Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Joys of a Mediocre Life, Sporting Achievement and The Downsides of Award Ceremonies in Schools.

Post Edit: Music, sports and all things gloriously human are wonderful endeavours in and of themselves- this post is focused on how our awareness changes our perceptions and views and what this affects...especially when we uphold them as institutional "norms."

( Caption- when my kids were little ones)

Recently on Pinterest I came across this article by Krista Di gui What if All I want is a Mediocre Life? (click)

There are movers and shakers in our world. We need a balance of both. Of course we need the goal setters and strivers but in North America, the priority is emphasized on them and we need a counterbalance of those who shake the status quo. We need those who are content to sit back and BE. The people who are happy with a "mediocre life" which in reality is quite extraordinary. Krista writes, "The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count. But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?"_ Krista Di Gui

A memory surfaced of myself sitting in a grade five gym class. I was watching my peers compete for attention and I was baffled that the teacher was giving mixed messages. The teacher told us to be kind to one another yet when we were in our game we had to compete, achieve and ruthlessly find a way to win. I recall sitting and thinking something along the child version of, "No thank you. What if I don't have it in me to play this sport? To compete and taunt my friends in a 'healthy' sporting style..." I was always an old soul. To some that meant "boring" or "Lazy." My report cards never failed to mention, "She could use more participation." or "Would like to see her achieve more goals for herself." And my gym scores were the worst! A lot of my scores were due to unknown Dyspraxia, but even without that factor, I would never have thrived in gym class. I didn't want to compete with my peers - I wanted to harmonize or advise or challenge them on an equal plain of diversity. I was the one who choose to walk around the school at recess having deep conversations with a few close friends over playing. 

"She would shine if she could try a bit harder to go after what she wants." Wait, what? "SHE wants?!" That was a misplaced phrase meant to convey what the teacher wanted. The beliefs about hard work, value, impact, team spirit and all those ra ra ra phrases were meant to create a conforming team that would compete to achieve. Which is fine sometimes, but as a school goal I found it interesting that the sports teams were the focus of budget, time and that even the parents seemed to misplace the value of these teams as something higher than should be.

As my own children have aged I have challenged a few people kindly on this mentality. In the end the basic argument they have is, "Well it has been proven that healthy sport is crucial to a child's development and a healthy society. It's a way to build team spirit." Um no it's not. It may SEEM like there is team spirit, but if you take those children and put them on separate teams they would ruthlessly tear each other apart in the name of the game. There are other gentler ways that are just as effective. Yes, sports have their place and do help channel aggression into a safer manifestation but sports are not the only way to teach children loyalty and how to work together. A healthy society is one in which each individual can find meaning, no matter whom they are, and find a way to give this meaning in their own special way. Not by being another effective cog in the wheel for achievement and prosperity.

(Lol J.P Sears Satirical's always crack me up...)

Sports are a channel for body fitness and awareness and a channel for countries to compete without war, but in basic form sports are just another cultural way to promote achievement. If you are an avid sports fan due to enjoyment or because of the beauty you see in the movements or functionality of a team- good on ya.  As a whole sports still have their place as a practice but let's be truthful about what it is all about. (Music has also done this while ironically trying to combat it- same issues with a different format...competition and achievement instead of beauty for joy's sake.)

The last straw for me, when my kids were in school, were the award ceremonies. Looking around at the hopeful faces and crushed spirits hurt my heart. Of course the same kids received the same awards every year. The same parents would proudly show off the medals of their kids. For the school it was a way to show "Hey look at these few kids who uphold our amazing standards so well. Look at what we taught them." For the parents it felt like their children were considered an extension of themselves and not their own unique vessel. Why were we putting children in a spot to think that these awards held some sort of meaning over their lives?

