The Unethical Ingredients Of The West Point High School Valedictorian Fiasco, Part II: What’s Going On Here? [Corrected]


Who are the ethics villains, heroes, fools and otherwise in the West Point High School graduation honors debacle?


Number One, and nothing else is even close: If society were capable of looking at human beings as human beings and not as members of teams, groups and tribes, this would have still been a mess, but a much less toxic one. There are groups, political parties, activists, irresponsible scholars and race-hucksters of all kinds who benefit and profit by dividing the United States along racial fault-lines, and they will do it for as long as they can, no matter what harm it does to the nation, families, individuals, institutions, values and the enjoyment of life. This is an example of what we have to dread in greater frequency and damage if we don’t find a way to stifle these villains, for that is what they are.

Related to this are accounts that the president of the local NAACP was elated. This isn’t a team sport: two young women were honored for their achievements, not their race. If it would be offensive for a local group to express pleasure that two white students received an honor, it is equally obnoxious and inappropriate for the NAACP to be making racial comments.

2 If the school counselor was really the culprit who used the wrong standard, he or she needs to go. Yes, the whole school is responsible, including the principal, but if ever a scapegoat was called for, however, this is it. Because of the predictable chain reaction, it was an inexcusable mistake. In Mississippi? In a predominantly black student body? The ethics alarms should have been ringing at ear-splitting volume before the grade calculations ever started. Quite simply, this was a mistake that must not be made.

3. Suspicions that race was a factor in using the wrong standard are inevitable at a time when so many standards are being attacked, eliminated or changed for not yielding the “right” results by the measure of “equity and diversity.” The fact that two black students were elevated above the white ones by the “mistaken” use of the wrong standard under the rules and tradition could have been a coincidence, but the white parents, and objective critics, have every reason to wonder, just as the black parents have every reason to suspect racial bias when the value of their children’s honor was cut in half to satisfy two white families.

4. Whatever sadistic Being playing dice with the universe who came up with this plot allowed the school superintendent to be black deserves a thank-you prayer or a sacrificed chicken or something. Heck, imagine if the two students originally named had been white, and the unjustly snubbed students had been black, with the counselor and school administrators all white. Making race a factor in hiring and promotions is unethical, but there is no denying that “diversity” can be mighty useful in a pinch. This was a big pinch.

5. Ethics kudos also to the school superintendent for taking responsibility, though he was hardly at fault.

6. When the parents of the white students objected and it was found that indeed their kids should have been the valedictorian and the salutatorian, the only option was to double the honors. That was, at that point, competent, fair and responsible.

7. Emma Berry’s mother is an Ethics Villain for posting what she did on social media, featuring only the white students and labeling them as the valedictorian and salutatorian. Mistake?Stupidity? It certainly looked malicious.

8. I know why the school authorities decided not to tell Ikeria Washington’s (above) and Layla Temple’s parents that there had been a mistake and that they were now sharing the top class honors with two more students until right before graduation. They decided that the fait accompli approach when it was too late for lawsuits, injunctions, protests and politician grandstanding would at least allow the graduation to go forward. They sure knew that delaying disclosure might make the ultimate uproar worse, but that at least the ceremony wouldn’t be disrupted.

It was a utilitarian solution to an ethical dilemma. I won’t say they were wrong, but I would have told the black parents immediately.

9. Layla Temple beginning her speech by announcing that she was the “true salutatorian” can be forgiven of a high school senior, but her family and the school should have cautioned her against inflammatory statements like that as risking making a bad situation worse. Maybe they did warn her; if so, she should be punished. “Don’t be an asshole” is a valuable lesson.

10. Next to the obsession with race in all things, the other cultural malady at work here is the irrational infatuation with grades, honors, and celebrity. The latter is especially absurd since grades are so often arbitrary and schools lack rigor anyway. My parents never made a big deal about my grades at any level, and I couldn’t have cared less what my grade point average or rank in my senior class was….and I had the same attitude in law school, when we were told that if we didn’t “make journal,” we would end up on skid row.

