My daughter is in the third grade, and recently came home with an assignment to prepare a presentation about a famous historical figure. One of her favorite films "A Night at the Museum" includes a part about Sacajawea, the famous native American, working mother, and guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We suggested Sacajawea would be a good choice for her project. She worked on it over a two week period, researching on the Internet, reading a book we bought, and preparing visual aids. She was very excited about the project, and practiced the presentation over and over again at home. After her open house event, I asked what kind of grade she got on it, to which she flatly replied she had gotten 102, an A+. I was surprised by her lack of enthusiasm, so I asked how her grade compared to the other kids. She told me she did not know, because kids are not allowed to share their grades with other students.
A little probing exposed this as a politically correct "don't ask; don't tell" rule I have encountered many other times in speaking to the kids about school. Very simply it has no purpose but to ensure no one gets hurt feelings or diminished self-esteem over poor performance. The children are taught that expressions of pride for performance are bad, and there is no shame in performing poorly. Poor performance, mediocrity, and outright failure are all treated the same. Little or no effort is equivalent to diligence, and there is therefore little incentive in the system to perform. Kids learn they can get by doing the bare minimum. Curiously there seems to be no similar treatment of performance when it comes to school sports. The poorest performers are often cut from the team, while the gifted advance, often accompanied by extreme celebration, aggressive coaching, poor sportsmanship and in-your-face trash-talking. The message seems to be that to be good in sports is serious and worth bragging about, but being excellent in academics is not.
When kids are taught to be tolerant of mediocrity, poor performance, and lack of effort, in deference to others' feelings, why would anyone care to excel. With no pride, no shame and no sanction, why not just be mediocre like everyone else, and save the effort and time. Why not just go to a football game and talk trash with everyone else. I believe this mentality is reflected throughout our culture in a general lack of shame for many things which really are shameful and should elicit remorse. Similarly, pride is often misplaced, and absent where it should be.
Real life is about quality, competition and performance. Those who compete, produce quality results, and perform, are rewarded. Those who do not, languish and fail. Quality and excellence are worthy of praise and pride. Poor performance should not be treated the same as excellent. Disappointment, remorse and shame are strong motivations to improve. I have always understood the job of our school system is to give our children the education and skills they need to be successful in society? Clearly the message these politically correct educators are giving our children is not effective toward this end.
I am not a smart as Stephen Hawking, nor am I as gifted an athlete as Alex Rodriguez, but none of this has damaged my self esteem; it is simply reality. I still manage to get out of bed every day to focus my energy toward the things I am good at, and to make a best effort toward everything else. It is a matter of personal pride and dignity. I teach my children to follow the rules, so they will not ask or tell as required. However, despite the stifling politically correct nonsense of our education system, I will continue to teach my kids the difference between excellence, mediocrity, and failure, and the feelings that should rightfully go with each. Add in a healthy dose of humility, and we have another generation of healthy and productive Americans, who can be unabashedly proud of themselves for their accomplishments and success.