The Societal Participation Medal

Bookmark and Share(Author’s note: This peice was written in early 2011 and is being re-posted for it’s continued relevancy to the issues of today)

When we speak of education in this country we are usually speaking of scholastic education. Public and private schools. Reading, writing and arithmetic. In those areas, as compared to other countries, we have been steadily falling down the list in regards to comparative testing.

Just to show a non-partisan tilt to this claim I have referenced a Huffington Post article from late 2010:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/us-falls-

in-world-education-rankings_n_793185.html

It is startling data to be sure and one that politicians and educators have debated for years. How do we ensure a better education for our children and our future?

I am going to leave that battle where it is and move on to a different type of education. An education in which societal not institutional factors are failing our children’s education.

When I was a young whipper snapper we played dodge ball in the school yard. We played baseball, basketball and football in organized leagues and the winners won trophies and medals. In High school, letters were won on the athletic fields and in the classroom based on performance and attaining certain goals. We kept score and were taught to practice good sportsmanship whether we won or lost. These simple, novel parts of my childhood have been lost on today’s society.

There is no more dodge ball in the school yard. Someone could get hurt physically or worse yet their feelings could be hurt.

We still have baseball, football and basketball leagues for youngsters but there are no winners and losers. In many cases scores are not even kept and everyone gets a medal or trophy for simply participating. The same can be said in many cases for high school letters. You participated…here is your reward.

So…are we preparing our children for the trials and tribulations of the real world by sheltering them from the experience of winners and losers?

I could simply be becoming a bitter old man as I hit that magic 40 number. It is possible. Or I could be seeing, in my own children’s participation in academic and athletic competitions that there is a societal shift in the way we view winning and losing. The shift is to deny losing.

It is apparent in watching what happens in society today as compared to then that this shift to deny losing exists has had a profound impact on the way our society has come to view what they believe they are entitled to receive compared to what they have the opportunity to win if they grow their skills and work hard.

If I wanted to be a great baseball player I had to spend countless hours in the back yard throwing into a net and hitting tennis balls with a wiffle bat off my neighbors roofs and sometimes through their windows. I had to practice by playing catch with my dad or my friends. I had to go to practice in order to be able to play in a game. I had to work on skills as instructed by my coaches and run wind sprints at the end of the day. If our team had the better skilled and more prepared players, we won. If we won we were rewarded with trophies and medals. The losers? They received nothing but a pat on the back and a ‘try again next year’. Motivation to get better so they to could get the spoils of victory.

Are we teaching our children how to deal with what happens in the real world by denying them the opportunity to win or lose based upon their own hard work and skill level? I say we are not.

Our society has rapidly become one where the have not’s consistently want to be handed what the have got’s have obtained. Are there exceptions? Certainly there are. Not all people act as if they are owed something for participating. But I see the comparison between what we have been teaching our children in regards to winning and losing and the societal thoughts of a large group of people that they are entitled the same spoils of life that others have obtained through their hard work and knowledge. They want a participation medal.

Are they lazy? Some may be, most are not…but haven’t we taught them over the last several years that the losers receive the same recognition and rewards as the winners? Haven’t we taught them that simply participating is good enough? Could this be related to our poor performance in the classroom? Has taking the difference between winning and losing out of the equation instilled a mindset that no matter how we perform we will get the rewards?

Here’s a novel concept: Let’s allow them to Occupy Real Life.

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