A friend of mine, a small bookish man with round glasses, once told me you don't get much raised consciousness among football players. I got it even then. We were working in a program with kids, under-privileged kids, kids who had been kicked their whole lives. The only self esteem these kids ever had was the occasional word of encouragement from their pimps or from their drug customers or suppliers. Maybe the occasional dinner at McDonalds with an abusive boyfriend. But here we were telling them that each of them was important, each of them was special, each of them had a gift to give the world that would make them feel worthy. We said that because we believed it.
But these kids, like most kids, live in the real world. The world that is still run by the baser natural instincts that remind us that, although we are one or two chromosomes apart from animals, those animal instincts still govern. The survival of the fittest is hard wired in our DNA. The winners of this primal social scale are the ones who are able, theoretically, to claim the biggest part of the kill, to claim the strongest mates, and to stand the best chance of shooting their genes into the next generation. The big kids, the strong kids, the attractive kids, still rule the play yard. They still rule the high school corridors in those times when the teachers or hall monitors are not watching. It hurts. Bullying hurts. But as sure as hens peck their way through the pecking order, children, teens, and adults will assault one another verbally and physically, openly when they can and slyly when they are being watched.
We as teachers, parents, and caring adults will always try to help. We teach the kids that they're all special and important. But I have come to realize that what they are really looking for, what we all are looking for, is whatever skills or attitudes it will take to pull themselves up to the next rung on the social scale. It's not enough merely to be accepted by whatever group we associate ourselves with. We want to be better than, the leader of in some way, the one admired by that group.
To take competition away from kids is to take away yet another opportunity for them to measure themselves and their personal growth. In rowing, in many sports, we all fit in in our place within the team or crew. We all look out for one another, we all pull our oar or guard our goal or do our part however it is defined. We all hope we're good enough. And we must all be given that golden opportunity to improve ourselves in comparison to others. We as humans are social creatures. I don't want to be chosen only because the big kid is being nice to me. I want to be chosen because I'm the best.
I suggest that it's time we take our ever so liberal heads out of the sand and face the reality of what both we and our kids have to deal with. Then I suggest that we put our kids, and ourselves, in any of the hundreds of positions where they or we can actually grow and be that person of importance. That means work. Not everyone can win in a race, but everyone can be known on their own team or crew as the one who gave it everything in the tank. We are handicapping our kids by giving prizes to everyone because they put in their best effort. They learn, very quickly, that they will get a prize even if they don't put in their best effort, and that's just not how life in the real world is going to treat them.
We need to put our kids, and ourselves, on the path to something attainable, but still out of reach. We need to give them all the tools necessary to succeed, or at least give them directions towards those tools. We need to direct them, encourage them, to work very, very hard towards the goal of their choice. Because, at the end of the day, nothing will get you to your goal, consequently to a level of competence wherein you are actually accepted and admired, like a solid direction and hard work.