Sometimes I think the world’s gone mad. Parents spend hours worrying about where their children lie in the pecking-order of their class, constantly comparing notes with other mums at the school gates, referencing national tests and this assessment or that.
The short story is this though: none of these scores will appear on their UCAS forms, they won’t include them in their CV or job applications and the reality is that there is far more to education than test scores.
In order to make up for negative feelings around losing, not being the best, to soften the blow for parents and children alike, educating bodies have created somewhat of a resilience ‘boo-boo’.
I’m all for equality, but the reality is, not everyone can win or be top of the class; there will always be losers. Some children will never get a main part in the school play, will never make the A team for football, rugby, netball or hockey, but that’s actually okay.
It’s not their teacher’s fault, their parents’ fault or their fault. It’s just how the cookie crumbles. You know back in the 80s when that kid won all the sports day races and you just sat there thinking ‘Wow, they’re so fast, I’d like to be like them.’ Your mum didn’t complain that you didn’t win, nor did she snub that mum at the school gates and she didn’t pay a ridiculous amount of money to get you a sports coach so you could win.
Everyone just accepted that person for the talented person they were. And your prize for crossing the line was your mum waving at you and that was enough.
A friend recently told me that they knew of a school which was hosting a non-competitive sports day. For some parents this is a dream come true, because their child can’t lose. But I think it’s a sorry and sad state of affairs, for two reasons.
Firstly, think about those children who are excellent at certain tasks, be it sport, drama, music or academia; they deserve to feel triumphant, they have little hearts too. Feeling successful and triumphant is often mistaken on the playground for boasting. But being proud of your achievements is not boasting, it’s normal and it is allowed.
Secondly, life is not a non-competitive sports day. Let’s not forget that as teachers and parents, we are actually preparing our children to be our future society. But political correctness has created (in some cases) poor losers, losers who never experience losing and do not have the coping skills or resilience to deal with emotions when failure occurs.
A child once asked me what their prize was when I announced a simple design competition in the classroom. I told them what the winner would get and was then asked, ‘What about if you don’t win? What do you get?’
And here lies the problem. The clue is in the word. You lost. You didn’t win; the triumph wasn’t yours this time. In some cases, our praise and reassurance that the losers tried their very best and we were really pleased about that just isn’t enough.
If it sounds harsh, think of this: As young adults, these children might really want to get a particular job, they may try so hard, their very best and guess what? They might not be good enough. They might not get the job. And they wouldn’t get a prize for losing because the job was the prize and someone isn’t going to just give them another job to make them feel better because they’re sad.
The true prize is being able to dust themselves off after losing and try again.
As educators, we hope to develop rounded citizens, children who recognise each other’s talents and skills, in all areas of the curriculum and life-skills too. There are many children who will never become professors, astronauts, presidents or entrepreneurs, but they should be able to celebrate the successes of their peers and successes of their own too.
Children will grow up to be successful in many ways. They may mend a washing-machine when no-one else can, build a wall in their grand-parents’ back garden, they’ll be the person you go to for a hair-cut, the mechanic who fixes your car. Without all of these people, society couldn’t function. Everyone is successful in their own way; we just seem to have forgotten that.
So as a mum, I can honestly say that as long as my children try their best, they can fly to the moon, sweep floors, sell ice-creams or sing for the Queen. What I most desire for them, is that they’re happy and resilient, and that involves coping with failure somewhere along the line.
As a professional and a mum, I know the best people get picked for the school play, because that’s a dress-rehearsal for real-life. You wouldn’t go to a West-End show to watch a show featuring the person who wasn’t best for the part.
And you wouldn’t go to a rugby match to watch a team full of people whose mums complained because so and so always gets picked and they don’t.
Nobody wants their child not to win, but the reality is, have you always won? Is that realistic? It’s not. You win some, you lose some and I want my children to learn how to cope with losing so that when they need to, they dust themselves off and fit right back into society.
Help them become successful losers; they’ll be winners in the game of life.
Thanks for popping by!