Finally, the latest ethics villains are the news media, because that’s who they are, and what they do. Here is atypical headline from The Hill: “White parents claim calculation error after two Black students get high school’s top honors”

No, there WAS a calculation error, and the parents of the two students who were harmed by the error appropriately worked to fix the problem. The episode should have had nothing to do with race.

But the news media will make sure that bey the time it is finished, that’s all it will be about.

Good job, everybody!

23 thoughts on “The Unethical Ingredients Of The West Point High School Valedictorian Fiasco, Part II: What’s Going On Here? [Corrected]

  1. Holy cow! Why aren’t AP courses given more worth than regular classes? That’s dumb. And unethical. From the little I’ve seen of our local high school, everyone takes “AP” courses now. What were the two white kids doing? Piling up grades in easier classes? Someone taking Calculus gets no more worth in the GPA calculation than someone who stops at Trig? That’s just crazy. There’s the root cause of this fiasco. The method of calculation can be gamed to the advantage of lesser students.

    • That is a fair question, Other Bill.

      AP classes create a problem. They create a weighted grade. In other words, they measure on a different scale. How can you equalize different scales? Short answer: you can’t.

      I graduated high school with a 4.1-4.2 GPA because I took several AP classes which gave an extra Grade Point (5 for an A; 4 for a B; 3 for a C, etc.). In the long run, that more than made up for the C I got in English that one trimester. I got a better GPA than that Straight-A student that did not take any AP classes. It would have been wrong for me to edge out such a student. Fortunately, no one had to face that quagmire.

      Not everyone gets into AP. You get chosen for them. It is a little unfair that the Straight-A student who does not get placed in AP classes would lose out to a Straight-A student who got a B+ in the one AP classes the student took. AP classes got determined by performance on standardized testing. That tended to land an odd student in an AP class. One of our classmates in AP English was a guy who never stepped foot in an Honors English classroom. But, he did really well on the language portion of the PSAT. He was as surprised as we were that he was there. We still laugh about it.

      But, there were Straight-A English students that did not test well enough to get the shot at an inflated GPA.

      However, at my high school, this issue was pretty much moot. The Valedictorian and Salutatorian in my high school were as Straight-A as the Straight-As with no AP classes; their 4.3 GPA was as perfect as the regular 4.0. Close enough, at least.

      Now that I think about it, I am not sure what standard my high school used. It may have used total GPA. It really would not matter. The same people would have probably been acknowledged under either calculation.

      Long story short, there are legitimate reasons for excluding from the calculation any GPA inflation caused by AP classes, especially since the benefits of such classes are supposed to be the appeal it will create on a college application.


      • I believe things like AP and IB class selection vary by high school. At my high school anyone could join the AP classes, but you had to be in the IB program to get into the IB classes. The difference between regular classes and AP classes was enormous. I chose to take a regular economics course instead of an AP version my senior year because it didn’t matter to my college applications anymore. The class was a joke. It was nothing but worksheets filled with fill in the blank questions that were taken directly from the text book. In order to get an A+ you literally needed to be able to do nothing other than read. There were students who failed, so I assume they could not. AP classes were designed to actually teach, “regular” classes were there to give students a diploma. They just passed the students along, regardless of whether the student could even perform basic tasks like match up a sentence in a book and find the missing word. It was appalling. There really isn’t any fair way to compare the people taking an actual class to the people who are given A’s for showing up, and comparing grades across schools is a pointless endeavor. This is why the standardized tests are important, to get an idea of how much a student actually knows and what kind of curriculum they are prepared for.

    • @Other Bill – I would suspect that both sets of girls took classes with grade weights, maybe even the same classes, but that Ms. Washington and Ms. Temple scored higher than Ms. Berry and Ms. Borgioli in the weighted classes. As far as I am concerned, the GPA SHOULD have been calculated with the grade weights, and find it odd it wasn’t in the past.

