Participation Spells Disaster

I have a trophy. It’s a trophy from the spelling bee from when I was in the sixth grade. The funny thing about that spelling bee is that I didn’t spell one word correctly. Going with the youngest students, and alphabetical order, I was one of the first students to spell. I misspelled ‘fiesta’ – I mixed the I and E! – and went out. Again: I didn’t spell one word correctly. But I still got a trophy!

Trophies such as those are a symbol of the shift in today’s society. Five years ago, when I was in Middle School, we had a thing called field day. The upper grades (6-8) competed and each kid tried to be in the top three for each event to get a ribbon. I never was in the top three and I never got a ribbon. My sister, who is in eighth grade now, received a ribbon though she qualified in nothing. Everyone now gets a participation award. That does not make sense to me. The same goes for teachers, I’m sure everyone in their high school careers observe that a teacher can’t pick out one person for a skill because it could hurt the self-esteem of another.

Bill Gates made a famous speech about high school once, and he called it: the 11 things you won’t learn in high school. It was poignant then, but is even more so now.

“Rule 1: Life’s not fair – get used to it” and “Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. They’ll expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.”

Now, I am not up here to say we should stomp on the dreams of children, or in any way degrade them for poor performance as just kids. This goes in any contest – athletic or not.

There’s no reason to be overly harsh to kids, but there is no reason to be overly coddling, either.

Think of that field day like the Olympics: There’s gold for first place, silver for second, and bronze for third. Same with ribbons. Now, imagine giving an iron medal to each person that participated, but didn’t come on any of those places. It’s silly, it’s the adult world. And – If we were to give out participation awards – it should be athletes who give up nearly every aspect of their lives for a sport that the majority of the world cares about for one half-month every four years – not a ten-year old who may not have an interest in soccer, but played because his parents wanted him to.

Parents. As much as parents want to protect their children from failure as much as possible, I understand that nurturing nature, but it’s a part of life. Aren’t we doing a disservice to our children by not preparing them for the “real world.”

Like I said earlier, I don’t mean be overly mean to a kid about a little game, but do we have to give him a medal just because he tried each time?

Participation awards go along the same sentiment of merely trying, they try to make everyone level and equal.

That “real world” I talked about earlier, there, each individual person is different and unique. Why are we pretending that everyone is the same when each person’s differences make this world so much fun and so very interesting to live in. If everyone was the same, the world would be hollow: different on the surface, but the same on the inside.

Besides, does a hollow trophy really make you feel any better?

When I see that trophy, I don’t think, hey, wow, I tried really hard and did my absolute best in that contest when I was 11. I don’t think, phew, I got a trophy, yay me for participating. That’s because I don’t look at it, I nearly couldn’t find it because it was set to be thrown away, stashed in the attic – unimportant.

When I think of that spelling bee now, I laugh. I laugh because there was a time in my life when I couldn’t spell fiesta, I laugh because I made myself look silly in front of a bunch of people. I laugh because the whole experience was fun. I don’t need a trophy to tell me that.


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