Participation

Participation trophies.

Let me tell you that I’m on the fence here, but I’m leaning.

Kids should not get something for nothing.

I do not think you need to have a graduation ceremony from preschool.  Nor do I think you need one from kindergarten, 5th grade, or 8th grade.  There should be one graduation ceremony, honoring your hard work, which was a long-term goal.  The rest of that nonsense does not need to happen.  A celebration?  Sure! Graduation? No.

Nor do I think 8th graders should be taking limos and renting tuxes for their 8th grade dance.  That’s a prom thing, and some traditions should be kept to the original event.

But participation awards?

That’s a little different.

This country has an obsession with sports.  If you look at the highest paid people in any society, you will see what they value in their culture.  Look at how competitive kids sports are.  Look at how young they enter AAU leagues, and spend their entire summers (and sometimes school years) traveling, training, and competing.  Look at how many news stories you see about parents who don’t know how to support their children, and cannot control themselves at games.

Every field day, my kid comes home with a participation ribbon.  He doesn’t win stuff in sports.  I didn’t either.  Just about every kid in my elementary school was on a soccer team.  I wasn’t.  I had absolutely no interest.  I played parks and rec basketball and softball a bit.  I was on middle school and freshman volleyball, and I played co-rec in college.  But it wasn’t my bag.

And it gets old seeing other people get stuff all the time.  It’s like watching the popular kid be popular all the time, or the really pretty girl be the center of attention all the time.  It just gets old.

And maybe the participation is kind of a socialist thing, spreading the good feelings around to everyone, regardless of athletic ability.  But before you jump on the socialist part of that statement, think about the other part.  The part about spreading good feelings around to all the kids.  Isn’t that something we want?

I don’t think participation ribbons make any kid think they deserve stuff for not earning it.  A participation ribbon never made me think I had really won anything.  But it told me that at least I showed up and tried at this thing I wasn’t really into.  And in truth, there’s a lot of value in that.  Lots of people grow up and have jobs that they’re not really into, and they aren’t the very best in their field, but they still get paid because they show up and try.

The Boy has taught me a lot.  Every kid is different, and too much in our society tries to peg them into the same interests and hierarchies.  It’s time we really look at kids as people in their own right.  Just because they didn’t win the tournament doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything from it.  In fact, they probably learned much more from losing.

So if a participation ribbon commemorates showing up, trying, and learning, isn’t that what life’s really all about?

Participation ribbons for everyone. Everyone.

ran-at-school-carnival-got-a-participation-ribbon

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Disability and Celebrity

I’m sure you have seen the videos that have been popping up, slightly more frequently in recent years: some student with a disability making an amazing shot in basketball, because the coach told him to suit up for the last game of the season, or the boy with autism who was voted Homecoming King, or the many others that are out there.  You can often hear the crowd chanting the person’s name, and screaming wildly when the shot is made, or the name is announced.

My kid is a bit of a celebrity at his school.  Everyone seems to know his name: students, parents, even kids who are older and in middle school who live  in the neighborhood.  We go somewhere in town, and someone says hi to him and calls him by name, and I have no idea who it is, and many times, neither does he.  He’s a celebrity, partly because they have such good programs to “initiate” the general ed kids into what their ASD classmates are experiencing, and I think partly because he’s a “6th year” student at his school, having attended the same school all the way through elementary.  The longer you stay in one place, the more people with whom you come in contact.  That’s my theory, anyway.

But, I watch these videos, and I wonder.  I wonder if this “celebrity” is an entirely good thing.  I wonder if it would be even better if there was no news story, because it would be a matter of course for someone with a disability to win Homecoming King.  It would be a matter of course for kids with disabilities to compete in sports, perform in music programs, do whatever it is that typical kids do, and do it well.  And it would be a matter of course for our kids to have friends, rather than fans.

Until that day, I will continue to share these videos and spread the hope that they bring, because they do leave me hopeful, if not entirely satisfied.  I am always proud of the person in question, but I am so hopeful for those kids who are “fans” of the person in question.  I am hopeful that someday (if they haven’t already), they will realize that this person is real, and not a character.  A potential friend, rather than a celebrity.