the first year or so, when paperback sales are generally the highest, the e-book royalty rate may result in a higher per copy return to the author than from a paperback.  The problem here, though, lies in three unanswered questions.  First, how much will piracy reduce paying hardcover, paperback, and e-book sales?  Second, will all retailers report accurately “straight” download sales?  In the case of paperbacks, there is inventory control because the retailer either has to pay for the book or return the stripped cover for a return refund.  Physical items provide for a check against intentional undercounting.  What checks exist for an electronic item with no physical presence?  Third, what happens after several years when the e-book price drops to essentially nothing?  At that point, the author’s backlist sales revenues plummet, and the so-called “long-tail” provides far less revenue than would a paperback.

The other problem is the proliferation of “reader” platforms.  Until or unless this situation is rectified and standardized formats compatible across readers are instituted, there will be very few independent electronic “small presses.”

Based on what I’ve seen so far, although it’s likely to take several years to sort itself out, the combination of e-books and existing reading/publishing trends is going to result in an increasing decline in the number of midlist authors who are able to support themselves by writing, as well as a decline in the income of A-list writers.

As for the impact on reading and cultural trends… that’s an area where there are far fewer hard facts, but I speculate, and it’s purely speculation at this point, that the results will be mixed.  The screen readers, such as the Kindle and the Nook and all the others, are already a boon to older readers because they can enlarge the type, and more and more older readers are finding this greatly increases what is available for them to read.  Since these readers are more interested, in general, in reading than in whipping through stripped-down action novels and the like, they will support to some degree continuation of more traditional books.  On the other hand, a considerable number of the younger generations, who are more likely to be involved in screen-multi-tasking, already have manifested a certain impatience with novelistic complexity that isn’t reflected in “action” magic or technology.  Whether this will result in even greater pressure for action-oriented simplicity in the e-book market remains to be seen, but the vampire/supernatural crazes in bookselling suggests strongly that may well be the case.

As with most revolutions, a lot of innocents are going to be affected, and not necessarily positively, from readers to writers to small publishers… and I’ve probably only touched the surface here.

Administrative Overkill

Years ago, there was a story in ANALOG about a “political engineer” who, despite his engineering degree, knew little about engineering and who had reached a position of power in his organization because of his “political” and “administrative” expertise – who dies when his undersea dome implodes on him because he didn’t understand that there are indeed times when subject matter expertise is vital.  I was reminded of this when reading Sunday’s New York Times education section, which documented the growth of professional administrative staff members in U.S. colleges and universities.  During the time period from 1976 to 2008, the number of professional administrative employees has doubled – from 42 such employees for every 1,000 students to 84, while the number of full-time faculty has dropped from 65 to 55 professors for every thousand students.  Put another way, more than 60% of college employees are not involved in actually teaching students, and the numbers often exceed 70% at private colleges and universities, whereas thirty years ago, those percentages were reversed.

Now… I’m probably very old-school, but I do have the belief that higher education ought to focus on educating students, imparting both knowledge and understanding, and for all the lengthy and considerable rationalizations for the need of more administrative personnel, I think such rationalizations are largely just that – a way of justifying positions and excessive administrative salaries.  At the colleges and universities with which I’m somewhat familiar, the majority of “administrative” personnel above the clerical level – and that number is considerable – make salaries well in excess of actual professors of similar age and experience [except for business department professors, who apparently live in a la-la land of their own, despite the rather dubious record of this discipline in the real world in recent years].

One critical point seems to be continually overlooked – all that administration isn’t what teaches students.  In fact, all those administrators create more non-teaching workloads on faculty rather than easing faculty workloads.  The number of reports, assessments, committee assignments, etc., placed on college and university faculty has possibly quintupled over the past generation – and those reports and assessments not only haven’t improved the quality of teaching, but have decreased it, because they reward faculty who are politically and administratively adept over those who are most adept at teaching and they take time away from actually pursuing greater scholarship and improving teaching skills by requiring more and more forms and assessments for the administrators.

