United Sloth of America

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club.

Before my husband and I came to our senses, Squints attended a fancy-pants private school.  There were several perks to this school: amazing trips that we couldn’t afford to go on even if we’d wanted to; enrichment programs; oh, and the art program in which the students’ artwork would be digitized and sent electronically to a company in California.
This company would continually jam my inbox with email about upcoming specials: I could buy all manner of crap…mugs,  tee shirts, placemats, mouse pads, hell, I could probably even get underwear, if I wanted to… imprinted with my son’s original artwork.  You know, before he becomes world-famous.  
Despite the fact that we’ve left the school, I continue to get these emails.  And, being a bad mother, I delete the messages as soon as they hit my inbox.  If I want Squints’ original artwork, I’ll just head upstairs and grab a drawing from under his bed. 
The other day, I received a final email from the company: To wrap up the end of the school year, the message said, I really ought to buy a plaque displaying Squints’ best work to commemorate his first success as a published artist. 
You know, published on the internet. 
By this company.
What am I, an idiot?
Delete. 
In each of my children’s bedrooms, there are rows of cheap plastic statues, many of them indicative of nothing but participation in a season of soccer, baseball, or softball. 
Every year, students who absolutely should not be passed on to the next grade are promoted.  We could blame that on No Child Left Behind, but it’s been going on much longer than that.
In eighth grade, my husband, who doesn’t have a creative bone in his body, won his school’s Art Prize because he came in second place in the GPA award.  His special talent?  Drawing NFL logos. 
And remember those categories from your senior yearbook? Most likely to succeed? Cutest couple?  As a bit of a sloth myself, I was expected to get class clown. 
I missed it by one vote.
I recovered from the disappointment and somehow managed to get on with my life.  But today, thanks to No One Left Disappointed, everyone gets a prize: My daughters’ school just wrapped up the work on the final edition of the newspaper.  Every single child graduating from that school will be listed in the newspaper as best something or other.
All of these hollow rewards give our kids the message that there’s no point in doing anything really well, no point in even making an effort, because they’ll get a prize anyway.  We have become a nation of sloths, a nation that rewards its citizens for doing nothing.  We wring our hands and look at our test scores and say, oh what’s to be done and then we hand a trophy to a little girl who’s learned to tie her shoes.
When we offer twenty bucks for scoring a goal or an ice cream sundae for a home run, we teach our children to pursue excellence not to achieve excellence but for some external reward. 
Children need to feel their own success.  Children need to feel their own failures.  When they have truly succeeded they will know it.  They will have no need of plastic trophies upon their shelves; they will have no need for an ice cream sundae or a crappy plaque.
But for now, we remain a nation of sloths.
Hey, do we get a trophy for that?

3/27/12 Update: This post was also linked to: Mama wants this.
This is one of my favorites because it generated a lot of discussion and because, having taught for several years, I saw it happening every day.


Labels: , , , , , ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: United Sloth of America

Thursday, May 19, 2011

United Sloth of America

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club.

