This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:
The pictures are a continuation of my trip to Disneyland with Chic for her 5th birthday.
For the most part I am opposed to school awards. It somewhat ties into the same reason I am opposed to allowances for very young children or for children who do chores around the house. To me, every family member has work to do in a house, and giving my children money to do their share of work teaches them that they should be paid for everything. When my children are a couple of years older, I will start with allowances in order to teach them money management, but it will not be tied to chores.
Similarly, it seems to me that school awards have often devolved into awards for things that should be expected, not for anything truly meaningful.
At the end of last school year, Chic’s school had an awards ceremony. As the art teacher, I was instructed the day of it that I needed to give awards for art class. I asked what the criteria were. “Whatever I want.” With so little time, I gave awards for “Excellence in Artistic Ability” and “Excellence in Attitude.” Not more than two people in each class got an award.
But many think today that everyone needs an award. Awards for showing up to school. Should everyone not be expected to show up to school? Why would there be an award for that? (This only translates to people thinking they need special treatment later in life at their jobs because they did the job for which they were hired–the one they were expected to perform.) So I cannot think of a reason why I would support the idea that “everyone wins.” If everyone wins, it takes a lot of the steam from the person(s) who really won, and in my opinion does nothing to promote initiative. If everyone must receive something, I am not entirely opposed to getting recognition for participation, but an award is extreme.
So back to last year’s awards. Before the event, I talked to Chic’s teacher about it and asked her how she meant to handle the awards. My reason for this was that as a first grader, Chic was ahead of everyone in her classroom (including the second graders) in reading, spelling and math. From my dealings with parents or art class students, I knew that if Chic got awards for all the areas in which she excelled, other parents would be angry. A large part of me does not care about that, but that anger comes out in their kids at school. So I asked. Her teacher, (from now on, Ms. J) said that she gives awards for all kinds of things, not just academic performance, which assures that everyone is included. I did not discuss this further as I thought that would satisfy the masses (even though I do not necessarily agree with it).
So awards night came. Chic got four awards: Presidential Physical Fitness, Principal’s List, Science and Art (Excellence in Attitude. I realize it seems like I was favoring her, but I am not kidding when I say she has the worst class for behavior in the whole school. She absolutely does NOT cause any trouble in art class and always has a nice attitude. I gave the award to one other girl who was rotten all year but really improved the last month.) The first 3 awards were completely objective. The first two were from the school, and the third one from the Science teacher who apparently awarded it to her top students. But Chic got no awards from her everyday teacher. As I listened to the awards being listed and students going up, I was shocked. Yes, the teacher gave awards for spelling, math and reading, but Chic, although ahead of the grade above her in all of the subjects, got none of them. Then the teacher made up awards to cover the less studious people which included things as irrelevant as “nicest smile” (SO not kidding), and Chic got none of those. But get this, some of the other students got multiple awards from Ms. J. I was taken aback, but decided I was not willing to address the issue. I will discuss this teacher at length in a later post, but the short story is that it is difficult impossible to have a coherent conversation with her, and because I knew I would have to deal with her at least one more year (Chic’s 2nd grade) and possibly another 3 years (also Chicklet’s 1st and 2nd grade), I did not want to anger her.
But Chic noticed. She asked why her teacher did not give her any awards. Although I knew the answer, I thought she might not, so I asked, “Were there not other children in your classroom that did not get any awards from the teacher?” “Only Hunter,” she said, “but I know the Ms. J does not like him.” To me those are profound words coming from the mouth of a 7-year-old. I personally knew Ms. J did not like Hunter because I had heard her complain bitterly about him (I personally like him. He had some issues, but was willing to try and learn, and he was kind.), but for my daughter to notice that was quite another story.
So what was I to do? My daughter wanted to know why her teacher did not see fit to give her any awards. I lied. I said she probably was so busy she just did not remember to include everyone. I will admit it is not the first time I have lied to my daughter about what goes on in her classroom. She has never once complained about her teacher, but she has asked questions on several occasions or told me scenarios that make me realize she is quite astute at assessing situations. I want her to respect her teachers, so I lie because if I tell her the truth, there is little room for respect with this teacher.
So why are awards so important? What is gained by them? Does the person who was doing just OK in spelling but got the award have an incentive to do better in spelling? Does the person who got the “nicest smile” award have any incentive to do anything better? Does my daughter have any incentive to excel in her own classroom? Seems to me not a lot of incentive was generated on any front.
Note: This year we have a new principal who has a different view of awards. There will be specific criteria based on having maintained a certain grade for each of the first three quarters of school. I am grateful for this change, but I do believe the other award mentality is more prevalent among most of the other teachers (excepting the science teacher) and definitely among most of the other students and parents. What a battle we seem to be fighting almost every single day.