Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trophies and excellence

Much has been written about the modern proclivity to give trophies to every player on a sports team. Didn't win a game? Trophy. Still think you hit a soccer ball with a golf club? Trophy.

Much of what has been written has complained that giving too many trophies gives kids a sense of accomplishment when the kid really hasn't accomplished anything. I agree wholeheartedly, and I see the effects of this in my classroom, where many students truly do feel entitled to a good grade, regardless of the quality of the work.

However, there is a flip side to giving too many trophies. When a kid DOES accomplish something and gets a pretty prestigious trophy, the kid doesn't seem to feel the sense of accomplishment that he/she should.

This happened with my oldest daughter. She is in a local children's chorus, and her choir has 36 kids grades 4-6. At the end-of-the-year concert, one student was chosen to earn the leadership award for the choir. My daughter, the fourth grader. I thought that was really cool. 36 kids, one award, and we had to talk her into being proud of it. She is so used to getting a trophy at the end of a season that she didn't fully realize what an honor it was.

I know I'm going to sound like a conservative, but here goes: in our society, we need to return to rewarding excellence.

The trend toward anti-excellence can be seen in, among other things, the No Child Left Behind act. The testing mania wants to ensure NOT that all children are reaching their potential, but that all kids are reaching a very low level of competence. Can a kid go far beyond the minimum competencies? Who cares. As soon as the kid demonstrates competencies, we can file them under "passed," never look at their file again, and turn our attentions (and spend our money) on the small group of kids who may or may not EVER reach minimum competencies.

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