Is our nation becoming a medal and trophy society?
During my lifetime, I have had two important graduations. One was from high school. The other was from college. Two important graduations, indeed. As I watch my grandkids grow up, they have already had a kindergarten graduation, a graduation from elementary school to middle school, and a future graduation from middle school to high school. That is three graduations before they graduate from high school!
Who are these graduations for? I admit, it is kind of cute to see my grandkids wearing homemade paper mortar boards, but I also find it amazing that some of these graduations are with rented caps and gowns, just as I wore graduating from high school!
I have recently witnessed my grandkids’ baseball games where strikes and balls were not counted. Everyone on the team got to bat once in each inning. (So far, so good.) What is more interesting is that the score was never kept! They did not want to have winners or losers, just participants. (OK. I will give this one a pass, because it was little kids.) I have seen a peewee football game where one player refused to go on the field to play. He began crying and sobbing and made his parents take him home during the game. His team won that game, which was the championship game. While his team was celebrating, he was at home. He got his trophy even though he did not participate. That’s another thing, kids today ‘earn’ a trophy every season – even if they are on a losing team!
It becomes obvious that the graduations are more for the parents than for the students. Do you really think a kindergarten student is all excited about his graduation day? They don’t know how to spell the word graduation, much less embrace the feeling of accomplishment and transition.
What kind of life lesson was learned by the young football player that refused to play, but received his trophy? What type of life lesson are we teaching our future adults by not keeping score, and not differentiating between winners and losers?
We have inundated our children with medals and trophies for average and sub-standard performance and behavior. What we are inadvertently teaching them is that accomplishments are easy. Average and less-than-average performance is acceptable. Oftentimes this performance will be rewarded.
We are teaching them that showing up isn’t half the battle – it is the battle! Or, in the case of the football player, not even sticking around is deemed an achievement.
By having all of these intermediate graduations, we take our eyes off the brass ring – graduating from high school. This should be step one in every person’s educational achievement and the importance of that accomplishment cannot be overstated. If you were a potential employer interviewing future employees, how would you react if the applicant said, “I graduated from middle school. Here is a copy of my middle school graduation certificate. ” Say what?
Any education beyond high school is a silver ring. That is true for college, vocational school or military. If you do not believe that learning takes place in the military, just ask a veteran. My best instructors were not from my Big Ten university, they were in the US Army. 95% of my Army instructors were better than anyone I had at college. I digress. The fact is, we need to teach our youngsters to keep their eyes on that silver ring.
We need to have our children experience winning and losing. If they are involved in an athletic competition and they are not winning, they have choices. They can seek additional instruction. They can become more proficient by practicing. They can choose a different sport. Oh. You did not see that last choice coming? Not all people are proficient at every sport. Me and golf, for instance.
In educational endeavors, applying oneself and studying are usually the tickets to success. Practice makes perfect.
Success is a function of attitude. We need to cultivate the proper attitude. In particular, we need to promote a work ethic. It takes a work ethic to want to practice in sports. It takes a work ethic to study and excel in academics. It takes parental expectations and guidance to place the ‘adolescent rocket’ on the right launch pad.
When it came to parental expectations, Big Daddy G was a taskmaster. I was never, ever told that I was ‘special.’ I was told that I would finish high school and go to college and be the first college graduate in our family. Period! I heard this at least once a week for every week I comprehended the English language. I was never told I was ‘special’ because he made it very clear that once I left his nest, I would be competing for grades, jobs and promotions. I would become a member of society’s herd! It would be up to me and me alone to determine if I was an ‘alpha dog’ or a ‘zeta puppy.’
It really is a pet peeve of mine when I hear so many parents telling their children that they are ‘special.’ What they need to say is that their children are ‘special’ to their parents, grandparents, relatives and close friends. They are viewed as being one of society’s herd once they leave home. Like it or not, they will need to compete with the rest of the herd.
Protect your children as much as you can, but they do need to learn how to deal with failure. Not everyone can win every game. Not everyone can be the class valedictorian. Everyone cannot be president of a company or governor of a state. Some will accomplish those things, but most will not.
For all the parental supervision I received, none prepared me for failure. I had a terrific work ethic when it came to working. I received most of my grades with minimal effort. I was involved in everything I wanted to be involved in and excelled at most of them.
Then I hit college in a Big Ten University at the height of the Viet Nam War. My orientation class was 25 people. The orientation lasted two days. At the very end, we were informed that only 10% of the people in our orientation class would graduate from that university. As I looked around the room I realized that I was looking in the faces of some pretty intelligent people. Holy crap! Only 2 1/2 of us would graduate from that university! Would I be the 1/2?
I had earned and saved enough money for my freshman year. I graduated from high school in a class of 61 and I was now sitting in an auditorium with 3000 students! Talk about shock and awe! Like most freshmen, I procrastinated because I did not have to work (I had enough money) and I played whenever possible. I found myself perched on the precipice of academic failure and there was one helluva crosswind! I did not know how to respond to my parents when they asked, “How are things going at college?” I could not give them a straight answer for fear of disappointing them.
Between my freshmen and sophomore years, still balancing on the precipice of academic failure, I experienced a life changing event. Want to guess what is was? Lottery ticket? Rich girl friend? Joining the priesthood? None of those. I got a part-time job. Yup. Now when I was not in class, I was working. I changed majors to one I liked. Now I did not have time to screw around! I hit the books and did my term papers in advance. I got serious about college in a big time way. Why? Because now I was paying for it and by God if I was going to work my butt off I was going to get as much out of that college as I could get. I even had one 4.0 quarter! I came off the precipice and got the diploma. Only the second graduation of my life. I survived society’s herd and grabbed the silver ring. (When I was not working part-time, I was working full-time. There were no spring breaks to exotic beaches. These trips now seem to be the norm for college and high school students.)
Unfortunately, this feeling of ‘I’m special’ has permeated to adulthood. Need examples?
Ever watch Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy play golf? On each and every hole, the golf marshal will announce, ‘No cameras, please.’ But yet, people who must feel they are special, are clicking cameras just as these two great golfers are in the middle of their swings. A Tiger tirade generally ensues with the censor assuredly being too late with the ‘bleep’ button.
Non-handicapped people that park in handicap parking? They think they are special.
How many times have we seen celebrities get in trouble with the law only to have them use the phrase, “Do you know who I am?” They think they are special and above the law.
Federal senator and representative health plans? They are not on Medicare! They think they are special and consequently have a golden parachute health care plan while trying to stick the balance of the population with Obamacare and Medicare. How convenient.
Welfare recipients that have made a living on welfare? Somehow, they think they are entitled to live off the efforts of the producing population without contributing one iota to society. They must be ‘special.’
Suffice it to say that this list could go on and on! There you have it. We reward people with medals, trophies and in some instance, paychecks for average or substandard performance. In some instances there is no performance and we reward them anyway.
Shame on us for not preparing our children to the brutal reality of life. Everyone wants to be Number One, but it is just not possible. Parents need to prepare children for the ups and downs that they will face in life. Children (and adults) need to, in the words of an old Army slogan, ‘Be All You Can Be.’ Once your child has attained their full potential in life, they will be able to grab the gold ring. The parent deserves the platinum ring.