      I have mixed feelings about grade weight since I attended High School in the 90s when grade weights were relatively new and only a few AP classes were offered. I also attended both a private high school and an underfunded public high school.

      The private high school only weighted “Honors” level classes and then only with a 1.2 weight on a 4.0 scale. Also, keep in mind that the private high school’s grading scale was 8 points per grade letter (A = 100-92). They only had one AP class for Calculus in Senor year.

      The public high school I attended had 1.2 grade weight of many classes, 1.4 for “accelerated” classes and 1.6 for “honors”, also on a 4.0 scale. The grading scale at this school was 10 points per grade level (A = 100-90). This school didn’t offer any AP classes due to cost. Also because of the 1.6 weight, some students ended up with GPAs over 5.0 on a 4.0 scale.

      While the private school offered grade weights so students who took more challenging classes were not penalized in class rankings, the public school used them to boost GPAs overall school statistics.

      The interesting part was when I transferred schools the public high school recalculated my GPA using the new school standard.

      Since I had intended to attend Junor College anyway, it was always much to do about nothing as far as I was concerned.

        • The local public high school seems to allow anyone who wants to to take any AP course they want. Which seems crazy.

          In my little Marist Brothers boys high school (1964 to 1969), we were placed in all our classes from freshman year through graduation according to our admission test score and then our grades going forward. All the “smart” kids were in the A section, and the sections went down from there to E. Self esteem was not a thing. Hah. The idea of anybody not in the A section becoming first in the class would have been preposterous. The controversy upon our graduation (which I’ve only learned about recently) was the top two guys were really close and the one who lost out claims he was placed second because the Brothers weren’t ready for a Cuban to be valedictorian in post Castro Miami. He may be right.

          I wasn’t in the running. I had no idea grades were important and that you were supposed to figure out how to get the best grade rather than just enjoy the material. Dumb. Our senior year philosophy teacher told our valedictorian and my good friend I was “an intellectual slob.” I figured one out of two wasn’t bad. My intellectual career peaked when I received a 5 on the AP English exam. I’m pretty sure we were the first class to have AP English. AP was a pretty new thing back before electricity.

  2. Why on earth would the school not tell the students and the parents that there had been a mistake and that the honors were now being shared? That makes no sense to me.

  3. Valedictorian status has direct financial consequences, that make it more than an economic bragging right. My college bribed valedictorians to come by offering full ride scholarships. Then claimed record high valedictorian enrollment in its advertising. I think the policy is insane (us dumb kids subsidizing the smart ones), but losing that status could have been a huge financial setback for one of the girls if they had enrolled in a school with that program.

    • But nobody lost that status. They didn’t take it away from the original, incorrectly-awarded girls, they simply named a second person to share each title. Had this not been blown up into a hissy fit of epic assholery all around, everyone could have gone on with their lives and reaped whatever benefits accrue from these silly little titles. I’m not sure “I’m an unreasonably litigious jerk” is a trait one wishes to advertise to college admissions boards.

        • It is inconceivable that there is a single college in America in 2021 that would rescind a scholarship from a black girl over this.

          But my point was that, had they not made a stink and gotten national news coverage for this, no college would even know that the school had two valedictorians, and both kids could have claimed the title on their applications with no drama.

  4. Emma Berry’s mother is an Ethics Villain for posting what she did on social media, featuring only the white students and labeling them as the valedictorian and salutatorian. Mistake?Stupidity? It certainly looked malicious.

    How about…True?

    “Featuring only the white students” seems like a malicious way of saying “featuring only the actual winners”.

    Layla Temple beginning her speech by announcing that she was the “true salutatorian” can be forgiven of a high school senior, …

    How about: False? You know, since she wasn’t actually the salutatorian at all, but was merely called that by because of a mistake.

    Finally, the latest ethics villains are the news media, because that’s who they are, and what they do.

    At least we agree on something.