Before my husband and I came to our senses, Squints attended a fancy-pants private school.  There were several perks to this school: amazing trips that we couldn’t afford to go on even if we’d wanted to; enrichment programs; oh, and the art program in which the students’ artwork would be digitized and sent electronically to a company in California.
This company would continually jam my inbox with email about upcoming specials: I could buy all manner of crap…mugs,  tee shirts, placemats, mouse pads, hell, I could probably even get underwear, if I wanted to… imprinted with my son’s original artwork.  You know, before he becomes world-famous.  
Despite the fact that we’ve left the school, I continue to get these emails.  And, being a bad mother, I delete the messages as soon as they hit my inbox.  If I want Squints’ original artwork, I’ll just head upstairs and grab a drawing from under his bed. 
The other day, I received a final email from the company: To wrap up the end of the school year, the message said, I really ought to buy a plaque displaying Squints’ best work to commemorate his first success as a published artist. 
You know, published on the internet. 
By this company.
What am I, an idiot?
Delete. 
In each of my children’s bedrooms, there are rows of cheap plastic statues, many of them indicative of nothing but participation in a season of soccer, baseball, or softball. 
Every year, students who absolutely should not be passed on to the next grade are promoted.  We could blame that on No Child Left Behind, but it’s been going on much longer than that.
In eighth grade, my husband, who doesn’t have a creative bone in his body, won his school’s Art Prize because he came in second place in the GPA award.  His special talent?  Drawing NFL logos. 
And remember those categories from your senior yearbook? Most likely to succeed? Cutest couple?  As a bit of a sloth myself, I was expected to get class clown. 
I missed it by one vote.
I recovered from the disappointment and somehow managed to get on with my life.  But today, thanks to No One Left Disappointed, everyone gets a prize: My daughters’ school just wrapped up the work on the final edition of the newspaper.  Every single child graduating from that school will be listed in the newspaper as best something or other.
All of these hollow rewards give our kids the message that there’s no point in doing anything really well, no point in even making an effort, because they’ll get a prize anyway.  We have become a nation of sloths, a nation that rewards its citizens for doing nothing.  We wring our hands and look at our test scores and say, oh what’s to be done and then we hand a trophy to a little girl who’s learned to tie her shoes.
When we offer twenty bucks for scoring a goal or an ice cream sundae for a home run, we teach our children to pursue excellence not to achieve excellence but for some external reward. 
Children need to feel their own success.  Children need to feel their own failures.  When they have truly succeeded they will know it.  They will have no need of plastic trophies upon their shelves; they will have no need for an ice cream sundae or a crappy plaque.
But for now, we remain a nation of sloths.
Hey, do we get a trophy for that?

3/27/12 Update: This post was also linked to: Mama wants this.
This is one of my favorites because it generated a lot of discussion and because, having taught for several years, I saw it happening every day.


Labels: , , , , , ,

58 Comments:

At May 19, 2011 at 4:51 PM , Anonymous Cheryl P. said...

Very well put. I, too, think we have encouraged our nation to become a "what can you do for me as I deserve it. Lots and lots of people are just entitled for no apparent reason. As a Realtor, I was amazed when people started getting between 3500-8000 dollars to buy a house. Now I know this was to stimulate the economy but what about the millions of folks that had managed to scrape their money together and buy their homes without a gift from Uncle Sam.

Same with kids. Doesn't it make for a stronger society if they have to work and struggle toward the reward. Isn't the outcome that much sweeter and more precious because of the struggle. I don't think a shiny trophy would compare to the sense of satisfaction or pride they would have.

 
At May 19, 2011 at 6:16 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I read recently about how an Amish boy -- no older than 10 or 11 -- was entirely in charge of plowing this huge field with a team of horses. Now that's something to be proud of. Thanks for reading.

 
At May 19, 2011 at 9:03 PM , Anonymous Elizabeth Collins said...

This is the exact same thing we talk about in my education courses, Aunt K! The problem with students receiving awards or praise for every little thing sets them up for disappointment later on in life. Children will begin to think that they should receive something in return for every thing they do that's good and will be in for a rude awakening when they realize that's not how the world works.

In my field experience, my cooperating teacher had this character card system where students received a sticker when they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Once they had filled up a card, they received some sort of prize. There were a few instances where I gave somebody a sticker for doing something above and beyond and another student would ask me if they were going to get a sticker too.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 3:11 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Isn't that crazy? Where's my sticker?

 
At May 20, 2011 at 5:31 AM , Anonymous Fiona Phillips said...

Excellent post and I agree. It's all part of the 'want it now' society we seem to have slipped into. Yesterday was my 6 year old son's sports day. He came 3rd in two out of 6 races. In one of those '3rd' races, there were only three runners. We had a chat about it afterwards and he asked me, 'what would it be like if I always came first?'. By the end of the discussion, he'd come to the conclusion that it would be boring to be first all the time. Losing sometimes helped him understand how others felt.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 6:18 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

"Losing sometimes helped him understand how others felt." How true. Someone told me a few years ago that colleges no longer want the child who has had success after success, but rather, the child who has failed at something.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 6:28 AM , Anonymous Bella said...

K, you have no idea how much I enjoyed reading this post! This is a subject I recently discussed with my son. We both agreed that there is no motivation when the only rewards are extrinsic. Society no longer promotes intrinsic rewards. Instead, they do what you mention and give everyone a trophy simply for showing up. I remember when I was in school. Teachers promoted competition and weren't forced to say, "It's not about winning, it's about participating." What a load of crap! My daddy used to say that this mentality was no way to breed champions and I agree. Good for you for recognizing one of society's dilemmas!