So… while recent reports have surfaced showing that, despite all the advertising, British Petroleum has collected something like 97% of all the “severe” violations for shortcomings in offshore drilling, their political and administrative experts have been busy trying to convince the world that their engineering shortcomings are merely “unavoidable risks” of drilling.  All hail the political engineers!

Likewise… despite study after study that shows the single key factor in effective education is the level of subject matter expertise and the capability of the individual professor, colleges and universities have consistently short-changed the teaching faculties to support an ever-increasing administrative structure.  All hail the administrative educators!

And… when, exactly, if ever, will we stop rewarding excessive administrative growth and get back to rewarding actual skill and accomplishment in doing rather than administrating?

The Big Shift

The other day I happened to catch a few minutes of the disaster mega-epic 2012.  A few minutes were all it took to remind me why I don’t, and shouldn’t, watch such cinematic giant-buttered-popcorn features.  I may not have all the details precisely correct, but that shouldn’t matter much because those details are so hugely and absurdly wrong in the first place – and, yes, there will be a point to all this, but after I first present those absurdities.

From what the section of the movie I did watch showed, Earth is doomed to disaster in the year 2012 because the Earth’s crust will shift, but around China as a pivot point [no, I don’t know why China was used, except that it seems to further the plot] so that great arks can be built for select humans in China and in great secrecy — and underground as well.  These two points alone are beyond merely dubious.

Taking the second one first… we can’t even spend enough to restart the space program or rebuild our highway bridges and infrastructure…and we’re going to be able to build something that no one outside of China knows about costing tens of hundreds of billions of dollars?  And the Chinese will cooperate when all they have to do is nothing to end up, literally, on top of the world?  I won’t mention, except in passing, the scenes where helicopters ferry elephants and giraffes dangling beneath them over frozen mountains in the last hour before disaster hits China or driving Bentleys out of the cargo hatches of aircraft landing in icy mountain valleys.

The first point is the one that truly frightens me, because it reveals how little either Hollywood or most people understand about the world, and plate tectonics in particular is just one example.  There are continuing references to the Earth’s crust shifting something like 23 degrees and thousands of miles, and I suspect this part of the movie had its genesis in a pseudo-scientific thriller of more than 20 years ago entitled The HAB Theory.  Such a gigantic shift in hours is not only technically impossible, but if it did occur, there wouldn’t be much life left anywhere above the microscopic or very small cellular level.  There certainly wouldn’t be mere huge fissures running alongside McCaran Airport in Las Vegas, and the earthquakes wouldn’t be a “mere” 9.4 on the Richter scale.

A “mere” tectonic plate shift of a few yards in the right place can generate an earthquake of over 7.0.  It’s estimated that the earthquake that dropped the land around Seattle some twenty plus yards some 800 years ago[as I recall reading] might have been over 8.0, and if a similar quake occurred today, there would likely be nothing of size or significance left standing within fifty miles of MicroSoft headquarters.  Comparatively TINY shifts in the earth’s crust and continental plates, resulting from shifts over years, if not centuries, result in massive damage.  You certainly wouldn’t need even a single degree of shifting of the Earth’s crust to level everything and destroy any vestige of culture and civilization.

But, of course, a shift of a single degree just doesn’t sound cataclysmic enough for Hollywood or the consumers of giant-hot-buttered-popcorn cinema.  Is it any wonder that no one gets upset over the prospect of a few degrees of global warming… or that they can’t understand that those mere few degrees of increased temperature would result in inundating every major port city in the world?

Or… put another way… little things do mean a lot, something that’s so hard to get across in a world obsessed with the titanic… or the apparently titanic.

Image, “Sacred Poets”, and Substance

This past weekend, my wife and I watched Local Color, a movie presented as a true-to- life story of a summer in the early life of artist John Talia, when he was mentored by the Russian-born impressionist artist Nikoli Seroff – except that it’s not… exactly.  It took a while to track down the story behind the story, and it turns out that “John Talia” is actually George Gallo, the director of the movie, who did begin as an art student, but not of “Seroff,” but of the Lithuanian-born impressionist George Cherepov.  The use of the name Seroff was also confusing, because there was also a Viktor Seroff who was a scholar of the relationship between impressionism in art and in music.  Like “Talia,” director Gallo believes in representational art, and like the fictionalized “Talia,” after stints in Hollywood as a director, he was recognized as good enough to have his artwork featured in well-known New York City galleries.

