Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mad at Mediocrity

When I lived in Small Town, USA, I was hired as a teacher in a new charter school. This charter school was promoting their "classical education", which is why I was hired, because I had homeschooled my own children for many years with a classical program, designed around the Trivium and outlined in my well-worn copy of The Well-Trained Mind. I was asked to help write the curriculum for the school since the two founders/owners really had no experience with classical education (One of them, in a radio interview promoted our school as preparatory to an "Ivory League" college. . .yeah.) Anyway, despite its pathetic roots, we did have a great vision for this little school in this little town, and the job itself, coming just at the tail end of my divorce, was a huge blessing to me.

We needed to come up with a slogan for the school, which would be printed on the back of the t-shirts. My dad, who also taught there for a short time, came up with "Mad at Mediocrity", which I still love. The only problem was that wherever we wore those shirts in Small Town, USA, people couldn't pronounce 'mediocrity', let alone know what it means. So I'm not convinced they were 'mad' at it.

But I am.

I am not a mom who supports kindergarten 'graduations'. I think they're ridiculous. I am not a mom who thinks that every kid who played on the team should get a trophy, or that every car in the Pinewood Derby should win some sort of ribbon.

I think my kids, and your kids should lose sometimes. I think they should come in last (or maybe worse, second) and not cry about it.

I think schools should give number and letter grades instead of stupid point systems, and I think if you don't study you should get an "F" and not a second chance.

I think if I ask you to make your bed and you only pull the bedspread over the messed up sheets instead of doing it right the way I taught you, then you should have all the blankets pulled off the bed and you should do it over again.

I think that your Sunday-best does not include the flip-flops you just wore to the beach on Saturday, and that you boys can expend the energy to pull up your pants.

I think if you're asked to sweep the floor (and you're old enough to sweep the floor and have been taught how) then there should be no crumbs left on the floor. Not even in the corners.

I think if you're supposed to fold your laundry and put it away, then you should fold your laundry and not just shove it in the drawers. Or don't be mad when I come in and empty all your drawers and make you start over again.

I don't think little effort should be rewarded. And I don't think I'm mean. But don't we have enough (excuse me, but it's the only word that I know that fits the way I want it to) half-assed people in this world doing half-assed jobs? And can't the mothers and fathers rise up and demand more from their lazy, self-indulged, entitled children? Have some pride!

So, when you come for piano lessons and I told you that if you practiced a song at least ten times then you would get a treat, you're not getting a treat if you only practiced six times. And if you do practice ten times, then your little sister (who didn't) doesn't get a treat just because you did.

And if you lose at something, then you should be happy for the winner and determined to try harder the next time if you want it badly enough, because that's how the world works. It does not cater to your feelings. And if I did, I would be doing you a grave inservice.

And you should learn that a job well done is its own reward, and that self-esteem comes from hard work and the confidence that you can do something correctly and whole-heartedly and well.

So, today, I am mad at mediocrity. We're the most powerful nation in the world and we're slipping into mediocrity. Doesn't it start at home like everything else? Can't we raise kids who are not big babies who think that every time they bat their eyelashes they deserve a treat or that just because they're alive they deserve special privileges? Isn't that unfair to them?

Please tell me you're okay with your child losing, and that you're not okay with "just enough to get by" all the time. Please tell me you're mad at mediocrity too. Please?


Annette Lyon said...

I'm stinkin' mad at it too. But as I fight against it, I swear, it's a losing battle, and it's exhausting. I swear, the level of stubborness to stay mediocre in this generation is unreal.

But hey--if I don't win, I'll go down fighting.

Great post.

Misty said...

oh my goodness I completely agree... When my daughter left her amazing school, and experienced four short months of public school, I was horrified to learn what's become of life.
She was given "honor roll" without ever doing her homework. Without ever participating in class. Without doing ANYTHING. For FOUR MONTHS. And do you know why? "Because she tested so high at her other school and was in beyond the level of most of the kids in the class. why waste her time?"

It created a monster of a lazy student that, now 7 months later, we still can't correct...

This is so true... When we paid $180 for her to play soccer only to learn no score was kept and everyone got trophies, I flipped.

ugh, this is a pet peeve... I hate to rant on your blog. I'm sorry.

Megan said...

