But wait! Did you think I was talking about high school or college graduates? No, I was talking about kindergarten and elementary school graduates!
It was the trophy thing that threw you, wasn’t it! But by the time an almost 7-year-old boy starts first grade, he could easily have half a dozen trophies for soccer, more for T-ball, and some for basketball. In addition, there are likely ribbons and medals, all displayed on the mantle with a couple of cap-and-gown graduation pictures, one from pre-school and one from kindergarten.
For a couple of decades now, our society has been very concerned about children growing up with
Some are wondering if we aren’t using the word self much too often.
Recently, David McCullough, Jr., an English teacher in Wellesley High School in Massachusetts delivered the commencement speech for the high school graduates. In the course of his address, he told the graduates and their parents, “You are not exceptional,” and shocked people enough to cause a national uproar.
How dare he say that my child might be average! The nerve of a teacher to evaluate my child by some standard. How could he sweep through our houses and make all of our kid’s trophies vanish?
I have some personal experience relevant to this topic from my own days in the classroom. For twenty years, I taught English to college freshmen and sophomores, and my annual evaluations were generally quite good—especially taking into account that I taught required general education courses that most students were poorly prepared for and didn’t want to take.
I noticed, however, in the last three or four years of teaching that some new comments started appearing in my evaluations that I had not seen before. Students started saying that I was not showing them proper respect and that I did not listen to them.
I took these comments very seriously, but was puzzled as to what I was doing differently. I prided myself on good relationships with my students, with lots of open discussion and exchange of ideas. What was I doing suddenly that made them feel disrespected??
After probably a year of introspection as well as seeking the counsel of my colleagues, I came to the conclusion that I had really not changed, but that the students had changed. My students were coming into the classroom with two completely new assumptions for which I was unprepared:
- Assumption One: The opinions of a student are as authoritative and valid as those of the professor.
- Assumption Two: It is disrespectful for a professor to suggest that a student’s opinion might not be right or might benefit from further research, especially in front of other students.
I know there are professors who act like they are the Alpha and Omega of all knowledge, but, you’ll have to take my word, that I am not of that ilk. Yet, some of my students had that impression and it really bothered me. In fact, I haven’t been in the classroom for almost ten years now, and it still bothers me!
What we are asking ourselves is do we really build healthy self-confidence by giving every kid a trophy or are we promoting a sense of entitlement and rewarding mediocrity. Here are a few symptoms of kids who might have learned the latter from our trophy mentality:
- I should get a good grade just for coming to class.
- I should get a good grade for turning in the work, regardless of the quality of that work.
- Everybody should get to score a goal.
- Children’s ideas about parenting are as valid as parents’ ideas about parenting.
- What? I have to practice to make the team!
- “You can’t tell me I’m wrong! That’s just your opinion!”
Sherrylee’s Aunt Jane, a long-time teacher and counselor at Greater Atlanta Christian School, once gave us good advice, saying, “A child does not become confident through compliments, but through competence.”
Somehow this should all be easier for Christians because our confidence and sense of being loved comes from Him, not from ourselves. A sense of entitlement is erased by His grace, which rewards us with what we do not deserve, but because of His Goodness, not ours. Our striving for excellence grows out of a sense of worshipful gratitude. Our motivations are Him-centered, not self-centered.
Teaching our children, both with words and deeds, about God is the only way to give them real confidence and competence. And then, someday, as the song says, we’ll bow down and lay our trophies at His wounded feet.