The movie was shot on a literal shoestring, with most of the actors doing it for love and little else.  It never got wide distribution and received very mixed reviews, ranging from five stars downward.  While I enjoyed and appreciated it, in some ways the discovery that it was “fictionalized” bothered me far more than any short-comings it may have had, although I didn’t find many.  On the one hand, I can see why Gallo may have wanted to fictionalize the names, particularly his own, but by doing so, in essence, what could have been, and should have been, a tribute to Cherepov was lost in the process of creating an “image” of sorts.

I tend to be disturbed by the entire “image-making” process anyway, because the process of image-making obscures, if not totally distorts, the facts behind the “image.”  Certainly, such image-making is hardly new to human society and culture, although the power of modern technology makes it far, far easier.  Still, even in American culture, the images have run rampant over the truth, and in the process, often make heroes out of one man while ignoring the greater accomplishments of another in the same situation.  In “A Sacred Poet,” an article published more than thirty years ago in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov noted that, because of the popular poem, written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most people believe that Paul Revere was the hero who warned the America colonists of the imminent British attack on Concord.  While that warning did indeed result in a colonial victory, it wasn’t delivered by Revere at all, because he was caught by a British patrol, but by Dr. Samuel Prescott.  Yet Longfellow’s poem about the “ride of Paul Revere” created a lasting image of Revere as the heroic rider who warned the Americans, and that image has effectively trumped history for more than a century.

Every American presidential campaign is an exercise in image-making, and generally, the more successful the campaign, the more distorted the image… and the greater the potential for loss of popular and political support when facts to the contrary eventually leak out and become widely-known.

Perhaps George Cherepov was even less likeable than “Nikoli Seroff,” and George Gallo didn’t want to misrepresent the real artist. Or perhaps… who knows?  But it still bothers me, I have to say.

The Illusion of Knowledge

Recently, I’ve read more and more on both sides of the “debate” about whether the internet/world-wide-web is a “good” thing.  One ardent advocate dragged out the old
“Greek” argument that even writing was “bad” because memory would atrophy… and, of course, look how far we’ve come from the time of the Greeks, how much knowledge we’ve amassed since then.

And… in a cultural and societal sense, that accumulation of knowledge has, in fact, occurred, but I’m not so certain that we now don’t stand at the edge of a precipice, where, if we choose incorrectly as a society, we will slide down the slippery slope into ignorance and anarchy, if not worse. Some people already believe we’ve started to slide so much that we’ll never recover.  While I’m not that pessimistic, not yet, at least, I would like to point out a fatal flaw in the idea that technology results in a more knowledgeable society.

To begin with, let us consider the very meaning of “knowledge.” Various dictionary definitions begin with:  (1) a product of understanding acquired through experience, practical ability or skill and (2) deep and extensive learning.  The key terms here are understanding and learning.  The problem with the web and electronic technology in general is that most users fail to understand that access to information or facts is not at all the same as understanding those facts, their use, or, especially, their significance.  True understanding is impossible without a personally learned internal database.  Being able to net-search things is not the same as knowing them, and very few individuals can retain facts looked up unless they have a personal internal knowledge base to which they can relate such facts.

All too many educational “reformers” either tend to equate the learning of specific, often unrelated facts, processes, and discrete skills with education or knowledge, or, at the other extreme, they emphasize “process” and inter-relations without ever requiring students to learn basic structures and facts.  Put another way, information access is not knowing or knowledge, nor is learning processes and systems ungrounded in hard facts. Both the understanding of process and systems and a personal integrated factual “database” are necessary for an individual to be educated and knowledgeable, and far too few graduates today possess both.

The often-too-maligned educational system of the early and mid-twentieth century had a laudable objective:  to give students the basic knowledge of their society and the basic skills needed to survive and prosper in that society.  Did it often fail?  It did, and in many places, and far too frequently.  But that didn’t mean that the objective was wrong; it meant that all too often the techniques and means used were not suited to various types of students.