Of course there were the participation awards that everyone got but we all knew that was a joke. There is a time and place when we should honour brave acts of kindness or physical accomplishments, but an end of the school year "celebration" is not one of them. Yet our whole society is set up like this. From grades, to sports, to family events to church to spirituality. It is ingrained in us that pomp and ceremony are the big moments in life. Private and Public schools hand out the academic achievement awards and behavioural awards. This practice, based on competition and teacher/ student relationship, becomes the center of wrapping up the year...and most times it is not the celebration that the child actually needs.

Achievement Awards could be put under the category of Discrimination Awards in some cases. There are children who thrive under pressure (during tests) and can sit appropriately at a desk. There are children who can not. No matter how hard they try. It's not about rebellion in most cases, or for a lack of trying. It's about certain characteristics that not all are born with. Many children with undiagnosed learning disabilities, dyslexia, memory problems, or other disabilities never get the privilege of an award.

"Smart awards" do not actually say much about the intellectual capacity of a child. There are many successful adults, who have paved the way in our society intellectually, who failed school. Not because they did not have brains, but because the school system was not set up for the way their brains were wired. Or they simply thrived on thinking outside the box- Einstein!

There are children I know who received the Academic Awards every year and are failing miserably at adulthood relationships and general life choices. Dear parents and children: These are NOT an indicator of future success nor are they an indicator of future failure.

 If a child does well at school it is one of the three reasons:
1) They tried REALLY hard or have parents who push really hard. (But some of the children who do not do well, try REALLY hard too- without the same results.)
2) They are naturally inclined to listen, replicate, and mimic back necessary information.
3) They are gifted or received tons of support.

Achievement Awards tell children that in life they will be rewarded for conforming to the "right" tests and the "right" way of learning, or that they will only get recognized if they have a certain type of brain. While our society is set up to be about competition, our school systems should not be a proponent of this. Not only does it single children out to be bullied by those who are jealous or as the "smartie pants" but it also singles the children out who did not receive a reward. It sends the message, intended or not, that they just don't make the cut. They just did not try hard enough. At the end of the year, if there must be a ceremony, it should be about celebration of each child's abilities.

In Private schools there are behavioural awards, or in my case "Christian Character" awards. Ours was called the "Daniel Award" and it was given to one student in the class, every year, who exemplified "christian" character by being kind, considerate, and all those other qualities. Ironically, my classmates and I noticed as we got older that it was not the pupils who were actually compassionate, empathetic and inclusive but rather those who were on sports teams and constantly seen, or those who were shy and never bothered to interact. Because interaction DOES involve tension, disagreement and sometimes a falling out...but that does not mean it is going against christian character. It's simply life relationships.

If we actually get into the "christian" doctrine, this practice goes against what it means to be a follower of Love. There was a scripture taught that good deeds are supposed to be done in secret. Another verse taught was to learn how to encourage each other and build each other up.

 The children who get picked by this are often the same children who received academic awards as well. Why is this? Because those are the children that the Teacher sees and is impressed with more often. The "Christian character" award is not going to go to a child who acts up in class because they don't understand. Never mind that this child is the one at recess who compassionately includes others. The teachers can't see everything and can not reward what they do not know. This divides children. The children who receive it feel above the other children. (It's not their fault. They are just kids who are mimicking their parents. The adults own this responsibility.) Often the child who acts out is the child who needs to see value in themselves. They are in need of more love and attention.

Those who do not receive it begin to wonder at their internal state. Are they actually bad? In my school, in every grade, as we got older it became more and more of a joke. People tried to AVOID getting these awards because then we got singled out as the "Teacher's Pet"or the "Goodie" ect. In Elementary, however, most took it very seriously. We would sit hopefully in our chairs begging for our name to be called. I have seen children cry after awards. Their innocent hearts do not understand why their beloved teacher would not single them out. ( Yes, I received the award for being complacent and shy in grade five. I wouldn't say I was more worthy than any of my peers and it bothered me.)

We are teaching children that good behaviour is rewarded. It's not always. Good behaviour should simply be expected. Also, questioning and determination are attributes of behaviour that are not honoured. This is unfortunate. We do not want little rule following robots. (Well, I don't.) Wouldn't it be more beneficial for children to learn to decipher good from bad on their own? If this practice is considered "christian" then private schools have a lot of thinking to do.

