Oprah and Sue Heck Were Validated by School. Were You?

“You're dealing with the demon of external validation. You can't beat external validation. You want to know why? Because it feels sooo good.” ~ Barbara Hall

School. Is. Over.

And so are the sports banquets, award ceremonies, promotions, graduations and a host of other end-of-year accolades that beckon to let you know how well (or not) you child did in school.


For some, the school year ended on a high note; for others the year wasn't over soon enough. Yet, for another group of students and parents, the academic year ended in ambivalence.


Because if you are not the parents of those kids who were duly honored for their A+ work during the year, then you might be the ones with kids with a handful of A minuses on their final report card who don't get any recognition at all.

Evidently you are not alone. Coincidently, some end-of-season television show finales had this school theme, too.

“The Middle” and the almighty “Oprah” pointed out something many parents live through year after year of their children’s’ education: the need for students to be publically validated by their teachers and school administrators. 

If you're not familiar with show “The Middle,”  it revolves around The Hecks, a semi-dysfunctional family trying to live up to a standard they are not. Their three kids are in each grade level; elementary, middle school and high school.  Brick is an awkward fourth grade book-worm with a nervous habit of whispering to himself. Sue is in middle school, wears braces and is a self-conscious, low-achiever trying to change her status by joining a team sport and other school activities. Then there’s Axl, the shirtless, boxer-clad, rebellious teenager who could care less about school and more about having a good time.

In the last episode Sue is being promoted from the 8th grade and is desperate for some recognition from her school.  She knows she kept a perfect attendance record, but realizes she won't be getting an award during the upcoming ceremony. When she confronts the attendance office about this, she’s told she has one absence.

As it happens in reality with many students today, it is up to Sue to prove to the school staff that she indeed didn’t miss a single day of school. After watching hours of school video tapes, she finds herself in a shot with the date and time she allegedly missed clearly stamped on it.

Sue Heck will finally be getting an award from school!

But wait. Not so fast. As the name is read, the presenter says what seems to be a botched up name on the certificate, Susan Ehcky, and our hearts momentarily sink.  Then she realizes no one else is standing up to accept this, so she laughs and accepts her award.


Eden Sher plays Sue Heck on the TV show “The Middle” with Bianca Valle at Coachella. Photo by B.Valle

On Oprah’s final show, she had a single special guest: her fourth grade teacher.  The most powerful woman on television wanted us to know that it was this person who validated her when she needed it most. 


Photo by Oprah.com

Mrs. Duncan did this by asking Oprah to carry out those little errands teachers always need. Mostly, it was this teacher who made her feel special among her peers; she validated and inspired Oprah, and it wasn't just due to her super good grades.

School is like this. It rewards those who super achieve and the rest are quite frankly, invisible.

What about all those students in the middle, the A- students?

Well, sometimes it seems like a coin toss.  If a student did something extra to get noticed by their teacher, he might be rewarded for his solid work. (In the old days we referred to this as brown-nosing. Remember?)

In today's' uber competitive high school climate, a sixteen-year-old old high school student wrote about the AP and Honors sub-culture of high-achieving high school students and the not-so-high standards they use to get ahead of the rest:

“While it may seem that getting good grades in an AP or Honors course is enough … it's not. Yet, what’s even stranger about this competition is how teachers can easily play a role. AP and Honors students strive to make as many solid rapports with their teachers as possible, staying after school every week and discussing topics that are more personal than U.S. History or algebra. As a result, teachers respect these students more, and give them higher grades for their participation and appreciation of the subject being studied. Unfortunately, shyer teens who may be extremely knowledgeable on certain topics receive lower grades, mainly for the fact that they do not participate (usually due to being overlooked in favor of the participating student). This leads to resentment towards fellow classmates and furthers the competitive streak in the AP and Honors world.”

Seeing the usual suspects at our end-of-year awards ceremony made me wonder if some of the recognition kids get from teachers and school administrators is solely based on the student's merits, or if there's a part that involves us, the parents. 

Besides stellar grades, maybe some students stand out because their parents volunteer regularly or are omnipresent at school events. 

Whatever the case, this end-of-year was different for us.  

We were introduced to a special breed of students who are honored at an off-campus ceremony limited to that 5% of super over-achievers. It was there that our daughter finally got a nod from the school administration — a recognition she earned by herself.


As with Oprah, most kids need to know they are being watched and appreciated that makes a difference.  It's this piece of paper handed out in a public ceremony that validates them as students and inspires them to be the very best they can be.

Like Sue Heck said when she found out she wasn't on the list of awardees, and a school staff member told her she should still be proud of her record, “I'm tired of being proud of myself!”

This just about sums it up for the A minus crowd, too.

“Oprah” and “The Middle” characterized the bewilderment students and parents feel that makes them wonder why little Susie was not good enough to be on the list of names read out loud in front of the entire school … or if mom or dad should have stepped up and volunteered more that would have made the difference.

We'll never know.

Did you or your child feel validated at the end of this school year?

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