June 24, 2011

'Climbing Merit Mountain'...

This post was originally written by my lovely friend Jenny Franke on her blog 'A Suburban Adventure', and re-posted here with permission. Love your work Jen!

It made me reflect again on the worldly pressure to attain 'merit' for our 'good works' and 'good behaviour' that becomes so ingrained and reinforced in our thinking from early in life...and the disincentive that results when we realise it's ultimately an impossible standard to attain or maintain...

This week we went along to Campbell’s school assembly to watch him presented with his Silver Merit Award. This has taken him 18 months to achieve.  

The system goes as follows:
          10 “bee” tokens = 1 school award.
          5 School Awards = 1 Principal’s Award.
          5 Principal’s Awards = 1 Silver Award.
          5 Silver Awards = 1 Gold Award
          2 Gold Awards = Gold Medallion

I don’t think too highly of our school’s merit system. 
It seems to me that it is skewed in favour of children to whom quiet, sensible behaviour comes easily. 
When this system was introduced the staff made no apologies for the fact that it was not designed to be “equal” for all kids. Some kids would receive many awards and achieve the top levels of awards relatively quickly. Others would not. I have calculated that if it takes Campbell 18 months to reach a silver award, then he will not reach the top of the system by the time he leaves primary school.
I get that the system is about recognising and positively reinforcing good” behaviour, and that the system is built to carry across some years to encourage consistency of behaviour. When I was at school I would have been totally into it and would have had no problems exhibiting the kind of behaviour that would have brought the bee tokens raining down. 
But not all kids were like me, and my son is not like I was. He is bright, bubbly, noisy, easily distracted, very exhausting. Quiet and sensible behaviour are really really hard work for him.
Where is the incentive for kids who find “good” behaviour more of a challenge?  

Campbell had pretty much lost interest in the system within a couple of weeks of its introduction last year. The “pay-offs” under this system are simply too delayed, and essentially out of reach, for a seven year old boy such as mine. 

-Campbell and brother Charlie-
I’m glad because at least he is not feeling pressure to achieve something that perhaps he cannot. I am also very pleased that it has been quite some time since he told me that he spent his lunch break picking up papers to earn a bee token. Lunch times are for playing!

I understand that children need to conform to certain standards of behaviour. We expect this at home.  However we do not expect perfection at home (if we did we would be sorely disappointed).  

We expect and try to recognise effort and improvement over time.  I also think we will need to acknowledge differences in our kids based on how easily good” behaviour comes to them.  It may well be that an achievement of 75% “good behaviour is actually far more worthy of reward and recognition than 100% is in a child who behaves a certain way as naturally as breathing.

-Campbell and sister Siena-
My worry is that at some point he will say “why bother?” If he tries really hard but still cannot get near to the top of merit mountain, will he just give in to his strong and innate desires of chatting, fidgeting, and silliness?
I am just thankful that this year he has a teacher who is suitably no-nonsense but who rewards good behaviour by the class with an occasional movie and popcorn on a Friday afternoon. Now there is a reward that speaks the language of a child like mine!
So we proudly watched him receive his silver award because we know it’s a big achievement for him.  I then promptly rewarded him with the Andy Griffith’s book “The Day My Bum Went Psycho, which appeals beautifully to a silly seven year old, and is about what I think of the merit system anyway.
As an aside, Campbell came home today to a surprise parcel containing a Super Soaker water pistol. This was a second chance prize from a Paddle Pop competition entered months ago. Perfect for him – so much excitement abounding this afternoon. Major trouble for us!

1 comment:

Ingrid said...

Thank you Jenny - via Sarie - for expressing so clearly my frustrations about the system. A system made for little girls who want to hear the rule to follow the rule (like my daughter), but a system that brings to despair little boys who didn't hear the rule because they were looking for (insert any insignificant object) or were too busy fighting with their neighbour (like my boy).
Thankfully, the Lord works in each one of us in different ways, at different time with a different pace. And thankfully, even the goodie-2-shoes need Jesus, just as much as the terrible hooligans so that none despairs and everyone can be saved.

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