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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Three Reasons I am not Impressed with your School Award

  It's that time again: awards season.  Not the Academy Awards.  Not the Billboard Awards.  Not even the Darwin Awards.  I'm talking about the End-Of-School-Year Awards.  That rather silly attempt by school administrators to make every student feel good about the school year regardless of his or her underachievement.
  Okay, you teachers out there are gonna dislike this post.  You might just want to stop right here and scroll down and re-read one of my earlier posts on Paris.  You'll feel better, see a few great photographs, and then you can enjoy the coming summer and not worry about grading the same old papers.  I really think that's your best bet.
  The same can be said for you parents who really are proud of your child who was given an award because he signed up for and sometimes participated in the school's bingo club.  If you've already framed your child's certificate that the Bingo Club teacher printed out using a template from her 2003 version of Word (but only in black and white since the Xerox machine in the teacher's lounge won't print color), then you'd be better off scrolling down to read my review of the postcards that my good friend Gunther sent me.
  Did any of that sound harsh?  Because if it did, I could go back and delete some of it.
  So let's get on with the Awards Ceremony.
Proof that I did not have Perfect Attendance
1.  Perfect Attendance Award
  I won't get into the debate over whether or not your kid showed up sick at school to keep his perfect attendance award and transmitted his virus to my kid who now will not get the coveted Perfect Attendance Certificate.  After all, this is merely scientific conjecture, and we all know how easily such crazy science can be debunked.  I'm sure many years in the future we will sit back and shake our heads in wonder, even laugh out loud, at the fact that people once believed it was considerate of others to keep a child at home when he had a contagious condition such as the common cold, influenza, or lice.  I'm not being cruel, here.  Though we don't like to admit it, all kids come down with these ailments, most of which they pick up at school or Sunday school.
  But there are two really irksome factors to this award.
  The first is something I call the what-heck-were-you-doing-every-day-of-the-year factor.  As in, if you are being recognized for perfect attendance, but you had no other activities listed for the school year, and you did not even make honor roll...wait for it...what the heck were you doing every day of the year?  (Here is where a teacher can send me a nasty-gram and say we should be proud that some kids have cultivated the important skill of showing up.  After all, someone once said half of life is just showing up.  Or course, the other half is paying taxes and dying.  None of these activities are a virtue.)  Can it really be said the child attended school if he did not even bother to join the Frisbee club?  If showing up is her single accomplishment for one year, perhaps we shouldn't tell anyone.  I am of the opinion that it is actually a little embarrassing.  The only way this makes sense as an award is if an administrator is saying thanks to the kid for showing up, since his attendance has increased the money sent from the State to the school, and his lack of participation in anything kept his costs to a minimum.  But I'm sure there isn't one school official out there who would ever think this way.
  The second bit that irks me is simply this: while it is admittedly astounding that you have not missed a day since kindergarten, the only thought that runs through my head when I hear this is why not?  Do you mean to tell me that in the last nine years, you and your parents never had a reason to say you'd better stay home from school today.  That really just makes me sad.  Wasn't there any kind of special occasion that you just couldn't miss?  No visiting relatives from out-of-town?  No three-day-weekend vacation that your parents suddenly decided to take?  Didn't you ever take one day off from school just because?
  To paraphrase Droopy--that makes me sad.
2.  (Fill-In-The-Blank) (Sport or Club) Award
  You know what I'm talking about here.  I'm not saying the best hitter on the baseball team shouldn't get an award for being the best hitter.  But I see no point in telling everyone at the awards ceremony that Jimmy's baseball participation certificate is an award.  I've been going to these fiestas long enough to know that until just a few years ago participation was listed as such, and no one tried to make me think that Jimmy was getting an award.  He played baseball and he was given a frilly document that documented the fact.  Thanks for being apart of the team.  Your countless hours standing in left field did not go unnoticed.  Fist-bump, dude.  Jimmy's a good guy and we all know it.
  But wait a minute.  Not anymore.  Jimmy is taking home a Baseball Award!  At no time, during the entire seven game season, did anyone play Left Field as well as Jimmy!  He's like Robert Redford in that movie where the weird chick shoots him because he threw great fast balls--he's a natural.  Jimmy can take that award home and frame it, show it to grandma and grandpa, and begin to plan out his collegiate and major league careers based on the fact that he showed up for baseball.
