Skip to main content

Lessons when you win and when you don't

I wrote a response to this article in the Washington Post. The article is a about a middle school in Silver Spring, Maryland that is having a dance and pizza party for students who made straight A's. There are those who feel this humiliates the students who did not make straight A's. They are concerned it is divisive and can lead to increased bullying. I think it is damaging to avoid honoring high achievers because we are afraid we will hurt the feeling of those who don't reach that level of achievement. My response to this article was:

Those wringing their hands over rewarding straight-A students at Eastern Middle School with a dance and pizza need to ask themselves if they really want the equal-in-the-extreme world of the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. story “Harrison Bergeron.”  
Should the school district seek to keep athletes from wearing letter jackets or other team clothing? After all, doesn’t this just rub salt in the wounds of all those who didn’t make the team? Would it require everyone to wear shapeless clothing so no one will know who is fat and who is thin? 
Each person has his or her own complement of strengths and weaknesses. We should be raising our children to have the character to recognize and celebrate the success of others without feeling themselves diminished. Shielding our children from excellence gives them nothing to shoot for but mediocrity.
You can read my response as well as four others here. Note that mine is the only response in favor of the dance.

I am not without empathy for the difficulties of middle school. My memories of middle school are painful. I was physically an early bloomer so I was a little bit taller and a little curvier than my peers. I had bad complexion, thick dark plastic rimmed glasses, and buck teeth. Given my pubescent awkwardness I was not particularly popular. I had friends, but I was not a cheerleader or athlete. Still, I ran for student council office. As I am standing on stage giving my campaign speech before the entire school, friends of my opponent have climbed up to the stage lighting and are dropping confetti down behind me like snow making the entire assembly laugh. I had no idea why everyone is laughing at my carefully crafted and serious speech.  So yes, I am very aware and sensitive to the potential cruelty of middle school students.

I also know what it means to struggle to get an A in a class. Put me in any academic class and I was a star. Put me in gym class and I was a fish out of water. Principal's Honor Roll was the recognition for making straight As. I wanted that award but PE was a graded class so the first quarter I didn't make it. PE was graded on performance, not just effort. The second quarter was gymnastics. Let me be clear. I have never, ever been built like a gymnast. Yet in order to make an A in gym class, I would have to master the cartwheel, round-off, head-stand to forward roll, hand-stand to forward roll, back bend to back walk-over and a front walk-over. Every single day for weeks I came home, moved the living room furniture and practiced these rudimentary gymnastics skills.  Through sheer determination, I made it. I have never worked so hard for an A in a class in my entire life. The memory of that herculean effort has stayed with me for over forty years.

Perhaps because of these experiences I support the pizza party/dance reward for academic achievement. The principal of this school made clear that there are other school dances that include the whole student body and other recognition programs that honor effort and improvement.  I think the worries about bullying are overblown. Do you really think the math geeks are going to lord their ability to recite the number Pi out to twenty digits over the football jocks? (assuming that the math geeks are not also the football jocks. The two categories are not automatically mutually exclusive) And if you avoid honoring high academic achievers because you are afraid of making them the victims of bullies, you allow the entire school district to be bullied.

Why would we want to teach our children to respond, "That's not fair!" instead of "Congratulations!" when someone excels? Why should we assume that they will be demoralized if they do not win top honors?  Do we really want to suggest the response to quit instead of work harder is the expected response? I think all this coddling just reinforces insecurities and low self-esteem. I want my children to be strong enough to see great achievements by others without feeling bad about themselves. We can't all be computer geniuses. We can't all be Olympians. But we can all be kind, compassionate, and generous. We should all learn to apply these virtues in both victory and defeat. Starting these lessons in middle school is not too early.

Comments

Barb, ofs said…
I see nothing wrong with a special reward for honor roll students--achievers in other areas, such as sports, get rewards all the time. All of this "fairness" garbage only rewards mediocrity and does not motivate anyone towards his best efforts.

Popular posts from this blog

Parent Letter from a Catechist

I am going to be teaching seventh grade CCD this year. We do most of the preparation for confirmation during this year since Confirmation is usually scheduled for the fall of the eighth grade year.I have composed a letter to the parents to try and keep them active in their children's religious education. I thought I would post it here and get your feedback before I send it out in a couple of weeks.

I am privileged to be your child’s seventh grade CCD teacher for the 2006-2007 school year. This is a very important year. We will focus on your child’s preparation for confirmation. Of course, you have already been preparing your child for this sacrament for many years. You are the primary catechist for your child. You show how important your Faith is by making Mass attendance a top priority and by family prayer.

Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a beginning. It is not a graduation. This year we will work to solidify the foundation of your child’s Catholic Faith.…

Dispelling the Myth of the Travel Dispensation

One of the fun things about having a site meter on my blog is I can see which posts garner the most attention. I can also see how people find my blog. One of the most read posts from my two years of blogging is this one that discusses finding Mass while traveling. I would like to think this post is so popular because it is so well written. The truth of the matter is that it generates so much traffic because I use the words “travel dispensation for Mass”—as in “There is no such thing as a travel dispensation for Mass.” I would guess that nearly a dozen times every week, someone googles “travel dispensation for Mass” and finds my blog. I wonder how many of these folks are poor souls trying to assuage their Catholic guilt with evidence of a justification for missing Mass while on the road.

I know that when I tell my seventh grade CCD students that attending Mass every Sunday is a commandment (one of the top ten!) and not just a pretty good idea they are amazed. Missing Mass has become so …

United Breaks Guitars

This guy is really talented and what a creative way to get your message across. I think he captured the "indifferent employee" perfectly. They don't just work for airlines. I think I ran into them at Walmart on Friday!