During the year, if a child is acting especially kind and a teacher notices, they should take them aside and honour them with recognition without other little eyes taking it in. If a child in the classroom is achieving because of extra work, the teacher should recognize it individually and praise it.

Unfortunately, those whom are bothered by the ceremonies are worried to voice their opinion. Legitimately, they don't want to be seen as "rebellious" if they take a stand against this practice. The people that often volunteer to be on a parent committee or school board are often people who value rules, tradition, structure, institution and method. Most school boards are full of people who thrive in social and structured settings. While that is great for the school and is not necessarily horrid attributes to have- it's not so great to the artists, disabled and differently wired who do not adhere to all of those standards. It is tough to understand differences if life/school comes easily or the structure makes sense.

Most seem to eat it up without asking a question. The awards set the tone for the goals of the school.  I have seen, not only the results of the Daniel Award and Academic Awards in adulthood, but the consequences in childhood. I have also heard many parents, who are very diverse in beliefs, be upset after the Awards on who received what or who did not.

 My son was one of the children who cried after the KINDERGARTEN awards. My daughter was confused after she did not receive the Daniel Award in grade two. But here is the paradox. I don't want them to receive the awards either. I would rather they were not left out from anything but I also do not want them singled out in a positive manner publicly. Instead I want to do this in tiny ways everyday. In the school setting, this just contributes to ego and does not foster being good for good's own sake. It's not just a ceremony. It says a lot about the values and principles the school takes over the course of the year. Luckily, I think some mentalities are changing and there are quite a few teachers who are beginning to question this practice as well. Why do we consider this just a harmless tradition? If we are a country who believes our educational standards should be based on equality and altruism- is this a practice that supports this belief?

I hear comments on the new granola way of living... a lot of people mock the non competitive, no winning sports functions that are happening now. While that suits me a bit more because playing for playing's sake is a beautiful way to BE, I still don't believe that is the way either. We are basically replacing one goal with another in the same format. Obviously, it's not going to work beautifully, but small steps in a different direction will eventually get us on to a completely different path.

A ceremony celebrating the joy of each child could be a easy alternative. The parents will get to see their children have their turn, the teachers can award every child in some form, and the children can feel equal yet unique with the words being given to them. It's not impossible nor is it utopian. It's quite attainable and though it may have some downsides too, in the end it's a far more reaching alternative. The ceremonies are long anyway. Why don't we skip the pomp and circumstance and instead take a few seconds to focus on every child or do that separately in a classroom and let them perform in the way they thrive best for their parents?

For multiple reasons, including the above, I had to pull my children out of the system. I couldn't handle the layered mentalities from character to learning to physical fitness. I was consistently stressed and one of those parents who I'm sure the school dreaded seeing. My children were not happy either. They had huge anxiety and depression (in kindergarten!) and their needs required something with less sensory overload. I found the first years of homeschooling tough until I found my groove in unschooling. Now, I LOVE it (see side label for more.) I know that many people can not afford the choice my children and I have, but many can not choose it because of their mentalities. There is a lot of prejudices wrapped up in homeschooling. For the children who are in school, my hope is that these issues will find alternative ways to grow.

 If we simply value the "brightest" stars we are discounting the backbone of society. The educational system and the church system (ironically) are the biggest culprits in setting us up for believing that bigger is better, that we need to strive for excellence, and that we need to compete to make it. Why are we judging our lives based upon what we can SHOW? We are not taught the value of the mediocre. The beauty in the plain. The joy of the ordinary.

I know I am enough. Deep down, even within the school system, I knew that I was different and didn't fit. Luckily, because of my support system, personality and coping mechanisms, I learned how to channel my "rebellious" spirit into a way that wasn't harmful to myself or others mostly. Despite this benefit, in my twenties I still had to deconstruct a lot of crap. I slowly eased out of all these systems and people groups...and I found peace, joy, happiness, love, self control, patience, kindness, gentleness, tough boundaries, appropriate anger, and honour of all things dark and light. It is enough. I am enough. That was never taught to me and if it was there was a contradictory message to go along with it.