  (Let me just stop here a minute and point out that I've been really positive and uplifting in the majority of the posts I offer up here at Room With No View.  From this fact alone we can pretty much assume that someone other than me has hacked into this blog and is posting this rather sarcastic look at the school awards process.  I suspect it is one of my children.  If so, I hope they get a Hacker's Award for showing up here today.)
  Don't get me wrong.  I'm glad said child signed up for the A/V Club.  And I think we can all agree that recognizing his willingness to be labeled a geek should not go unnoticed.  Let's just not make an award out of it, okay?
3.  Six-Sport Trophy Presentation
  (Man, the athletes in my family are going to give me h-e-double-hockey-stick over this one.)
  Let's be honest, athletes have not traditionally been known for their academics.  And I get that.  Not everyone is given the same measure in academics or athletics.  However, both of these disciplines can be improved by repetition and hard work.  That is without a doubt.  So here's where I get a tightness in my chest when the coaches step up to the platform: I have actually heard coaches say that the following students who participated in x number of sports are to be commended because this essentially means they were at practice, for whatever sport was in season, every day after school, for nearly the entire school year.  And you know, that is pretty impressive.  It is like Perfect Attendance at the playground.  You really have to be motivated to show up and play a game or practice for a game every day.  But am I the only one who notices that with only a few exceptions that I have seen over the years, these students consistently cannot even make the Honor Roll, let alone any other academic achievements?  This does not seem to be something I would crow about.  As a teacher, or a Principal, I would feel as if we had let down this student.  After all, the point of school is to educate, not to athletically train.  Sports are an extracurricular activity, or at least they once were.  (Let's not even talk about the fact that students can spend every year in high school taking a full hour of Cheerleading, Flags, or Football.)
I'm not complaining because my straight A's went
unrecognized.  As you can see, I did not have
any such animal.
  What I wonder about is why these kids are given tangible trophy's for this accomplishment while the kids who have two or three academic achievements under their belt get the cheap Word-template certificates?  How about a trophy that celebrates their success at reaching straight A's in each subject, along with their participation in Quiz Bowl and their test scores that rank in the upper percentiles of the country?  Maybe the three-pronged trophy would consist of a giant A, next to a big Question Mark, which in turn is next to a sharpened Number Two Pencil.  Makes even more sense than the trophy with the three little figures on it that look like a five-year-old playing ball in the back yard.
  When I really think about it, I can't help but believe that we have become a bit twisted in our thinking.  Somewhere along the line, we began to try to protect the kids who don't have academic honors, since they might feel bad about their performance.  There is a sort of prejudice at work here, that says kids who achieve academic success have an unfair advantage: they're just smart.  It just comes natural to them.  Some of this might be true, but this very same truth, when applied to athletes, is celebrated.  They're great because they just have it.  Whatever it may be.  They are fast, they have great aim with a basketball, they have killer instincts as a tackler.  But this is just as insulting to athletes as it is to academic achievers.  There might be some innate talent there, but they work so very hard to improve what they have.  Spend time at home with the smart kids.  They read voraciously.  They work hard at the projects that produce high grades.  They memorize, drill, then memorize more.  Larry Bird was the same when it came to shooting baskets.  He did it all the time, even after practice as a professional.  A recent college graduate told me he was still working with his professor on something even though he was technically finished and had been given his diploma.  These are the kinds of activities that might deserve an award.
  I'm really not trying to take cheap shots at athletes.  I love watching sports, and am very impressed at the work ethic and amazing feats they demonstrate.  My bigger concern here, however, is what happens to these kids when school is over.  Our school systems have to care enough about a child to say "you're really good at this sport, but you would be better off spending time in the library.  Your future depends on it."
  So I'll stop here as the band begins to play the exit music.  I have a funny feeling I'm gonna regret this post when I finally decide to run for the School Board.   (And I just can't wait to get my grammar graded by a teacher who will see a chance to nail me for harshly judging teachers and their homemade awards.  Well, they won't be the first one to give me poor grammar marks.  That honor was bestowed upon Mrs. Denault at Limestone Elementary.  Which, oddly enough, sounds like I was educated in the Flintstone's Universe.)
As a last bid to keep you from thinking I am deserving of your wrath for this post, I add this last proof that I too have had my problems in school.  I came across this document while digging through old photos.  I had completely forgotten that I had taken a speech class in second grade to correct a problem I had with the letter 's'.  Proof positive how much we need to thank our teachers for all their hard work.  (Anybody think this last bit keeps the teachers who read this from sending me any nasty-grams?)

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