I hate awards day. Once a quarter, hundreds of proud parents and friends file into my son’s school to celebrate their student’s accomplishments. Flawless report cards. Excellence in their “enhancement classes”. Even perfect attendance. Because a child’s ability to avoid fevers and vomiting should clearly be publicly recognized and celebrated. I digress.
Anyway, I show up, two wiggly little girls in tow and a forced smile on my face, wanting to enjoy this experience. Like everyone else seems to be doing. But as kids are called up and recognized, I see those few left behind, unable to hide their disappointment. Embarrassment. Tears filling the eyes of five and six year olds while their peers proudly wave their Principal’s List certificates, and their hands are empty. Again.
So much of me wants to leap out onto that gym floor. I want to grab their little faces and whisper the words I prepped my own sweet boy with this week: “Those certificates? They’re paper. Just paper. They, in no way, represent who you are or all you can do. Your worth- your identity- is not in that paper. That recognition. You are loved for who you are- for whose you are- not what you do. Work hard. Do your best. Love God. Love others. Be kind. That’s what matters.”
Here’s the thing. We live in a feel-good society. “You’re all snowflakes! Be all you can be!” we preach. “But wait!” we add. “While you’re at it, it would be kind of awesome if your standardized test scores exceed the average. And hey, let’s award your straight A’s in front of the masses too.”
And just like that, everyone’s confused. Because if our kids are all really precious snowflakes- if they truly can be all they want to be- then why are we singling out those for whom learning doesn’t come so easily? If our kids are really so special and unique, why are we basing everything on standardized tests? And why do some kids who try and try with every bit of might they have fall through the cracks while the advantaged win again? Because, let’s be real, when mom’s working extra shifts just to keep food on the tables, helping with homework isn’t always possible. And teaching sight words when you’re learning English yourself? Not so simple.
Something’s gotta give. And, if you ask me, it’s the notion that it’s up to our kids to measure up. As long as we elevate test scores and certificates of achievement, our children will continue to believe the notion that it’s all about them. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t care how many Nobel Peace Prizes your little snowflake wins, it’s. just. not. It’s not about them. The story is so much bigger.
You know what I can get behind? Encouraging our kids to get behind and stand beside others. Others who may look or act differently. Others with abilities and belief systems that may stand in stark contrast to their own. Cheering them on, not as “others” but as one of them. I saw it happen yesterday, and it was beautiful.
Yesterday, Carson’s first grade class stepped away from their desks for the day and onto the Special Olympics playing field. His teacher, who has been a blessed breath of fresh air this year, had decided that teaching her students to encourage and support others was far more important than the typical day’s agenda of spelling tests and math worksheets. So, they showed up and spent the day standing alongside the Special Olympics athletes. Competing with them even. I watched this class of typically-abled kids playing with children with various special needs, while all inhibitions and “othering” flew out the window. I wanted to weep.
We hear so much about standards of learning- and of the mastery of standards- in the school systems, and I get it. I want my kids to learn a broad range of subjects. I want them to excel academically. When they turn eighteen, I want them to LEAVE THE NEST. But this. What this one first grade teacher taught her class yesterday was surely not within a core curriculum that was set before her at the beginning of the school year. She pushed her students and exhausted herself to teach them that it’s not all about them. Because, you guys, she’s a crazy good educator who loves her kids.
The awards assemblies and test scores? Whatever. But seeing my children learn to think outside of themselves and to serve and love others?
Those are the standards I want my little snowflakes to master.