    • Baloney. The mother’s post was exactly as unethical as the “I’m the REAL salutatarian” swipe at graduation.. It was calculated to inflame, and was unfair. The two white students were NOT the valedictorian and salutatorian. The school could name whoever they wanted. It could violate its own rules, because they were its own rules. It named two sets, and that meant that there were two of each. The mothers post was lying by omission.

      • I was actually going to write something similar to what Caldwell posted… There were calculations that were supposed to be followed. Those calculations were supposed to result in two people being given accolades. It really is that simple. Pretending that the school didn’t have standards for their valedictorian and salutatorian, and could have given them out to anyone is novel when in reality, they have standards, which you explained, and they could not in fact have given them out to anyone. In fact, if they *could* have done so, they could have just stuck by their guns and given Washington and Temple the awards.

        Once the school messed the calculation up and gave it to the wrong people, and make no mistake: That happened, they were, as you say, in a zugzwang, and did probably the best thing that they could have done for the people involved. That doesn’t change that had the system functioned properly, Washington and Temple would never have been involved.

        Which is why Temple starting her speech as “The REAL salutatorian” is especially awful. Not only is it egregiously assholeish, it’s also a lie. When I first read that line, I mixed up the pairs of girls in my head, and assumed that one of the girls who actually got the grades to get the awards sad it. I winced, because while true, it was catty and petty in an especially public and distasteful way, but I could understand why a kid would do it. Now that I’ve wrapped my head around how Temple not only did that, but had the added modifier of being factually wrong, it seems worse.

  5. Your #10: “Next to the obsession with race in all things, the other cultural malady at work here is the irrational infatuation with grades, honors, and celebrity.”

    This is the key issue, and the sickest. Adding race to the equation only deflects attention from this damaging and ill approach to life, achievement, and success. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness does not mean a constant comparing or contrasting with others: when did it become mandatory that we live our lives in competition with everyone else?

    When I was growing up, a B was an F, in my mother’s terms, but only because of what she thought I could achieve. It never occurred to her to find out what my classmates’ grades were, and I never knew about them either. It was not the healthiest approach, but I was never, ever measured against others. It was highly personal, and I was not ever judged by what other kids were doing. It was unthinkable. It was about me, not about them. When did “them” achieve primacy in peoples’ lives?

    • What was it we were always told to do? Perform up to our ability? I’m pretty sure that was it. But we were never allowed to “get the big head” either.

    • “Keeping up with the Joneses” has always been with us, but the advent of social media a decade or so ago kicked that particular unhealthy attitude into overdrive for a lot of people.

  6. Given the nation-wide attention to this controversy, the only remedy now would be for the school to publish the calculations for each student involved. Assuming they are all near the top of their class, the “privacy” concern is being used as a smoke-screen. Americans are forgiving, and an honest mistake is forgivable. However, if there was actual corruption, the person(s) involved should face consequences.

  7. This is pretty myopic thinking. Is no one going to ask why the mothers of the “winners” (who are apparently friends) were so convinced that these two black girls could not possibly have received top honors? I understand carefully calculating your grades, but, your child’s classmates’? Either they were somehow privy to other students’ personal information, or they had no basis other than their own hubris to question the ranks.

    According to Temple, her transcript listed her as ranking third, which means a college looking at her transcript would know that she wasn’t officially ranked as salutatorian. One could argue that rank doesn’t matter, but the school itself determined that it does by both calculating rank and issuing honors according to rank. Temple doesn’t need to be “forgiven” for deciding that her success in more rigorous classes outranks her classmate who skated in gen ed and got lower-hanging fruit for grades.

    What comments did the president of the local NAACP make that about this case, and according to whom? If you’re going to brand someone a villain, you should have evidence of villainy.

    If an error truly was made, it should be nothing for the school to produce the transcripts and show exactly how the top two ranks were calculated the first time, and the second time, as well as what it was that compelled them to revisit it after a couple of disgruntled mothers complained. The fact that they haven’t is why this matter has not been resolved.

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