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The Participation Trophy Generation

First let me say that I love teaching anatomy and physiology at the community college. It is a tough course.  Students enter this course with great dreams of becoming a nurse, doctor, pharmacist, physical therapist, dentist, or other allied health professional. Then they meet the mountain of minute details that must be memorized. Some dig in and get the job done while others realize the biomedical sciences are not their real love after all. Every semester I am in awe of some of my students as they overcome obstacles, appreciate the opportunity to get an education, and excel.

Then there is another segment of students. And, unfortunately, it seems this group is growing. These students tell me the course is too hard and I need to make changes to accommodate their desire to make a B, the minimum grade required to enter many of the health professional programs. These students think that because they signed up for the course and paid the tuition they are entitled to a B.

Sorry. This is not your rec league soccer team where every one gets an impressive trophy just for being on the roster. Too many of these kids have been coddled and sheltered. Mom and Dad did not let them taste failure. Protecting the almighty "self-esteem" was paramount. For a short time one of my sons was in a Cub Scout den whose den leader would not allow any boy to receive an award until the whole den had achieved the honor. That way no one felt inferior to anyone else. But that also meant no one felt the thrill of exceptional achievement. It was mediocrity for all, excellence for none.

It is a shock for some of my students to find out the real world does not hand out participation trophies. Your success or failure is based on performance and no one is there to cushion the fall when you don't perform.

I put a lot of work into my course. I show up early so that I am available to answer questions. I provide detailed study guides and scour the internet for helpful web sites and videos to share with my students. I do my best to make the lectures interesting and give them clinical anecdotes to make the dry facts more memorable. But they have to meet me half-way. I cannot help them if they do not show up on time to class, do not do the homework, or do not study outside of class. Cramming the night before an anatomy and physiology test is like trying to memorize the phone book.

So maybe as parents, we need to rethink this whole non-competitive, self-esteem boosting movement. Now I agree that kindergarteners do not need to be playing cut throat competitive soccer. But at some point they have to learn that just showing up is not enough. Failure is a real possibility.


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