Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted May 16, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
false praise harms our children

Good Job? What a Lie!

by Spiritual Echo

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"Good job."

Those two words have the capacity to do more damage to this generation of children than any others in the English language. We lavish praise on our children for the smallest effort, anticipating that with these simple words we offer encouragement. It is my contention that the phrase 'good job' is the biggest lie parents tell their children.

Recently, I was told an anecdote about a mother's meet-the-teacher interview after immigrating to Canada from England. In the UK, expectations in education are loftier, but she had no way of knowing the difference in standards. While she was waiting her turn in the hallway, she looked at the display of children's essays mounted on the bulletin board. She was horrified to see spelling and grammar mistakes in the work and commented to the teacher that it was a disgrace to display work that had not been corrected.

Of course the teacher was defensive. She responded by declaring that parents should be aware of their child's progress. "Every child wants to see his effort rewarded."

It doesn't seem popular to tell the truth to children. In this particular case, it would have been far more impressive to see the eraser marks where corrections were made. Instead of rewarding mediocrity, in my mind, the teacher dropped the ball. Some effort just isn't good enough.

We have made it so easy for kids to become average, never striving for excellence. My own grandson showed me his last report card, riddled with C marks and comments such as...we should encourage the boy to do such and such.  It is all carefully worded nonsense that indicates my kid wasn't performing.

Other family members looked for positive comments to make. God forbid they should offend the non-performer. I, on the other hand, told him it was a horrible report card. Acting as an interpreter for the milk-sop commentary from the school, I dissected each sentence so that he fully understood what was being said.

"Do you know what average means?" I asked the boy. "It comes right down to you being the worst of the best or the best of the worst. Which do you prefer to be?"

As it turned out, my grandson has done absolutely no work at all in the final semester, using his classroom time to draw pictures instead of applying himself to the written lessons. The teacher made note on the pages that the assignments were incomplete, but at home, Dad accepted the child's word when he told him there was no homework. Now, the kid isn't clueless, and I'll give him points for creativity. If he didn't bring home the assignments--who would ever know?

Judge Judy has a memorable line she uses often, asking her litigants if they know when children are lying. "When they open their mouths," she replies to her own question. By nature, kids will freely lie or use the famous 'I dunno' line when they are in trouble. The one saving grace in my personal drama is that he got caught.

Even Grandma was oblivious to his lethargy. For two years I have paid a tutor forty dollars an hour each week to help my boy stay caught up with classroom lessons. I have invested three thousand dollars in mediocrity and laziness.

It wasn't the school that notified the parent, nor Dad, a single parent who discovered reality, and it wasn't the devoted grandma, but rather the caregiver who ratted out the truth and found the evidence. Of course there are consequences. I've dismissed the tutor, perhaps when the child needs her most, but I've made it clear that his success or failure is now his personal choice. Grandma will become the sergeant at summer boot camp, and my grandson will spend every morning at my kitchen table repeating his grade four curriculum.

Schools don't fail children these days. Teachers are burdened with a classroom of children half of whom have specialized independent learning programs that account for their lack of knowledge from previous grades.

But as educators and parents we may need to accept that we haven't done a 'good job' either. We are just as quick to defend our busy schedules or point fingers at each other, denying blame and shifting responsibility.

When little Johnny or Mary goes out into the real world, our bubble-wrapped children will not be prepared for the expectations of employers. Having been coddled and praised for the smallest effort, they will have no standards by which realistically to assess their performance and may be shocked by the demands.

It has always been my belief that as parents our sole responsibility to our children is to prepare them to become self-sufficient, responsible adults. By not holding our own kids to that standard, we are raising people who will become frustrated, angry and incompetent.

I love my children and grandchildren very much. Whether my grandson understands boot camp is not a punishment or not, I care enough to use my fleeting power to give him an honest chance in life. Yes, I love him enough to be hated.


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