You should know that my children all attend a school that doesn’t honor winning a competition, but instead honors participation in events. No letter grades until high school, and everyone’s feelings are carefully nurtured so that they all feel like they’re a success, even if they’re the runner who dropped out of the race while everyone else sprinted to the finish line. Living in Boulder, this is a microcosm of the greater cultural zeitgeist of “everyone’s a winner” and I have to say it drives me crazy.
Back to our conversation…
me: “When you run a race, do you think the person who is fastest should be called the winner?”
her: “well, of course.”
me: “but if you didn’t win, would you feel bad?”
her: “yes, and I don’t like that.”
me: “so do you think everyone should be a winner, regardless?”
her: “maybe. I don’t want to feel bad.”
me: “well, when you grow up you’ll find that life is as much about losing as it is winning. You lose a chance for a better job, you don’t get tickets to a concert, you can’t afford to go out for dinner, you have a date with someone cute and they’re just not interested in you.”
her: “that’s no fun.”
me: “I know, but that’s what life is. Good and bad, all mixed together. So do you think never losing a race in school helps you learn how to handle not winning when you’re older?”
her: “not really. I dunno, maybe we should have winners and losers.”
me: “and learn how to deal with the disappointment of not being great at everything all the time?”
her: “yeah. I guess.”
And there, in a nice 8yo logic nutshell, is what most bothers me about a generation of children growing up with “participation awards”. It boils down to… nothing.
When my 12yo son’s basketball team won the YMCA league championship last year, they got exactly the same generic 8″ trophy that every other boy in the league was awarded. It didn’t say “champions” or “first place”, it didn’t even have his name on it. And y’know what? He couldn’t care less about it. It means nothing to him and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day it just ends up in the garbage can.
Without significance, trophies, medallions, awards have no meaning.
Further there’s no drive to excel, to win, if there’s no benefit to having won.
A world of mediocrity where no-one’s a loser precisely because no-one’s a winner either.
It’s a well intentioned, but ultimately ungood path we’re on with this next generation. We need to have them lose occasionally, find out that there’s another child in class who, yes, is actually better at drawing, reading, math, running, basketball, gymnastics, a foreign language than they are. Life is about learning how to accept and get back up and into the thick of things after disappointment, not just shield our children from every bad thing that could befall them.
But maybe that’s just my skewed perspective…