 
At May 20, 2011 at 7:23 AM , Anonymous Valerie said...

This is so true. When my daughter was in grade school I would help out in the classroom once a week. One year, my task was grading the math papers. The teacher instructed me to write "good job" on every paper-no matter the score. She said it was good for the self esteem of the students!! Isn't that nonsense?

 
At May 20, 2011 at 7:34 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

My daughter recently got her class ring and the parents went to the assembly. When I got there, I saw that many of the parents had purchased flowers to present to their daughters. I hadn't even brought my camera. Why are we giving our daughters flowers, I said to my husband, after we 've all just spent hundreds of dollars on rings?

 
At May 20, 2011 at 7:48 AM , Anonymous brenda moguez said...

Bravo! It drives me batty because this type of award system distorts the core value system we work hard to instill in our own children. More than half the time these awards kids work for, are not work the effort they put forth.. Having read, Atlas Shrugged years ago, and impacted by the concept, I always wonder how we hurt our children with hollow awards and encourage them to strive for mediocrity...It's a bigger subject for sure. In any event, strong, thoughtful, post.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 7:48 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Oh my: "F. Good job!" That's motivating all right.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 7:56 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read that book. Adding it to my list now. Thanks so much for reading.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 8:52 AM , Anonymous Kim said...

Lately I've been easing up the ridiculous compliments I give my three year old for EVERYTHING he tries. How do I expect him to grow up to be humble and kind? Great post!

 
At May 20, 2011 at 9:07 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Kim and thank you for the follow too.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 12:24 PM , Anonymous Julieemoore said...

Hey Fiona,
This is Julie Moore. So glad to find you here. I totally agree with your comment although I did not do this with my children always. I'm now seeing the fallout of it with my grown son. Miss you.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 12:27 PM , Anonymous Julieemoore said...

Thanks so much for this very truthful post. I do agree and wish I had done more of this with my own children as they were growing up. I see in my son now that he is not as responsible as we'd like and expects most things to be handed to him on a platter. Great post. visiting from TRDC.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 1:52 PM , Anonymous rhi said...

I'm sure I can knock up a quick rosette for slothness, but to be honest, I'm too lazy....
I agree totally with your post.

 
At May 20, 2011 at 2:23 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading!

 
At May 20, 2011 at 2:24 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for coming by!

 
At May 21, 2011 at 5:58 PM , Anonymous Arlett from Chasing Joy said...

I guess the question becomes when do we cross the line between promoting self-esteem and denying children the lesson of beign a gracious loser and how to handel dissapointment.

 
At May 22, 2011 at 12:19 PM , Anonymous mandyland said...

I don't know where or when it started, but I do know that every parent in my moms group knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that her child far exceeds the average intelligence, is the next Kobe, and would absolutely win American Idol.

My question is, when did average become bad? Because in an effort to be seen as not average, as better, awards are given. Kudos are piled on. Is it any wonder that although we place low in science and math worldwide, we're number one for confidence?

 
At May 22, 2011 at 12:44 PM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

I don't know when average became bad, but I do wonder who's going to be doing all the work while everyone's going around looking for their prizes. I did see that we placed number one in confidence. Another trophy?

 
At May 22, 2011 at 12:46 PM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Right, I mean everyone has to lose sometime, and it's usually more often than winning. The thing is, the kids know that these trophies we're handing out are hollow victories. They know who has won and who has lost so who are we trying to appease? Ourselves or them?

 
At May 23, 2011 at 10:02 AM , Anonymous KristenR said...

I love your post! Did you ever see The Incredibles by Disney Pixar? There are some powerful messages woven in. One where the dad is annoyed by the fact that his son is "graduating" from the fourth grade and states, "They keep creatin new ways to celebrate mediocrity!"

Another memorable quote says something along the lines of "when everyone is special then no one is."

 
At May 23, 2011 at 10:16 AM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Thank you for reading! I'm going to have to take another look at The Incredibles!

 
At May 24, 2011 at 10:40 AM , Anonymous jacqui said...

Great post! Although I can't believe you didn't want to commemorate your child's artwork being published on the internet. Do you know how hard it is to get stuff onto the internet? Oh wait...never mind.

