Sunday, April 28, 2013

Honors and elite societies

April 27 - Honors day

Not only I understand the necessity of recognizing student success, but I strongly support it. A student ranked high in a math contest? Published a paper? Then explicitly recognize those achievements, and do it loud and clear, without watering anything down (out of concern for the students who don't have such successes). When I have a talented student, I suggest (more or less explicit) that the combo "moral fairness + professional competitiveness" guarantees a lasting success. But I am quite skeptical when it comes to the avalanche of the "alpha-beta-gamma" series of academic/leadership/elite societies (and I agree that the fact that I was raised in a different academic culture might play an important role in this skepticism). Bottom line - I don't dig them. Years ago, when I was asked to be inducted in the "kappa-mu-epsilon" (a honorary math society), I respectfully declined. I believe that that while honor societies societies might rightfully recognize their members' achievements at the moment of initiation, they also tend to offer - through the continued membership alone - an overblown perception of their members' value, that is a lack of humility which is in itself an obstacle to subsequent performance and really a trap (being contrary to their mission; and I believe this is true in many cases - unfortunately).