February 23, 2006

Everyone's A Winner

No, not really.

In The Incredibles, Dash and his superhero mom Elastigirl discuss his inability to win athletic competitions due to the fact that they are in hiding, and can not demonstrate their superpowers to normal humans. His mother says that "everyone is special, Dash." He insightfully responds, "that's just another way of saying that no one is special." Or something to that effect.

Now, in Boston as in other places across the good ol' US of A, this:
When a youth basketball league in Framingham finishes its season next month, every fifth- and sixth-grader will receive a shiny trophy. Even those on the last-place team.
Like getting an A for "effort," all of the children will receive a trophy. At least some think that this coddling, or in contemporary parlance, "building self-esteem," is not a good thing at all:
''There is something inherently good about trying to raise kids' feelings about themselves, but there has to be balance," said Leonard Zaichkowsky, a Boston University professor and director of its sport and exercise psychology training program, shared by BU's schools of education and medicine. ''We also have to teach kids to be mentally tough, to take criticism, to experience failure, to learn that somebody wins and somebody loses.

''We have to take teachable moments to reach kids and explain that there are going to be setbacks and losses, and to be able to cope with that," he said.

Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, said the trophy explosion was a product of the self-esteem movement, which began in the 1970s and gained momentum in the '80s with promises of more successful children. The movement started to unravel a decade later, when questions were raised about its results, said Baumeister, who has specialized in self-esteem issues.

Baumeister said feel-good trophies don't serve any purpose.

''The trophies should go to the winners. Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do, and sports can help teach those," he said.
Which brings to mind another recent movie, Meet the Fockers, where Robert De Niro's character looks incredulously at his future son-in-law's "trophy" display, where his parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand in new-age, liberal, cookie-cutter roles) proudly display their son's ribbon for 9th place. De Niro scoffs, "I didn't know they gave out awards for 9th place!" They shouldn't. Mediocrity should not be rewarded. The avoidance of excellence is a growing problem for the United States, undoubtedly encouraged by the self-loathing liberal mentality that pervades public schools, and education in general. Awards for things like attendance are ridiculous, good attendance should be expected of all students. Scholarships, admissions to good schools, and job opportunities should be available to the best candidates, not those who fulfill some socially engineered attempt at balance, or some bad implementation of cronyism. Meritocracy is more than just rewarding those who deserve their accomplishments, it is about recognizing excellence in all aspects of life. It is an honor to be a world-class athlete and participate in the Olympics, but still another to achieve the standard of being the best in the world.

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