My kids recently attended a summer swimming camp in school. They loved it, of course, as it was more fun than anything else. Michael Phelps need not be worried, they aren’t exactly on path to shatter his record – although they did come home with trophies, which was, if you ask me, a ridiculous idea. Trophies for showing up? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Why am I overreacting? Well, for one, it’s not an overreaction (it is a reaction to something I feel strongly about), and two, because I just don’t think that kids should feel that getting medals is that simple. It’s hard work and the earlier they learn that, the better it is. We are doing them a great disservice by rewarding them for little effort. No one is going to do this in their future, so, in my humble opinion, we’re only setting them up for disappointment.
Also, on a personal front, it took a lot of re-calibrating of the household resources and timings and some rather complicated logistical rewiring to send the kids for swimming in the mornings – they had to sleep on time, wake up on time; breakfast had to be ready on time (theirs and mine, because I would drop them and carry onto work, so I had to be ready on time – again, logistical optimizations); bags had to be packed; costumes washed and dried, driver had to be called early (I would drop them but they had to be sent back home, because I would carry on to work) – you get it – basically a whole lot of moving stuff around and adjusting things so they could get to swimming and back without incident.
Which is fine, it’s part of parenting, so doing that was not the part that bothered me. What bothered me was what they did in the class. I am all for fun and letting children do the whole free-play thing that everyone is going nuts writing about, but did that mean that I should be bashful about asking if they learned anything too? I mean, it wasn’t exactly free.
When I would ask the kids about what they did, they would give me nebulous answers, which didn’t really cast enough light on the happenings in the water. All I knew was that they didn’t mind waking up early in their summer vacations, no matter how tired they were, and that they enjoyed it. Which was great (yes, I know I should learn to appreciate a good thing). But, the aim, after all, was that, after three weeks of intensive classes they should learn some good techniques in swimming. Fun is great, but how about keeping your eye on the ball while you’re at it?
And then, after three weeks of daily classes, they came home with trophies, which proudly announced their participation in the summer camp. Sure they felt proud and happy, and there were many-a-selfie clicked by happy mommies with the prized possessions, but was that the right thing for the school to have done? I am all for celebration, but trophies should be given where there’s a need – not because the kid showed up for class.
The reason why this got a reaction from me (I mean more than normal), is because this is not an isolated case – my children’s desks are awash with similar symbols of awards they didn’t deserve, because they didn’t compete – music, choir, badminton, robotics, theater, brain development – you name it. They’ve collected certificates and rickety looking trophies from everywhere and no doubt, feel a sense of pride in arranging them on their desks. Lost in the middle of these there are, mercifully, some real ones as well – like my daughter’s spell bee sticker, or the science quiz one. For me it’s ironical – she got a sticker for winning spell bee in her entire form, where she competed with 120 kids and, at nine-years-old, spelt words most adults can hardly pronounce. But for that she got a sticker. And for showing up at swimming class, she got a jazzy looked trophy – it occupies prime rea estate on her desk, as the spell bee sticker languishes somewhere in the background.
Call me old school, but for me, medals are earned. And when one earns them, with sweat and blood, then they can, by all means, be displayed with pride and be given the fitting place they deserve. But when awards are handed out freely, they not only lose their sheen, but they also take away from the ones that are earned with hard work and are truly deserved.
I hope my children grow up to understand this.