Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

May 23, 2014

Stop celebrating mediocrity and reward achievement

TAHLEQUAH — It started with the book “I’m OK, You’re OK,” published in the late 1960s, and aimed at building self-esteem and helping people understand they don’t have to be exceptional to be valuable. Almost immediately, the tome was interpreted as a green light for children to aspire to the average.

Parents were discouraged from pushing their kids too hard, or from scolding them when they slacked off. Coddling and extreme tolerance for behavior once considered unacceptable were touted as the model for raising well-rounded children. In many schools, every girl who tried out for cheerleader got a spot on the squad. Instrumental bands stopped holding chair tryouts, and young musicians took turns playing the “first” parts. Sports trophies were handed out to every potential young athlete. Honor rolls were downplayed or done away with altogether. And in a growing trend on university campuses, students are now being viewed as “paying customers,” and are given the B’s or C’s they paid for, instead of the D’s or F’s they earned.

There’s no excuse for berating a child in a way that will ultimately destroy his confidence and self-esteem. And coaches, teachers and administrators should make sure all kids get to participate in extra-curricular activities, even those who have no special skills. Furthermore, parents have to accept that all children will not be brilliant and talented. But what is wrong with expecting a child to strive hard to do the very best of which he is capable? And what’s wrong with rewarding children for exceptional work?

Many folks complain about the celebration of mediocrity that has plagued society as of late. They blame a bleeding-heart agenda aimed at propping up less fortunate children. In fact, the exact opposite is true at the local level.  School administrators admit prominent people are often the impetus for watering down expectations. The children of community big-wigs may or may not be remarkable, but their parents expect them to be so, and if anyone says otherwise, they will use their influence to make sure it happens – at least, on paper.

That may have been what happened with a high school in Ipswich, Mass., where the administration canceled its honors award night. Several unreliable and politically motivated online forums indicated the assembly was eliminated altogether, but what actually happened, according to Principal David Fabrizio, was this: “We took it from an exclusive nighttime ceremony where only honors students were invited and rolled it into our end-of-the-year assembly. They way, everybody can celebrate their and their peers’ achievements.”

Fabrizio – probably with pressure from parents whose kids were feeling excluded – is another example of how society is going too far in protecting children from hurt feelings. The truth is, real life involves competition. Some will win, some will lose, and only a few will grab the brass ring. In his zeal to appease the average students and their families, Fabrizio and others like him are punishing students who make the extra effort to excel.

When school budgets are cut, among the first programs to go are those for gifted and talented students, while those for remedial students remain intact. We are in no way saying remedial programs should be cut; each student should have the tools to take him to the highest level possible. But cutting programs for the best and brightest – those who will comprise the tax base of the next generation – makes no sense.

Every year, the Press hears complaints from Tahlequah parents whose high-achieving youngsters were whisked across the stage at the awards assembly because they’ve run out of time. These students don’t get a handshake from the principal, or hear their names called out in front of the student body. Perhaps their feelings are hurt, too, but no action is taken to prevent this in the future.

When young people see no benefit from studying harder, practicing more often, or committing themselves to excellence, there’s a good chance they’ll quit trying. We’re already seeing the results of this in the deteriorating quality of our workforce. Mediocrity doesn’t make a happy or successful person, and it sure doesn’t make a strong country. Let’s strive for betterment, and reward those who make the grade.

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