This past week has been so full of exasperation, I am having trouble keeping track of my audible exhalations so when it came to material to write about, its the choosing that’s the problem and as I have mentioned lately that my blog is not my talk, this blog is something I feel very strongly about so if it comes out a bit judgmental…get over yourself!
St. Basil is an Elementary/Junior High school in Calgary’s Northwest. The only reason I heard about this school is because they made the news last week after their administration decided to cancel the school’s Academic Awards of Excellence, a long standing tradition at the school. Please understand that I have no intention of questioning the schools commitment to their students and my opinion is not based on any concrete evidence I possess, but then neither does the school’s decision. What bugged me was actually not the first premise for their decision which was they believed the awards were perceived as “elitist” as less than a third of the students actually get awards. Awards are for the best and that’s kind of the point but I do appreciate you don’t want to intentionally divide your school population between “winners” and “losers”.
What bugged me is yet another claim that not getting awards has a profound impact on a student’s self esteem and therefore damages them for life! I simply disagree. if there is one thing growing up without arms has taught me is self-esteem is a real issue and indeed, there were many times not getting my way hurt my feelings. I didn’t make teams (no kidding since other than soccer, sports wasn’t really made for me), didn’t always get parts I wanted in school musicals, didn’t always win first place when playing my music in festivals and most certainly didn’t excel at academics! But in the 1970’s, we weren’t really having this discussion so I remember seeing the definition of “self-esteem” as a thing called “Life”
So as we fast forward to 2013, when and why did this creep into our consciousness? I am hugely generalizing but I have a theory that many of the people that felt cheated by life, are now getting back at society and since their theories appeal to our sensitivities, we have a hard time questioning them. These people appear as the underdog and we all know how inappropriate it is to to pick on the weak but where did reality go in this discussion.
LIFE IS NOT FAIR! Why does that fact bother people so much? I have countless times told the story of how in 1966, when I went with my parents to St. Alphonsus Elementary School to sign up for my formal education, the principal informed us I couldn’t attend his school! I lived right across the street! No, I had to go the school across town where the “crippled kids” went. Long story made short; my parents convinced the principal i could handle it and twelve years later, I graduated with Honours from the public system and it changed my whole life too. How? Because it was fricking hard!!!
My parents didn’t want me to go to the “special” school because they had a problem with so called “special needs”. Remember, they were in their 50’s when they took me home from the hospital as a newborn after my birth family gave me up so that alone proved how open minded they were. No, they wanted me to go to St. Alphonsus and through public Junior and Senior High Schools because I needed to understand the real world. There is no question that some students suffer in life and my heart truly goes out to them but this idea that our self esteem is based on removing obstacles from our path to make life “easier” is simply NUTS!!
I have always given immense credit to Blaine McClary and Cindy Knapp Burham for teaching me to play a trombone. It was mounted on a chair with metal rods and clamps. Many have asked why they did that and expect some Hallmark card response. The truth is, (and this is from Mr. McClary) I got 96% on a music aptitude test in 5th Grade at St. Al’s and the band needed trombone players…simple. But the most compelling part of this story to me is that just being in the band wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be good at it, maybe even the best! Pretty cocky, huh? Exactly! I am cocky but if you really know me, you also know that I am also very humble at the same time. Its called “Life Balance”.
But here is my absolutely favourite part of the whole story and my whole point; Education is about proving you can complete it! I will not bring up the relevance of curriculum, standardized testing or teacher evaluations as they are a never-ending story. Most of our society believes that getting an education is one of the most critical elements of being human and getting is getting, not being “given” one! Like life, the better you do, the more you achieve, the more successful you are, you get rewards. But here’s the kicker; it is not the award, it is the pursuit.
Everyone should have goals and even though “being the best” may not be one’s goal, the work involved in reaching our goals is the real prize. We never gain self-esteem by things given to us, we gain it from earning it. When I discovered I could not only play trombone, but the drums, piano, vocals, even dancing, and most important, when I was having a bad day, my self esteem grew through practicing. Let me re-state this…practicing. Not too many like to practice but we must. I vividly remember getting a new piece of music, and as I grew older, some of it seems impossible to play. No matter how long it took me, acing a piece made me giddy. I may not have had a girlfriend, been the most popular guy at school or drove a fancy car but fair or not, I understood that. You may know this but if you don’t, in 1978, I played lead-chair trombone with the Canadian National All Star High School Jazz Band. I was the best in Canada! That was certainly great for my self-esteem but what it took to get there has stayed with me for life! I did not know that then and that is my concern.
People who want their children’s or their student’s lives to be free of pain seem logical but living means experiencing pain and the more we defer it, the more we have teens and young adults void of any resiliency and that leads to a dysfunctional society where “me, me, me” is the mantra rather then the greater good. We should be raising society’s bar not lowering it!