Monday, May 30, 2005

Two Completely Unrelated Stories

I stopped by Target today to buy cat food and another Juice Box. I found that the prices for the Juice Box accessories had dropped, so I went to customer service to request a price adjustment for the items I'd purchased a few days earlier.

The woman behind the counter fiddled with her register, peered at the receipt and finally informed me that she could not do a price adjustment on my items since they were clearance items.

I paused. Okay, I said, can I return the items and repurchase them at the lower price?

Sure, she said. She punched at her register, did a refund, recalculated the price and handed over fourteen dollars and some change.

Duh.

Second story, completely unrelated.

Last week, YoungestBoy had a baseball game. This particular game matched them against a superior team. The bases were loaded. The batter smacked the ball directly to the boy playing third base. The adults sprawled on the sideline in collapsible canvas chairs shouted, "Tag the runner! Tag the runner! TAG THE RUNNER!" The boy fumbled around his ankles for the ball, finally gripped it and stood paralyzed by confusion. "TAG THE RUNNER!" The runner ran behind him, reached the base and stood firmly on third base and the light finally dawned for Kendall and he limply tagged the runner. Late. Too late.

Kendall's face fell and at the same time, the adults began to cheer, "Good job, Kendall! All right! Good job!" I watched Kendall as bewilderment clouded his face. He knew he'd made a mistake. He messed up. And yet, the adults were all cheerfully clapping and exalting his name as a hero.

What's wrong with this? Are we so afraid to let our kids feel the pain of their mistakes that we cheer anyway? Is this wacky display of false congratulations helpful in any sense of the word? Kendall understood his error, even though the adults brushed off that pesky little truth in favor of a hearty round of applause.

And you know that at the end of the season, all the children will get trophies, even though some of the children are truly horrible baseball players and their teams resemble the Bad News Bears.

What are the kids really learning? I know--it's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game, but what do you learn when the adults falsely cheer your mistake? Do you learn not to trust yourself? Not to trust the adults? Not to believe what you hear?

I just wonder.

11 Comments:

Blogger Ginger said...

Just for the record, those kids are now hitting college and demanding A's. B's are a great disappointment, and mercy upon us should anyone ever get a C! I've had students come in wanting to challenge their professor over a B grade. Insane.

When they write garbage for college papers they can't understand why it's not good enough. And they're offended if ever corrected for behavior that's morally wrong or unprofessional.

And I was an elementary teacher in the days this was being set up under the guise of "self-esteem." I didn't buy it then, and don't buy it now. Research shows that praise received but unearned is actually DE-motivational.

Our sciences teachers will tell you that their students have become more whiny and resistant to hard work (a.k.a. lazy?) over the past few years, leaving the teachers are at a loss as to what to do about that except put their heads down and plow through teaching the lessons that should have been learned in childhood. The real world is not going to be so affirming of these kids.

Okay. Rant over.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Well, let's forget about inflated marks and things like that, because I think that's a separate issue, and ask if there is something meritorious about doing your best, about hanging in there. Is it good to get a C when that's the best that you are capable of and when taking your F would be the easy way out? Is it good to be able to pick up the ball a tag a runner, even if you weren't able to do it spot on? Is it good to walk in the morning if you aren't capable of running? How about biking when it's easier for you than walking? How about blogging when you aren't the most creative writer on the block? How about ordinary fumblers making love? What's wrong with praising effort and intention and playing the game as best you can? I tell you that I find some of these things pretty darn satisfying in my own silly little way.

I hope the above doesn't sound too snippy. I wanted to make a point and didn't have the time to polish it up really nicely. :)

6:54 AM  
Blogger weorwe said...

This is one of the reasons I'm a little afraid to have kids. I'm not sure how to express approval of my kid -- because I love them whatever their skills and interests -- without denying their failures and mistakes. Yes, there's something good about tagging the runner even if it's too late. Perfection in all things at all times is impossible, and intentions and effort should be praised. But that's not the same as refusing to acknowledge failures and mistakes. But how do we recognize failures, sympathize with the disappointed kid, without either making him think failure doesn't matter or making him think he himself is worthless because of the failure?

