How did we lose it? How did we, as a society, get to this point? It truly makes me afraid for our future as a nation. Somewhere along the way, we have allowed our young people to expect that life is easy; no work at all and no expectations for success.
I’m convinced that this whole trend began when we began giving trophies to everyone – win, lose, or draw. Is it really a bad thing to teach our children that losing is part of life? That everyone doesn’t win all the time? Instead, we seem to be teaching them that if you want to take the lazy way out, that no one will think less of you for it. I don’t want anyone to think that now that I’m getting older (and I am) that I’m falling in to that old “kids these days” mindset. I’ve been teaching for quite a while and have always been amazed at the creativity of each new group of students. I like teenagers. I think they have endless potential. So why am I on my soapbox? This school year I have seen very likeable kids refuse to step up to the plate. I’ve heard students complain that it “isn’t fair” that they’re being asked to work a bit harder. Now, I understand that some of them believe that there is no reason to take the high road, the path less traveled shall we say, if there is no reward – no trophy – at the end. But so what?!
I can’t imagine my mother ever, ever, EVER telling me that I didn’t have to do something simply because I didn’t want to or that I thought it was too hard. Are you kidding me? She looked at every experience in the classroom, bad or good, as an opportunity to learn. It didn’t matter if the experience came with grades. It didn’t matter that there was no public recognition or gold star in my future for having done it. Some of the time, I have to admit, that when she was standing behind me (which she always did), she wasn’t there to provide support. She was there to make sure that I stepped up, didn’t avoid difficult tasks, or run from it altogether. It just put her foot in closer proximity to my behind. What I learned was to pull myself together and forge ahead. I wasn’t always successful and my results were not always something to brag about. But, then, I did have the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. That while others avoided tasks because there was “nothing in it” for them, I had done it anyway and for no other reward than self-respect.
As Americans we have a difficult road ahead. But hasn’t every generation of Americans before us? Where would we be if Thomas Jefferson’s mother had been the type of woman who told him, “Writing that constitution is going to be really hard and when you’re done, what will you get anyway? I think you should just not worry about it”? Now think about where we’ll be if we don’t expect our children to step up to a certain standard of behavior and performance. Dismal, huh? We are facing a generation of young people who believe they deserve a reward for every task. They do not see that many times the reward is the task itself. This particular “Me” generation is really that…some want to know what we can do for them without their having to do anything to deserve those rewards.
Now that I have vented, let me end by saying that there are still many, many children out there who find joy in learning new things, or taking things they already knew and coming up with something entirely new. Generally these children have parents who don’t let them back out of commitments or quit something before the task is completed. They expect their children to know that life is hard and if you want something out of it, you’re going to have to work for it . . . sometimes for a long, long time before there is any type of reward at all. These are the kids that will save us in the end. They will find the solutions to our society’s most difficult problems. I trust my future to these kids. They step up to the plate every time. If they are willing to do it now, they will be even more confident in their abilities in their very bright futures.
To those of you out there who weren’t / aren’t the popular parent because you expected your child to meet your expectations, thank you. Because you held your child to a higher standard that child will know the joy of a job well done regardless of reward or recognition. You are the ones that get me out of bed and up the road every morning. And the answer is no. There's no gold star for me at the end of the day either...and that's okay.