 
At May 24, 2011 at 10:53 AM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Haw haw haw! Thanks for reading.

 
At May 24, 2011 at 12:51 PM , Anonymous Julie said...

This is a frustrating phenomenon to deal with in the classroom, and as a new parent I can only hope that the tide turns before my kiddo comes home with certificates for breathing properly.

 
At May 24, 2011 at 12:56 PM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Well, I think as parents we need to ask the schools and sports teams to stop these kinds of rewards. Not an easy or a popular thing to do.

 
At May 25, 2011 at 5:41 AM , Anonymous Motpg said...

Yes we do! It's shaped like a silver spoon and has a variable interest rate.

You are right. I think the sense of entitlement that has grown in our culture will cause some real problems as our young people come of age.

 
At May 25, 2011 at 9:03 PM , Anonymous Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Yes, and I think it's unfortunate because, I really believe we can't blame this situation on the kids. Yet we will.

 
At May 26, 2011 at 7:48 AM , Anonymous Carrie said...

I agree with all of this. We have swung so far in the "praise" meter that we've made it worthless. I remember competing in school. I remember LOSING in school. I remember giving ribbons to the people who came 1st, 2nd, and 3rd...not to everyone as a Participant.

Bah!

 
At May 26, 2011 at 1:23 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Bah indeed! Who says we all have to be good at everything? Thanks for reading.

 
At May 27, 2011 at 4:21 AM , Anonymous sweetbutterbliss said...

I totally agree about everyone having a "best" That must have been hard for some of the kids. "Best nose picker"

 
At May 27, 2011 at 1:45 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Ha! Best nose picker - I hope that by the time these kids have graduated from high school, that habit has died.

 
At May 29, 2011 at 12:21 AM , Anonymous Stasha said...

So true! I am so glad to read this because a few times I dared pointing this out in a group of parents, I was viewed as European. Pretty sure that stood for rude and heartless. But really you either win or you don't. And that is OK. It is also how you Learn your strenghts and weaknesses and move on to a new hobby or sport you might be better at.

 
At May 29, 2011 at 7:10 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

"It is also how you learn your strenghts and weaknesses..." That's true, but today, being unskilled (I don't dare use the term bad) at something is just unacceptable for some.

 
At July 5, 2011 at 6:53 AM , Anonymous Margie said...

I wonder if schools are trying to take over the role that many parents have abdicated. Home is where no child should be left behind - where art work gets put on display on the fridge; where praise is called "thanks" and it might be handed out just for putting some dirty socks in the hamper; where every family member is special.

 
At July 5, 2011 at 7:39 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I don't know if schools are responsible for this or if they're merely responding to what they perceive as parental "needs" for this kind of thing.

 
At October 29, 2011 at 7:15 AM , Anonymous Erin @Momfog said...

So true! It's gotten so bad that the kids who actually achieve something are getting passed over for prizes to spare the feelings of those who didn't win. Recently, my son's class sold more widgets and earned a pizza party. They didn't get it. The pizza party went to another class for their "effort." WTH? What screwed up lesson did both classes learn from that move?

 
At October 29, 2011 at 7:18 AM , Anonymous LetMeStartBySaying said...

Holy crow, YES.
I think giving really little kids small rewards for trying something the first time is fine. It is scary.
But carrying that into middle school or high school? College? Gimme a break.
Our falls teach us how to land. Having to dust ourselves off gives us a chance to rethink.
If our kids are always cushioned, always told You're GREAT! Don't try any harder! there's going to be a lot of adults in therapy in about 20 years wondering why they can't succeed at anything for real.

 
At October 29, 2011 at 7:40 AM , Anonymous Jackie said...

I agree 100%. What about losing? What about failing? There are more lessons to be learned in NOT then in the opposite.
If only this could be the primer for every sporting league, school, and more importantly parent!

 
At October 29, 2011 at 7:50 AM , Anonymous frelle said...

those are some powerful thoughts, and a great perspective. And I agree with KristinR in her response about celebrating mediocrity.

 
At October 29, 2011 at 8:19 AM , Anonymous mayger said...

My daughter's take on the second line is, You are special...just like everybody else!
I am with you 100% on this post!~May

 
At October 29, 2011 at 2:24 PM , Anonymous Ixy said...