What followed that system is certainly no better, and possibly much worse. When something like 40% of high school graduates cannot explain against whom the American Revolution was fought and why it was important, those students cannot be classed as knowledgeable.  Nor can the 60% who cannot write coherent complex sentences or understand them be considered educated.

A culture that exalts the ability to use technology over the ability to understand it and over the ability to explain even what society is, why it exists, and what forms of government benefit who and why is in deep trouble.  So is one where the process of accessing information is elevated over understanding what that information means and how to use it. That, by the way, is also known as thinking.

And yet, every day, and in every way, our society is encouraging an ever-increasing percentage of our young people to communicate, communicate, communicate with less and less real knowledge… and without even being able to understand truly how little that they know about the basis and structure of the world in which they live.

And concerning knowledge… that is the greatest illusion of all.

They Did It All by Themselves [Part II]

Several weeks ago, an article appeared in the local newspaper, an interview with the new artistic director of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  He’s a product of the local university, where he learned his craft from, among others, Fred Adams, the legendary professor who established and ran for decades the Festival [which has won, among other honors, a Tony for being one of the best regional theatres in the United States].  The new director is an accomplished and effective actor, and there’s no doubt about that.  But what bothered me about the interview was that not a single word appeared about those who mentored, taught, inspired, and hired him, including Fred Adams.  Everything was about the new director, his talents, and his aspirations.  I can’t honestly say whether this was because he never mentioned those who had helped him every step of the way or because the interviewer left any such remarks out of the final story.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter, because, as the story ran, it’s all too symbolic of American culture today.  No one owes anything to anyone.  In fact, it’s even worse than that. Part of this change lies in an attitude that everything important exists only in the here and now, a change in what was once a core American value.  Southern Utah University, for example, exists only because, more than a century ago, a handful of local citizens mortgaged everything they had to come up with the funds to build the first building of the school – the building being required by the state legislature.  They did so because they felt that would offer a better future to their children and their community.  None of them ever received any financial reward, and their act is largely buried in history… except for a few older residents of the town and some university faculty.

Another symptom indicative of this change in public attitudes is reflected in the content of those largely useless student evaluations.  As a senior faculty member, my wife serves on the committee that reviews tenure and promotion applications for faculty. Since faculty members are now required to include all student evaluations and comments, she sees the comments from students across all disciplines in the university, and what is so incredibly disheartening is that there is virtually no real appreciation for professors at any level. The overwhelming majority of the comments – even of professors who have demonstrated incredible teaching effectiveness and who have gone out of their way to help students for years – deal with complaints, often insanely petty.

Part of this trend may be because all too many students don’t seem to know what’s important.  One student praised a professor because he once brought in soft drinks for the class!  Another faculty member was praised for bringing donuts. Exactly what does this have to do with education? Over the years, my wife and other members of her department have done such quiet deeds as paid student medical bills out of their own pockets, created student scholarships with their own funds, and personally helped students financially, offered hundreds of unpaid hours of additional instruction – the list is endless.  Once, say fifteen years ago, students seemed to appreciate such efforts.  Today, they complain if faculty members don’t smile when the students perform [yes… this actually happened.  Twice!].

In the interests of full disclosure, as the saying goes, I probably haven’t offered enough gratitude to those who helped me – but I have offered it, in speeches, in book dedications, and in interviews… and I didn’t forget them, visiting and writing them over the years.  And certainly there are notable exceptions, some very public.  One noted Broadway singer and actress, in giving a concert last week, paid clearly heart-felt tribute upon several occasions to her undergraduate singing teacher.  The problem is that these are exceptions… and becoming more and more infrequent every year.

The noted Isaac Newton once said that he had accomplished so much because he stood “on the shoulders of Giants,” but all of us owe debts to those who preceded us.  We didn’t do it alone, and far too many people who should know this fail, time and time again, to know that, to appreciate it, and to acknowledge it, both privately and publicly.

