Thursday, June 05, 2008

Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings about Kids’ School Achievements

I just arrived home from my son Reese’s awards ceremony at school. I choked back tears as I watched the baby of my brood complete his final year of elementary school. (Not really on the water works, but it is the end of an era.) I’m officially, conceivably—no pun intended—closer to grandchildren being born (God willing!) than to my own children’s births.

But that’s not what I’m here to discuss (read: rant and rave about) today. No, I just needed to let off a little steam about the awards themselves.

First, the school spent twice as long on the music/drama, art and P.E. awards as they did on the academic ones. If you figure up the amount of time (50 minutes daily) the kids spend in their electives (or specials, as they’re called) compared to academics (4.2 hours), it seems a little incongruous to focus the vast majority of an awards’ ceremony on sideline pursuits. For the record, I have nothing against the P.E., art and music/theatre. Reese had one of the leads this year in the Theatre play and even sang a solo. He won a couple of ribbons in the school district track meet. These extra-curricular activities play a vital role in stretching our children’s minds and allowing them variety in their day.

I do believe, however, that the school awards’ ceremony should focus more attention—or, at least as much attention—on academic achievement than on whose splatter painting looked the most like Jackson Pollocks’. I do think that as a society we’ve gone a bit overboard in our attempts to make every child feel special by not celebrating/pointing out/recognizing specifically those who excel.

Second, even the academic and citizenship awards given out today didn’t include all of the children’s achievements for the year—if the list got too long. Granted, some students received only a Chick-fil-A award for excellence in areas such as friendship or honesty. And that was it. These kids didn’t get all A’s and B’s; they didn’t attend school every day this past year; they apparently had some discipline issues that kept them from being recognized for citizenship. So be it. If they didn’t excel in these areas, they obviously shouldn’t receive an award. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

But do we have to shortchange the kids who worked their little butts off to get good grades and excelled? (Kids who received Honor Roll, all A’s for the year, and Merit Roll, all B’s for the year, didn’t even get the Chick-fil-A coupon!)

Case in point: I’m aware of one school situation where teachers and administrators were pressured into dropping the announcement of Honor Roll (all A’s for the year) and Merit Roll (all B’s for the year) because it made students who couldn’t—not didn’t or wouldn’t—achieve that benchmark feel bad. Are you kidding me? Feel bad? In the sixth grade? In any grade for that matter? What is school about if not learning, striving for excellence, setting goals and achieving them? No wonder our youth are traveling down the path of mediocrity they’re currently on! No wonder the kids in increasing numbers aspire more to be the next American Idol than the president! No wonder students see little point in developing self-discipline and adopting a strong work ethic! Because adults want to coddle and protect them from any and all disappointment. Did these same parents and school personnel ever consider the fact that a little disappointment, a little failure might actually spur on a child to achieve even more the following year?

I’m reminded of the son of a friend. Five years ago, Chase Nielsen didn’t make the basketball team in 7th grade. Though lots of parents seemed surprised, even shocked, Chase and his parents were devastated. He was tall, quick and had a budding 3-point shot. The great news is, instead of wallowing in self-pity and refusing to continue with the sport that had burned him so badly, Chase joined a year-round team and purposed to get better. And get better he did. This past year, he played varsity basketball as a junior.

Do we not see the potential for crippling drive, creativity and excellence by watering down even what is supposed to be an AWARDS’ ceremony. It’s right there in the name, for goodness sake! If a parent is disappointed that his kid will only be recognized for perfect attendance, they don’t go! (Of course, that will ruin the perfect attendance award.)

But you get my point. If we want to challenge kids and spur them on to achieve excellence, we have to keep that carrot before them, not put a carrot—and 4-pack of chicken nuggets—in everyone’s envelope.

By the way, because I’m very proud of his accomplishments, Reese received the following awards: Honor Roll, commendation on TAKS in reading and math, the all-E (excellent) citizenship award, KPAWS (school televised announcements), Media Fair participation, and Student of the Year for the entire school.

Thanks for indulging me. I feel better. And, apparently, feelings are what it’s all about, right?

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

Congrats Reese!!! You too, Leslie, for being such a proud mom!