Monday, April 27, 2009

The "Great Job" Generation

When an adult today saw one of Bryant's drawings (which was a fairly adorable tree in a rainstorm) she said, "Great job!" Instead of beaming with pride I flinched and grimaced. Not because the picture was ugly or that I have any negative feelings toward this woman, but because I got the distinct impression that she would have given him the same praise if he'd brought in a squished cockroach. The phrase "Great job!" used to mean something, but it has been overused to the point where it is utterly devoid of meaning.

There is a whole generation of kids who have been raised to believe that everyone is equal, everyone gets a trophy and everyone did a great job - whether they actually did or not. This mentality is probably harmless for a kid's first season of t-ball or soccer or for the annual Easter egg hunt where it would be ridiculous for one kid to have two eggs and another to have forty-two. Truthfully, what mother in her right mind wants to drag home a kid who has had that much candy?

As a teacher of middle school students, I get to see the ugly side of the equality doctrine as misinterpreted by teens. The early trophies and gold stars for everyone reinforce the idea that they don't have to stand out or try hard or really do much of anything to receive a reward. Natural consequences are replaced by artificial ones and reality gets skewed. What was meant as a method of preserving self-esteem until children are mature enough to handle competition and disappointment has led to a generation of kids who feel they deserve to be rewarded for taking up space in my classroom. While I have some amazing, intrinsically motivated, independent learners in my classes, I also have kids who want a trophy for continuing to breathe unassisted. News flash - school is hard, work is hard and tests are hard!

I guess you could say I'm tough on my kids, but when they bring me the drawing of who-knows-what, instead of saying the automatic "Great job!" I ask what on earth I'm looking at and get some pretty funny answers and some windows into their creativity that would have been lost with a vacuous piece of flippant praise. I am not Mom-of-the-Year or Teacher-of-the-Year, but I want the kids around me to know that when they hear praise from me it is a direct result of hard work or inventive thinking or unique insight.

1 comment:

Pippin & Kelly Marie said...

Yes, yes, and yes, again. News flash: our kids can't be number 1 every single time!!!