No… I’m Not Theologically Challenged… Just Directionally Impaired

A little over a week ago, I did something – unintentionally – that I truly wish I could undo, and for which I’m very sorry. I was taking my morning walk with the over-energetic Aussie-Saluki when a car pulled over, and a strange man with a delightful and precise English accent asked me for directions to the Catholic Church.  I was glad to oblige, and promptly stated, “Just go to the end of the road; turn right, and it’s two blocks up.”

Simple enough.

Except… I’m one of those people who have no innate sense of left and right.  I’m not directionally impaired in the sense of getting lost; I almost always know where I am, and have enough sense [acquired painfully from my wife] to ask directions when I don’t.  I’m also very good at providing written directions to others.  But when I’m caught off-guard as I was on that morning, with my thoughts more on other matters, from the plotting of the newest book to what a beautiful morning it was, I often speak before full consideration of my words.

The road used to end where I meant for him to turn, but it hasn’t for more than a year, since the city extended it a half-mile downhill through a winding canyon to meet up with the Cross Hollows Parkway.  Instead, there’s only a stop sign there now.  And… as a result of my left-right confusion, I told the English gentleman to turn right, rather than the correct direction, which was left.

But I didn’t.  About twenty seconds after he drove off, I realized what I had done and started waving and running after the car, Aussie-Saluki delighted that we were running.  Alas, he never looked back… and by the time I got home and went looking for him in the car… he was nowhere to be found.  I just hope he found the right church.

Now… the other side of the story is…  Equally inadvertently, the directions I had given him were precisely correct in taking him to the nearest LDS Stake [church], if almost three-quarters of a mile away, rather than the four blocks to the Catholic Church.

So… either way… I’m either regarded as a directional idiot, theologically challenged in not even knowing which church was which, or determined to steer the poor man away from his church of choice to another faith [even though I’m not a member of either faith].

As so many people have often probably said, I just wish I’d thought through what I’d said a little more carefully…. And because I never knew who he was, this is the only apology I can offer.

You Don’t Get What You Don’t Pay For

The other day I came across a series of articles, seemingly unrelated – except they weren’t.  The first was about why Vietnam is now producing perhaps the majority of great young chess players in the world.  The second was a news report on the Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition in Salt Lake City, and the third was a table of the average salaries of U.S. university professors by area of specialty.

The Vietnamese are producing chess champions and prodigies, it seems, because [gasp!] they pay them.  Gifted young players are paid from $300 to $500 a month to learn and play chess, and the best get all expenses paid to play in tournaments world-wide.  These are substantial incentives in a country where the average monthly family earnings are around $100.  Of course, American teenagers spend more than that monthly on what the Vietnamese would likely consider luxuries, and in the United States young chess players must count on the support of family or charitable organizations… and despite being one of the largest and most prosperous nations in the world, we have comparatively very few international class chess masters.

The finals of the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition were held in Salt Lake City last week, and of the eight finalists, one was Russian, one was Ukrainian, and the other six were Asian. This pattern has been ongoing for close to a decade, if not longer.  We haven’t produced a true giant in piano performance in decades, but then, the top prize is a mere $30,000, hardly worth it for Americans, apparently, not when it takes 15 plus years of study and hours upon hours of daily practice – all for a career in which the top-flight pianists generally make less money than whoever is 150th on the PGA money list.

All this might just tie in to the salaries of university professors.  The three areas in which university professors’ salaries are the lowest are, respectfully, from the bottom: theology/religion; performing and visual arts; and English.

I’m cynical, I know, but I don’t think that this is coincidental.  In the United States, mainstream religions [who generally require some intensive theological training] are losing members left and right.  The highest-paid performing and visual artists are those who can provide the most spectacular show, not the most technically sound performance, and most “professional” pop singers could not even match the training or technical ability of the average graduate student in voice, but technical ability doesn’t matter, just popularity, as witness American Idol.  As for English, when 60% of all college graduates aren’t fully technically competent in their own language, this does suggest a lack of interest.