I love my simple life. My cottage small filled to the brim with colour, life, and love. The joy I receive from those whom I love and acceptingly love me back. The contribution I make to life simply by being in it. The give and take to survive is a part of it but not in a conforming way, though that also has it's place.

I have limitations. Some days those limitations are tough. However, I also am at peace with whom I am within these things. I have found deep inner joy despite very hard life moments. It's a soft foundation of acceptance. In all its layered darkness and light, I love life. This is the joy of a mediocre life and I would not trade it, because it's an ordinary miracle. I don't care if my name is lost in obscurity after I die. I don't need to have that immortality to feel worthy. What I have- I have. What I am- I AM. My star may not be bright but it's illumination fills the tiny spaces surrounding. It matters in what it is.
*Regarding the Olympics...the video was satirical and while it had some truths I will also mention women my aunt recommended that are "fierce and labour for little money or glory."  Christine Sinclair and Karina Leblanc, Kadeisha Buchanan, Jen Kish, Clara Hughes... My aunt pointed out that these women show all kinds of ways to be human together. I admit that I am not a sports fan in general and do not know most of these women but sports have also contributed to positivity, rights for varied people groups and they CAN contribute to a general world outlook of positivity when not focused on sole achievement. There are biases everywhere...we write about the ones we see and hopefully also challenge the ones within ourselves. 


Ashe said...

A calm and quiet life sounds more like heaven than mediocre to me! :D

I'm not really competitive either. I can have a good night of games with some good-natured ribbing, but win or lose, I just want to PLAY. Gloating bores me and I generally keep away from people that get too obsessed with winning. I really like "slow" games like Minecraft, Fable, and other roleplaying types because there is so much more opportunity for exploring and interacting with the little game sprites.

Kmarie A. said...

Ashe: yea its definitely my heaven:)
Good natured ribbing is awesome:) My kids love Minecraft. My favourite game was always Clue because I always won- lol so I guess I am a little competitive sometimes:) Its all a balance...I just don't want my kids to believe that it gives them WORTH....winning, losing...that winning can be fun sometimes and losing can be a teaching moment so thus important in themselves but I wouldn't want them facing that EVERY day as part of their "education" and especially not the sole focus of celebration of them. I love that you also point out the opportunity for exploring and interacting as that is a factor too.:)

As always your thoughts are appreciated:)

S said...

I also love a mediocre life ! People ask me why ? Once I remember clearly in 12th Grade ( I was in a hostel/boarding school ) and our Warden/Teacher told me sarcastically and also angrily that "everyone wants to go up, but you seem to have a special knack for going down".
At that time I was confused as to what I should have done but now I am very happily feeling good to be a mediocre.
There are many different kinds of people/children, talents, etc.etc. I don't know why to group them all into one single group activity/group sport ? Even if there are activities but why rewards and awards ? Even if everything is valid according to some system that system will never understand the complexities of sensitive souls or that of the problems that comes with sensory disorders/invisible illness. Therefore,I have always tried to stay away from all this (whenever possible) and also therefore, I love my home more than these institutions of achievements.
But I do not have a child. If I have a child in the future, it is going to be very difficult to raise him/her in such a competitive environment , more so because our country does not really recognize "homeschooling /unschooling". So, maybe we have to put our child in a school which is for the mediocre students ( some government schools which have very low funding ). These schools do not require much money and there are lesser competition in these schools compared to schools where rich kids go. Although the quality of formal education will suffer but humanity/ sensitivity will remain intact for the child .

Kmarie A. said...

S: achieving is akin to godliness. Even for those who don't believe in god...Yes there are so many and we don't honour enough:) Its fine to be achieving too but forcing everyone to be is not ok.
That would be difficult without the option. It would slowly kill my soul if my kids were in school. Yes I agree. Excellent points dear friend. Xo