Amen, sister. Amen! We had a lovely FHE last night that ended in WWIII because we decided that the kids needed to do more than chores, TV, movies, and computer/video games. The kids actually cried "torture" into the conversation. I call it good habits and not getting everything you want just because you can.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Great post. It is such a fine line to teach children to be good sports and take joy in other's accomplishments, without turning them into children who think winning is all that matters. And the lack of Sunday best dress especially bothers me. We had a teenage chorister in sacrament meeting who used to where a hoodie that said "Cutie" across the front. It was so distracting. The bishop finally asked her to not wear sportswear to lead the music any more. My girls think I'm crazy because I still insist they wear nylons or socks to church. They sure act different when they are dressed up for church than when they are dressed down for church.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Terrific post. I couldn't have said it better. My son's baseball league didn't keep score, but everyone will get a medal. It drives him nuts too!

I have a sister who is determined to give her children an "idyllic childhood." Which means things happen like the time at our family reunion when her daughter wanted to go on the boat and there wasn't room. Her daughter threw a major fit and my sister made sure to make a big deal about how their family would go out together and it would be special and fun, yada yada yada. She completely rewarded the tantrum.

It was awful. My son wanted to go on the boat that particular time as well, and my husband said, "Sorry dude, the boat is full, but you can go next time." My son was fine with it. This particular sister is hung up on "feelings" to the point that her son fell down or something outside and he was upset because none of the kids asked how he was and it hurt his feelings. Holy cow! They are so not prepared for life. I asked my son about the incident and he said, "Tyler was fine. He just fell down, he wasn't hurt or anything so we kept on playing. Everyone falls down. Obiviously if he was really hurt, we would have done something."

I watch some of the YW at church and there are a couple in particular who feel so entitled. They are allowed to wear flip flops and sweatshirts to church, they don't know what decorum is, they talk back to leaders and try and take over. It's frustrating.

(Sorry, I hijacked your comments section!)

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

My own feelings exactly! So very perfectly put as always, Jenna!

Annette Lyon said...

By the way . . . tag! :)

Misty said...

I'm with you, too, Jenna. I hope I can teach my kids that more is expected of them than to just coast through life. I also agree that we need to teach our kids how to lose and how to be a 'good' loser. What's the point of winning if everyone -- effort aside -- gets the same prize? That takes something away from the winner, and it's not fair at all! I loved this post. You are always so eloquent.

Lesley said...

So true, and so interesting to read what others are saying in your comments. When I was doing daycare my rule was you didn't get anything if you threw a tantrum, and pretty soon the older kids would help enforce it with the younger ones. I think mediocrity makes kids become manipulative brats. I would see that all the time when the mommies would come at pick up time!

Amber said...


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post!

One note though about the "trophies for all" thought. I am not a blogger or poster or whatever this is, but I felt I had to say something.

I can only speak for AYSO, but the trophy for all philosophy only applies to under 8 in Region 13. The thought process is to keep it "non-competitive" because the teams are not selected on schools and location versus athletic ability. Once you hit under 10, everyone gets a "participation" medal, but the first place team gets a trophy, second through fourth receive respective medals.

My children also realize that the trophies given in U6 and U8 were GIVEN to them. They were not won, and there is a huge difference. Now my son who no longer gets the "participation" trophies, works his rear off to help his team get first place.

I have been on U10 teams who want to buy the kids trophies on their own, and I am completely against that.

Please consider the reason that this practice was instated in the first place, the parents were insanely competitive, not the children. Even with the pseudo-non competitive theory, parents/coaches still "stack" teams in the U8 and U6 levels, and won't let "the friend" who is the lesser athlete be on the team.

I was a nationally ranked swimmer. Dealing with my fellow swimmers' overly competitive parents who routinely requested my birth certificate, accused my parents of giving me growth hormones, among other accusations really caused me a lot of pain. It actually made me less competitive and embarrassed of my talent. My parents were young and didn't quite know the best way to handle the situation.

Consider the initial steps into athletics as simply that, just steps. If you want brutal head to head competition, sign your children up for club sports.

Misty said...

Anonymous -
I understand what you're saying and can see where you're coming from...but I think Jenna's point (correct me if I'm wrong, Jenna) is that because of the 'trophies for everyone' mentality, kids have learned that they don't have to give it their all ... they can just do the bare minimum and still get the reward.

Yes, the idea behind it was fundamentally good (helping with self-esteem and self-confidencce, reducing competitiveness, etc.) but as many of the comments here illustrate, there is a huge problem with kids doing just enough to get by in school, jobs, music, chores, their appearance, sports, and basically anything else they are involved in.

