This I Believe

John - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on April 19, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe our society rewards schoolchildren too easily. I recently volunteered at an elementary school field day. When I was that age, only the winning field day team received recognition. The losers received nothing. However, one of my jobs as a volunteer was to hand out the ribbons to every participant- for participating. I handed out awards to future all-state athletes and future water-boys. My high school chooses not to rank students. Our administrators believe students will lose their self-esteem upon seeing their peers ranked above them. Society shelters youths from disappointment by not rewarding those who succeed.

By not rewarding the best, kids have no motivation to be the best. I started swimming competitively in the summer when I was eight-years-old. At the end-of-season banquet, the top two eight-year-olds received trophies. When I entered the banquet room and saw all those trophies lined up, I couldn’t wait to get mine. But the coaches never called out my name. I was disappointed. I went up to my dad and asked him why I didn’t get a trophy. He responded, “Because you weren’t good enough.” I decided from that point on that I was going to become good enough. I joined a year-round swim team that fall and next summer earned a trophy. Because of a desire to win a trophy not given to everybody, I started swimming year-round and continue doing so.

A sense of entitlement develops with people awarded for breathing. This feeling exists amongst high school students applying for college. Most applicants have received varsity letters and some academic award. I know students who won these awards, but colleges still deny them admission. These students always chose one or more of the following responses for their failure: A) The college counseling department sucks. B) Affirmative action screwed me over. C) My school was too hard. D) I had an English teacher who doesn’t give A’s. or E) I didn’t work hard enough in high school and am not smart enough to get in. I rarely ever hear anyone denied chose E. Answers A through D account for one out of twenty, but nineteen out of twenty chose them. Students feel the need to blame someone else as, since day one, parents and teachers tell them that they’re the greatest. Thus, the college’s decision comes as a shock.

I’m not saying adults shouldn’t recognize their child’s accomplishments. But what is an accomplishment? Hard work. Dedication. Winning. Improving. Not participating. Even if the coach or teacher doesn’t bestow Johnny any honors, he may still be the winner. The losers gain practice at handling disappointment and overcoming defeat. These qualities mean more than some participation award as eventually everyone fails.