The other factor in common in these areas is that the average semi-educated American believes that he or she knows as much as anyone about religion, singing, dancing, acting, and English as anyone.  And that’s reflected in both what professors are paid and in what experts in those fields are paid. The problem is that popular perceptions aren’t always right, regardless of all the mantras about the “wisdom of the crowd.”  The highest paid professors – and professionals – in the United States today are in the field of business and finance.  That’s right – those quant geniuses who brought you all the greatest financial melt-down since the Great Depression, not to mention the “Flash Crash” of a month or so ago when technical glitches resulted in the largest fastest one-day decline in the market ever.  Oh… and just as a matter of national pride, if you will, why do professors of foreign languages get paid 8-10% more than professors of English? Especially when the mastery of English is at a decades-low point?

More to the point, it’s not just about singers, writers, English professors, but about all of society.  We may complain about the financiers and their excesses, but we still allow those excesses.  We may talk about the importance of teachers, police, firefighters, and others who hold society together, but we don’t truly support them where it counts.

As a society, we may not always get what we pay for, but you can bet we won’t get what we don’t pay for.

Everyone’s Wonderful! [Part II and Counting]

I noted some time back that the scholar Jacques Barzun had documented in his book From Dawn to Decadence what he believed was the decline of western culture and civilization and predicted its eventual fall.  One of his key indicators was the elevation of credentials and the devaluation of achievement. Along these lines, the June 27th edition of The New York Times [brought to my attention by an alert reader] carried an article noting the emergence and recognition of multiple high school valedictorians. One high school had 94, and another even had 100!

While many factors have contributed to this kind of absurdity, two factors stand out: (1) rampant grade inflation based on an unwillingness of educators and parents to apply stringent standards that measure true achievement and (2) a society-wide unwillingness to recognize that true excellence is rare – except perhaps in professional sports.

So many problems arise from this tendency to over-praise and over-reward the younger generation that I can’t possibly go into all of them in a blog.  But I do want to address some of those of greater import, not necessarily in order of societal impact, but as I see them.  First of which is the fact that, beyond high school and certainly beyond college, there can’t be multiple “winners.”  There will only be one position at the hospital for a new surgeon, one or two vacancies for new teachers each year at the local school or a handful at most.  Graduate schools only take a limited number of applicants from the overall pool, and they do make choices.  Sometimes, the choices or the grounds on which they’re made may not be fair, just as a bad grade in freshman PE may keep a high school student from becoming valedictorian [if only one is chosen, the way it used to be], but the plain fact is that, in life, economics and need limit what is available, and students need to learn that not everyone gets to be top dog, even if the differences between the contenders seem minuscule,

Second, by recognizing multiple students as “valedictorians,” schools and parents are both devaluing the honor and simultaneously over-emphasizing it as a credential.  As a result, more and more colleges are ignoring whether students are “valedictorians” and relying on other factors, such as, perhaps regrettably, standardized test scores.

Third, like it or not, as former President Jimmy Carter once stated [and for which he was roundly criticized], “Life isn’t fair.”  It may not be “fair” that one teacher somewhere in the past didn’t like this or that student’s performance and gave them an A- rather than an A, and that kept them from being valedictorian.  It’s not “fair” that Ivy League schools now require better grades from their female applicants than from their male applicants because more female students work harder and the schools don’t want to overbalance their student bodies with women.  Unfortunately, what society can do in “legislating” fairness is not only limited, but impossible to produce anything close to absolute fairness in real terms.  All society can do is set legal parameters to prohibit the worst cases.  We, as individuals, then have to do our best to act fairly and learn to work around or live with the instances where “life isn’t fair,” because it isn’t and never will be.

Fourth, frankly, in cases of similar or identical grades, other factors should be weighed.  They certainly are in all other occupational situations in life, because they have to be. When there are limited spaces, decisions will be made to determine who gets the position.  Not observing this practical factor in high school is just another aspect of giving students an inflated view of their own “specialness,” or, if you will, the continuation of the “trophies for everyone” philosophy.

But… is anyone listening?  Apparently not, because there’s more and more grade inflation, more and more valedictorians, and more and more emphasis on how “wonderful” every student is.