8:35 AM  
Blogger tab said...

I agree....what's wrong with "good try, you'll get 'em next time"? I have a similar gripe..but it pertains to school. It's sort of like a "rewards" system. Basically if you are good and not get your card turned over (or whatever) then you acquire points or goodies or whatever. This system was implemented in my sis-n-law's school where she teaches 2nd grade. The kids got so used to "give me" that unless there was something in it for them (forget about self-gratification of doing a good job)such as treats then they had the attitude of "why bother!" She said it was kind of nice at first but then became a complete nightmare because all they cared about what the reward would be and if it wasn't "high" enough for them they didn't care.

I come from if you are not good (as you are expected to be in the first place) then you lose priviledges or whatever--simple as that. Sometimes being good was treated to something special (especially over time). However the consequences of not doing what was expected was the real MOTIVATION (and worked).

9:29 AM  
Blogger Marykay said...

Re: Anvilcloud's comment. Our oldest has had a terrible time with algebra. One semester we literally jumped up and down in celebration when he brought home a "D." Yes, a D. He had worked so doggone hard, so consistently, so much effort. We were simply happy that he passed, who cared that it wasn't a C, B or A. Incidently, he had all A's and B's in algebra this last semester and we didn't celebrate nearly as much. It was just that first semester when it took all he had to just pass the class.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I used to ask my kids what they thought their siblings were best at. It seemed to help. At least it got them thinking, and I could add input.

Oldest Son was best at drawing.
Daughter was best at diving.
Youngest Son was best at basketball.

They quickly saw that they didn't have to be 'best' at everything, and didn't care if they weren't.

Oldest Son did tutoring at his university. He said the kindest thing someone could have done for some of these students would be to tell them that they really could not be whatever they wanted to be. But, that wasn't the policy. He had to keep telling them lies about how good they were.

I'm good at reading books, and criticizing. Really good at criticizing. It's a gift.

5:41 PM  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

It was something I never realized until my foreigner husband pointed it out--that kids here get praised for doing things wrong, doing things right and doing nothing it all. It is very strange indeed.

On the other hand...This is the first I've ever heard of the juice box....I need one of these.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

Yeah, I don't get why they just didn't say anything? Kids need to learn that sometimes life sucks, and that sometimes you make mistakes, or are not the best at something. That reminds me, somewhat, of what I was talking to my sis-in-law about earlier. In a church costume contest, her son won, but they accidentally said the wrong name. The little boy who's name they said came running up and took they award and praise, even though he had a miserable attempt at a costume on and had to know he hadn't won. His parents did say a thing. They let him take the $50+ gift and think he had won. I just can't get over why they couldn't have explained to him that sometimes in life you don't win, and that sometimes life sucks and people make mistakes! I am freely giving of cheer when my son does good, but I certainly won't, and don't want others to, cheer him when he makes a mistake. Wouldn't that just teach him that he could do just as well in life by not trying, and messing up?

7:22 PM  
Blogger Lora said...

I see your point, but the boy already knew he had messed up. He did care and he did try. I think a "Good try!" would have been more appropriate then a "God job!" Cheering him for his effort encourages him to try to do well.

I think that the lesson of making an honest effort is much more important the lesson of winning.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Late Edition said...

protecting kids is a laudable thing ... but protecting them from all of the world's harsh realities is a recipe for disaster in later life and not just for the kids ... i know mothers who beat themselves every day when they watch their adult kids trying to cope with realities they just had no preparation for ... the world can be a hard and cruel place ... kids need to be allowed to see that, and learn to deal with it in a realistic, supportive environment ... IMHO

10:00 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

I think it is great to congratulate all the kids if they are doing their best but I do think it is wrong to give them all awards and treat them equally if one works harder and does a good job because he practices more and works harder to be a better player.

Not long ago a teacher at a local school got some flack because she had a party for the ones with higher grades. Parents complained because some of their kids could not not. While I am not sure the party was such a great idea, I think the teacher was right in rewarding those who made higher grades. Our teachers rewarded by giving the kids who made higher gardes gift certificates to the local pizza place for a pan pizza.
I saw nothing wrong with that.

10:45 PM  

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