I have a problem with the ‘participation’ certificate,
where all children receive a ribbon or a certificate after a sports day or other activity.
Kids count up their ‘awards’ at the end of the day, realise that they are meaningless, as everyone else has the same amount, and the ‘awards’ are chucked away or disregarded. Are we not able to acknowledge a child’s ability when it is better than average? I’m talking here about all activities, including music and literary skills as well as sporting ability.
Some schools do have awards that state “First”, “Second”,
“Third” but then also a “Participation” certificate or ribbon that looks almost indistinguishable from the ‘real’ awards. I guess that’s a step up from a general participation award for everyone. But I still see nothing wrong with awarding excellence.
Another “award’ story.
Way back in about 2000, I was working as a relief teacher for a class of 5 – 6 year olds on the day of the school’s “Cross Country Run”. The children had been practising for a couple of weeks, exercising and running around the course, which was really just the nearby sports oval. (They were only little kids). They had also been told about‘rules’ about eating on their special big-run day. They knew that lunch would be eaten early – and hour before the run, so that their tummies would have time to digest the food and also that the food would provide part of their energy resource for the run. (A little science lesson).
Excitement reined and most of the little children wore sports shorts and running sneakers, ready for the big event. (Early) lunch-time arrived and the children fetched their lunch boxes and sat at their tables to eat.
In the class that I was allocated, there was one very large (read, obese) child called Ben. Ben had no lunch to bring into the room. On asking him about this, he stated that his mother was bringing it to school when she came to watch the run. I asked him if he had reminded Mum that lunch was early on this day, (There had been a note to parents). He assured me that she would be at school soon.
We waited and waited for Ben’s Mum. All the other kids had finished their lunch and were busily occupied with writing and drawing about their expectations of the day - and parents were arriving to watch the spectacle, when a flustered Ben’s Mum arrived. She brought with her a large
steaming parcel of deep fried fish and chips to share with Ben. I gently tried to explain that, as the race was due to start in about 10 minutes’ time, it would be advisable to let Ben eat only a tiny portion of his lunch now and leave the rest until later.
“Oh, he’ll be right,” was her response. “He loves his fish and chips.” (I could tell that he and Mum both enjoyed fish and chips).
As we started to leave the room for the start of the run, Ben and his mother continued to shove soggy food into their mouths as if their lives depended upon it.
Needless to say, Ben’s attempt at running the course was an unmitigated disaster. He was half a course behind all the other children in his class; he was hot, stressed and weeping, by the time he reached the finish.
But his mother had anticipated this and brought out a huge blue ribbon rosette (at least 10 times bigger than the small (participation!) ribbons given to the other kids). In the centre of the rosette,
Ben’s mother had written “Mum’s Champion”.
I’m not sure if Ben was impressed or not, but it made him stand out even more and I could have wept for a child who was heading for disappointment and unhappiness as the kids in his class already treated him as an oddity – which he was in a way, thanks to a well-meaning but misguided mother.
But I have been carried away by recalling that day and have diverged from the first topic of this blog, which was really a bit of a rant.
So, in ending, may I add one of my favourite (teaching) quotes, which gives an indication of what I am trying to say about rewarding children for what they do and how hard they try - and when they really succeed:
“Students float to the mark you set.” Mike Rose (professor, school of Ecucation, UCLA)
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.