Preparing Kids To Play In The Freeway Of Life


Hooray!: We can all win all of the time.

Our contemporary hunger for equality can border on the comical. When my six-year-old son came home from first grade with a fancy winner’s ribbon, I was filled with pride to discover that he had won a footrace. While I was heaping praise on him, he interrupted to correct me. “No, it wasn’t just me,” he explained. “We all won the race!” He impatiently educated me. He wasn’t first or second or third—he couldn’t even remember what place he took. Everyone who ran the race was told that they had won, and they were all given the same ribbon. “Well, you can’t all win a race,” I explained to him, ever-supportive father that I am. That doesn’t even make sense. He simply held up his purple ribbon and raised his eyebrows at me, as if to say, “You are thus refuted.” . . .

More troubling than the institutional enforcement of this strange fairness is the fact that such protective “lessons” ill-equip kids for the realities of later life. As our children grow up, they will have to negotiate a world of partiality. Does it really help children when our schools legislate reality into a “fairer” but utterly fictional form? The focus on equality of outcome may produce a generation that is burdened with an indignant sense of entitlement.

On the one hand, most people don’t seem to hold the President of the United States responsible for his performance; so why should it be any different for the kids? Of course, on the other hand, most of us are not going to have a friendly press corps working incessantly to explain away all of our mistakes.

The fact of the matter is that everyone doesn’t get a ribbon in real life. To the contrary, life is a grueling competition where the successful people not named Kennedy, Kerry or Walton will have to roll with the punches, work like dogs, and fight like hell if they want to succeed.

Teaching kids that all they have to do is show up to be a “winner” is the best way to turn them into losers. How’s their precious self esteem going to do then? Either it’s going to collapse when they realize that all of their achievements were fraudulent or worse yet, they’ll maintain their high self-esteem as they bumble from failure to failure, always overconfident of their own abilities. Either way, this sort of excessive back patting does nothing but hurt kids over the long haul.

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