Amen!! We as a society are cheating our children out of the genuine bone-deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you really pushed yourself against worthy competitors (or difficult circumstances) and succeeded. Pretending that everyone came in first or that simply participating in life warrants an award doesn't fool anyone and makes our praise meaningless.

 
At October 29, 2011 at 2:29 PM , Anonymous Ixy said...

So true. We hear a lot of negatives about Gen Y and their spoiled, narcissistic attitudes. Who raised them? No generation is born innately different from the one before - we as parents shape them, for better or for worse.

 
At October 30, 2011 at 1:38 PM , Anonymous Beth Ann said...

Coming over from Dare to Share and loved this!!! How true that we are so set on being inclusive for every single thing that we make up awards for things so that no one feels left out. Maybe I would feel differently if my own sons were not so fabulous but no...I don't think so. I think the pendulum has swung a little too far in this direction. Thanks for daring to share this!!

 
At November 1, 2011 at 9:55 PM , Anonymous Tracy said...

That artwork digitization story cracked me up. That's just nuts.

Totally with you on awards for all. Everyone can't excel at everything. Not sure why that's such an unpopular view these days.

And if there were an award for laziness, I'd totally win.

 
At February 6, 2012 at 12:52 PM , Anonymous StoryDam said...

I agree. 100%. You said it all!

 
At February 6, 2012 at 1:58 PM , Anonymous Renee said...

Perfectly put!
I've being complaining about this need to reward mediocrity for a long time now. Why put forth extra effort if ok is good enough.

 
At February 7, 2012 at 8:41 AM , Anonymous Seasidesmores said...

I put this into my first novel "Searching for My Wand" after years of watching my kids and others berewarded for nothing. A recent favorite was for a friends little boy who played basketball and was awarded "Happiest Player"!

 
At February 7, 2012 at 8:35 PM , Anonymous Rochelle Fritsch said...

Love this! And I think the road to "slothdom" all starts with potty training with the sticker and M&M rewards for...well, going when and where they ought to go. Somehow, the only perk my daughter needed to successfully potty train was her own motivation and my encouragement.

Thanks for writing this. Now I'm know I'm not crazy.

 
At February 8, 2012 at 9:17 AM , Anonymous Nick Rolynd said...

Oh, this is so true. There were people in my eighth grade class that couldn't write a grammatically correct sentence, couldn't spell four letter words. American education is in a sad, sad state. It's no wonder we keep dropping on the rankings.

 
At March 26, 2012 at 9:39 AM , Anonymous Katie E said...

This is so true! It drives my husband crazy. My girls have had fun meets for gymnastics where every child gets the exact same award. It's pointless to me. I don't want my children to feel like they've failed - or really I don't want them to feel like they've failed us if they don't do THE best. But we tell them what's really important is to do THEIR best.And that they can push themselves harder and find out what winning and victory feels like. But I don't know that they're actually motivated to do that when they get so many trophies anyway!

 
At March 26, 2012 at 3:55 PM , Anonymous Ado said...

When I was in high school they had, would you believe, categories for "Best Body," "Best Smile" (this was the one I lost by a vote, or so I was told to be consoled...), "Biggest Flirt" which is code for you know what, and so on. "Most Popular" and "Best All Around." I didn't get voted anything and I'm pretty sure it slayed me. I love the idea of that school having *every* kid voted something. I agree with you on the carrots and rewards idea and how it handicaps us, all of us. Great post. And thanks for linking up with our Blog Bash and helping us celebrate! (-:

 
At March 26, 2012 at 5:17 PM , Anonymous Alison@Mama Wants This said...

Very true - I can understand the intention behind wanting to 'reward' kids for participation, but to congratulate them with prizes for work not done that well? Not setting them up for success, that's for sure.

 
At March 26, 2012 at 5:29 PM , Anonymous kerstinauer said...

SO TRUE! Nobody can win and excel all the time and in order to be able to deal with that we need to lose (or at least not win). Getting an award just for participation creates mediocrity and - I can only speak for myself - I don't want mediocre, I want the full spectrum of up and down!

 
At March 29, 2012 at 8:28 PM , Anonymous momma23monkeys said...

This is soooo true! I am all for positive reinforcement but rewarding every move they make and giving awards just for showing up minimizes those who truly worked for something.

 

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