There are many things which I believe it is my job to teach my children. I should teach them right from wrong. I should teach them to be kind to others. I should teach them how to get along in polite society and remember the Golden Rule and how to use their utensils properly and match their clothing and cook a decent meal and do their laundry without turning everything pink. It’s my job to teach them the things they need to know so that they can grow up and become productive, useful members of the society in which they live.
It is also my job to teach my children to take pride in the the areas where they excel, and to learn to cope with sub-standard or even (GASP!) failing performance in the areas in which they fall short. That also includes teaching them that they are likely NOT the best (and even in the areas in which they ARE the best, that may be a fleeting thing), and that that doesn’t entitle them to begrudge the folks who are.
It is ALL OF OUR JOBS to help our children reach their potential. Can we agree on that? I think we can.
What we apparently can’t agree upon is how that happens. And I want to stand up, right here, right now, and say that as long as my children are kind and basically good, I REFUSE to take on the responsibility of someone else feeling bad because of their successes. It’s unnecessary and asinine and I won’t do it.
Susan wrote a great post about this recently, and you should go read the whole thing because she says so much of what I want say, but this in particular sticks with me:
If my kids don’t get anything else out of sports, I hope they learn how to win and lose gracefully, how to play as part of a team, how to do their best. Healthy competition––supportive, constructive, enthusiastic competition––builds character.
My generation of parents doesn’t really believe this, it seems. We believe that saying NO to our kids harms their self esteem, that uniforms restrict creativity, that keeping score encourages hurt feelings.
I don’t buy any of that. In fact, I think we’re underestimating our kids and their ability to dig deep and succeed, and to feel good about making the effort.
Winning is fun; doing your best is fun; being part of a team is fun. Being told that everyone is equal and that no one is better than anyone else is boring. I’m tired of pretending that no one wins.
You know what? I got a couple of comments (and an email) yesterday that basically boiled down to: “Oh, but having a gifted program makes the other kids FEEL BAD.” I did respond to one remark in the comments, but the longer I thought about it the more I wanted to make my position absolutely clear (and I am not picking on anyone who responded this way; this is about wanting to discuss the issue, not about trying to give anyone grief, I swear).
Susan hits the nail on the head. Our generation has been taught that we should tell our kids that EVERYONE IS EQUAL and WINNING DOESN’T MATTER. Believing that all human beings are of equal worth and entitled to the same opportunities IS NOT THE SAME AS deciding that everyone has exactly the same strengths and weaknesses. Believing that playing a sport or participating in other organized activities are important just for the fun of it DOES NOT PRECLUDE keeping score and having winners.
I believe this down to the tips of my toes, in every possible way, and not just because my kids are labeled as being “gifted.” It annoys me to think that I’m supposed to not want the best possible education for them because it might hurt someone’s feelings. That’s ridiculous. I live in a very poor school district, in a state which consistently ranks in the bottom five in the country for public school education. I happen to believe in the public school system, for all sorts of reasons. And back up north there was no gifted program and that was fine with me—the overall level of academia at that school was really different, and I was satisfied with the education the children were receiving. Believe me when I say that in THIS school, in THIS district, my children need (and yes, DESERVE) this program to continue thriving academically, and as their mother I am not going to apologize to ANYONE for that.
[I was emailing with an old friend this morning who happens to be a teacher, and we were talking about this issue. I happened to recall that when we were in high school, we were amongst the last year to have "accelerated" classes as an option. Some very angry people managed to phase out the tracking system in our district because they felt it was unfair to the kids in the lower tracks. Thus began the growing trend of making everyone equal regardless of their needs.]
I’ll tell you something else, too. This is not a position born of perfection. It’s not a case of “well this is easy for YOU to say, because YOUR KIDS are among the elite!” Part of the reason I am unapologetic about catering to my children’s academic excellence is because I am only too aware that this is but ONE FACET of their lives and obligations. There are lots of ways in which other children run circles around my children. And in life we ALL have both strengths and weaknesses. Isn’t our job as parents to celebrate the strength and teach them how to cope with the weakness?
Monkey’s soccer league (like Susan’s son’s) doesn’t “officially” keep score, but of course everyone knows what the score is. And while Monkey really loves soccer, he is—so far—terrible at it. I encourage him to have fun and work hard but I do not sugar-coat it for him. He is not very good. He’s also, I’m sorry to say, not a very good sport—he’s easily disappointed and has a hard time containing it when he’s upset. And I will continue to praise him for small victories and discipline him through what I find unacceptable (last week he took a ball to the neck and told me he was going to “kick that kid like he kicked me,” which prompted a swift and stern reminder that if I saw any such thing he would be done with soccer for the season). I didn’t yank him out of soccer because he’s bad at it. This is a great learning opportunity. But I know and he knows that there are many, many other players who are better than he is.
Chickadee’s Tae Kwon Do class contains many kids who are smaller/younger than she is but who rank higher, and this drives her insane. She, however, is generally interested in doing the smallest amount of work possible, and so she doesn’t progress as quickly as she would like. I do not imagine that she finds it endearing when I (gently) remind her that her progression is completely up to her, and if she continues to be lazy she will continue to advance slowly. And if you must know, I also often tease her that she throws like a girl.
Both of my children are emotionally immature for their ages, and this is made all the more striking in comparison to their advanced intellect. I spend much more time working with them on learning how to deal with life’s disappointments and inequalities without falling apart than I do stroking their egos because they get good test scores. They know they’re smart. They also need to know they’ve got shortcomings and that JUST being smart is not enough.
The point here is that my children are not perfect. I don’t tell them that they are. What I tell them is that they’re good at some things and not good at others, and I expect them to try their hardest and do their best and have fun when they can and lose gracefully when they must. I refuse to tell them they’re the best at everything OR that it doesn’t matter, because they’re not and it does.
This is what I’m teaching my children. I will not apologize.