As someone who is old enough to have gone to elementary school in the 60s and early 70s, and junior and senior high school in the 70s, I remember teachers passing out gold stars. I remember trophies being awarded for WINNING athletic competitions, pinewood derbies, dog competitions at the recreation department, etc. I remember in Scouts, beginning with Webelos earning the 15 service pins, and then in Boy Scouts earning Merit badges. There were measurable criteria to earn them, and until you met the criteria you didn’t get the pin or badge.
My youngest daughter participates in one of the local martial arts organizations and when they test for a belt, they have a list of moves that they must perform proficiently in front of the black belts in order to be promoted. The reality is everyone didn’t win the gold star, and the vast majority of us “dealt with it.”
Not winning didn’t destroy us, it caused us to work harder to achieve the goal the next time, or that we would indeed survive if we didn’t win. If you were fortunate enough to win, you gained a lot of real self esteem, and if you didn’t win you discovered that you had three options: get better, change activities or mope. Since our parents and teachers didn’t allow moping as an option we either worked to improve, or we decided that we needed to try a different activity or play a different position in the one we were in.
We were realistic in our expectations. This notion that everyone “wins” and that we all deserve a trophy has done irreparable harm to our children. If you are honest, the reality of the situation is that not everyone can perform brain surgery, not everyone can be an NFL quarterback, not everyone can paint a masterpiece, not everyone can perform integral calculus, not everyone can build a bridge, not everyone can finish concrete, not everyone can preach a sermon.
But I would argue that everyone has something that they are good at, and that is where their self-worth and self-esteem come from. The problem in our society and in education is that we don’t value anything other than “book” knowledge, or some type of athletic or artistic talent. So 15 kids turn in a book report and even though the reality is that there are two or three that are far and away the best, everyone gets a smiley face stamp.
At some point, talent matters! Now what I am going to say next may really surprise you, but I think that everyone can get a gold star, but not in the same activity. The key is to find out what each child, each adult, each person is good at; nurture and build on those strengths and as a society respect and value all types of talent and intelligence.
There is a multiple intelligence test in which there are eight identified intelligences. One of them is a naturalist. I agree there are some people who are as adept at flourishing in nature as some do in their math class. There is an interpersonal intelligence, and there is no doubt that arbitrators, negotiators, counselors, etc. are very adept at this. There is spatial intelligence, linguistic, artistic, kinesthetic (basically athletic) and several others. The point is each of us is good at something; the problem is society in general and school in particular place a lower value on some than others, but that doesn’t mean that I or anyone can’t feel good about our talents.
You hear the word “diversity” thrown around like a magic phrase, but it always refers to race, gender, etc. But how about diversity of thought? Diversity of talent? Diversity of gifts? I do truly believe that each person is a unique and talented individual endowed by their creator with unalienable rights. Each capable of winning a gold star, just not all in the same activity.