I'm not saying it all stems from the trophies that everyone gets, but that's a perfect example of the mediocre being rewarded for mediocrity. It sounds like you're doing things right if your son works hard to help his team win first place, but how would he feel if the second or third or fifth place team got the same reward or recognition as his first place, hard working team?

Just my two cents...

Jenna said...

Anonymous! I loved and appreciated your comment. Thank you! You hit upon my point exactly. I know it is the parents that create the problem, and not the kids. That's why I am pleading for parents to stop, because I believe the attitude carries over into everything. My kids have participated in AYSO for several years and I do understand the reasoning behind it. And I remember the parents being scolded for inappropriate sideline behavior much more often than the children playing were. It's not that I want blood and guts competition. I think sportsmanship and skill are much more important, but I think we (as parents, as adults, as society)cater too much to 'how they're going to feel if they're not rewarded', whether the reward is warranted or not. AYSO is hardly the problem here. Public schools are a much bigger part of the problem, for one, but I was also addressing this "syndrome" that seems to be spreading even at homes, where 'just enough' is the measure of the day. It's a general attitude problem.

Thanks for your view! Please come back again sometime!

Angela said...

I totally agree! I work with the youth and sometimes it really makes me angry to see parents not making their kids accountable for anything.

Bravo! Great post! I hope to be the kind of parent you are one day. Keep teaching me!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenna - found you via LDS Women Bloggers. I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful post! One of my pet peeves is people (usually family) bringing presents for all the siblings when it's another sibling's birthday. Huh?!? When it was my sister's bday, she got presents, and when it was mine, I got presents. And we were fine with it! I have actually had to request that family doesn't do this, and luckily they now understand and oblige. I don't want my kids to feel entitled.

Thanks for sharing your talent with us all... I've been reading your blog steadily for about a month.

anjmae said...

Dude, totally. Oh my, I remember when I was in college (last year) and a boy in my Calculus class asked for extra credit because he came to class every day. I have to admit I burst out laughing, as did my professor (thankfully!) But I see it all the time and it makes me sad, yet determined for my children to learn the fulfillment that comes from honest accomplishments, backed up by good, hard work!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoy your posts. We come from completely opposite opinions, but yet we have so much in common. After reviewing my post....I forgot to mention that, "yes" I am so disappointed in mediocrity.
I can only speak about my school district. I am very involved in my children's school. My children are lucky to be in a "very good" school district. One that you have mentioned before. Rest assured the test scores are because of insane parents (and involved) that push their kids, than great teachers.
Mediocrity seems to be more prevalent in manners and home life than in our school. It is frightening to see how many families put all the emphasis on school and test scores. The kids take every lesson imaginable from the age of 3 and 4. Kids speak three languages, play the violin and piano, score nearly 100% on state testing, play at least two sports, but have no common sense, social awareness, and no respect for others.
Did I mention that straight A students have tutors just so they can get ahead. They order text books one or two years in advance, so their tutors can go over upcoming materials. Most of the kids at my children's school are so stressed out, they can't carry on a normal conversation, nor can they even begin to think for themselves outside of their parents' bubble.
On the AYSO track.....I have been a referee and a coach. I have seen a parent throw a soccer ball at my player's head (6 years old) because she wasn't playing well. She deserved a medal, just for putting up with that parent.
The kids who I feel sorry for are the ones who decide to try soccer at age 12 and because they haven't had a personal soccer trainer since age 5.....the kids tell the player how much he/she "sucks" (sorry for the language) and never pass the ball to them, so they can never be in the game. Then the coach fails to send an email to the parents to tell them where the playoffs are being held, so the player can't be there.
After 5 years of leading girl scouts, 5 years of leading boy scouts, and endless hours volunteering, I can link unacceptable behavior directly back to the parents.
I would post my name, but I kind of like the "anonymous" label.

Jenna said...

Anonymous! (Do I know you? I'm racking my brains) Anyway, glad you came back. I agree, I agree, I agree! This is a whole other problem that you're talking about, not really the mediocrity issue that irks me, but this one also really gets me. I see it all the time too. I teach piano lessons and I have a few students that just melt my heart because I can sense their burnout, even at their very young ages. I have students who never get any down time to just play, or just THINK (which is an undervalued activity for children...time to do NOTHING) because they are so over-scheduled they can barely stay awake. Your school district sounds like a mixed blessing. What an enormous load to put on children. I could go on and on about that one. Maybe another day. I'm all for parent involvement, but please! Is my stepdaughter in your district? Because her little best friend can't play this summer because she has so many tutors to get ready for next year. In 7th grade.