Friday, June 8, 2012

Being Proud or Keeping Others from Feeling Bad?

When I was in junior high, they tried doing this "character education" program with us once a week. I don't remember much of it, other than that we all thought it was lame, and it talked about self-esteem a lot. The message that came across was that we should all be proud of ourselves no matter what.

Personally, I've never found that approach effective. Saying everyone should feel good about themselves is empty, hollow, meaningless. It sure didn't work for me. What does work? Encouraging kids to do something they can be proud of, perhaps. Helping them accomplish those things. Emphasizing pride in things of more intrinsic value (like accomplishing something through hard work) than extrinsic (like being the most popular kid in school).

This week, I heard about some events at recent high school graduations. Four seniors have to complete twenty hours of community service before getting their diplomas, because their family and friends cheered when their names were called during the ceremony. I thought the no-cheering rule was odd and surely an isolated thing, but no. A graduate's mother was arrested for supposedly cheering too much for her daughter.

From what I've read, the reasoning behind the anti-cheering (or anti-excessive-cheering) ceremonies is that in the past, some families have carried on so much that the following students' names couldn't even be heard, or delayed the ceremony by refusing to settle down for several minutes. Maybe that's true. Maybe it's been a problem in some places. (But arresting the mom? Really?)

At the same time, part of me suspects there's a bit more beneath. Could it be that these rules are so some kids don't feel bad that they get less cheering than some of their classmates? I don't know. But I think it's possible.

I just attended a graduation a week ago. It was unusual. The state governor was the speaker. The graduating class consisted of just ten kids. Most of the ceremony was in ASL, with interpreters over the sound system, so "not hearing" something wasn't an issue. Anyone could cheer as much as they wanted.

So I thought back to my own graduation. I was in a graduating class of several hundred. The graduation was held in a university arena. They cranked through our names fairly quickly. Some kids had loud and enthusiastic cheering sections, but I'm pretty sure the sound system beat them out.

Then, when some girl I didn't even know had her turn to walk across, half of the arena erupted. It didn't make sense. Then I found out why.

This had just happened:

John Stockton had to feel pretty proud of himself. Deservedly so.

And I didn't need my family to cheer that loudly for me to know they were proud of me.

What's your take on self-esteem? How do we encourage kids to develop it without making it empty and meaningless?


Richard said...

I find the cheering sections at graduation events to be low class. Sorry, but I don't like it. Wait until everyone has his diploma, then cheer all you want

Some people need self-esteem building (perhaps they need a psychologist) and some people don't. Unfortunately, our public school systems can't differentiate. So all have to suffer through the useless programs.

Richard said...

Oh yeah, I also think it's rude and disrespectful for the families and friends to interrupt the event with cheering and yelling. Graduation exercises are a ceremony, not a sporting event where we cheer everytime someone does something. That's not showing self-esteem, that's showing lack of consideration for others. It's disrepectful.

Ted Cross said...

I was one of those shy kids who didn't have many family members at graduation, so I didn't get much clapping, but it didn't bother me. I think it's silly to prevent people from showing their pride.

I also think it is completely wrong to do things like give medals or trophies to all kids who participate in something. That makes such things worthless. There is no true pride in 'winning' such a trophy. Have some drive and push yourself to excel at something, and then you can be proud of what you win. That's my take anyhow.

Mike Lewis said...

My sister has mentioned the word "pride", which in the general sense is okay, but maybe that is part of the problem. In our religious teaching, we learn that pride is not healthy, and is even considered a sin. The definition of pride in that context is putting yourself above others, or rather, putting others beneath you.

"I'm better than you."

While God does not have pride, he can still be "well pleased". And so should we. We should be happy for the accomplishments of others, as well as our own.

Everybody has their strengths in different areas. Some are great at math and science, others are better artists or writers. And then there's the jocks and athletes who seem to do better with physical performance rather than mental.

I went to my sister-in-law's graduation from my alma mater and there were clearly posted on the doors to the event center where it was held "ABSOLUTELY NO BELLS, HORNS, OR OTHER ARTIFICIAL NOISE MAKERS."

I can understand this, because with several people bringing such, it would sound more like a sporting even than a ceremony. And air horns are loud, especially for an indoor arena. Additionally, the whole process was being "professionally" filmed not only to project the proceedings on two large screens, but also to produce commemorative DVD's for sale to remember the event. (I put "professionally" in quotes because my wife-- a trained videographer-- noticed several "fail" moments on screen that were completely avoidable.)

Well, part way into the reading of the names, a cow bell was rung, and sure enough, was promptly confiscated. HOWEVER, there were still several loud cheers and adulations, some louder than others, for various students. The cheers were quick and to the point, and the moment the next student's name was read, we heard it, and another cheering section would be heard.

My sister-in-law has struggled through high school. She has Asperger's, ADD, as well as several physical health problems. It takes her as much as four times as long to grasp math and science concepts, however, she is talented in photography, and thoroughly enjoyed being a stage hand for the several school plays throughout her high school years. All of us have helped her complete assignments and tutored her so she could catch up on or stay on top of homework she didn't understand easily.

Sometimes, the cheers aren't just for the student graduating, it's for the entire support group behind that student, ranging from teachers and school administrators down to family and friends.

While "graduation" does have it's roots in formal, regal, customs... Times change. At the end of the day, it's a celebration of accomplishment, whether it is a high school diploma, or a Ph. D. from a university. There is no need for pride, because the only person you had to compete against for the award was yourself.

What extremely bothers me is that in the two incidents referenced in the post, the administration seems to have gone to a lot of effort on things that aren't really important. Getting (and giving) a good education is important. Reprimanding students for the way their family and friends behaved takes the attention away from what is important, and at the end of the day, doesn't really matter. I hate to think that this is what my tax dollars might be paying for.

T.L. Bodine said...

I was writing an article for a client recently about "the age of entitlement" -- a basic idea that the Generation Y folks were raised with all these self-esteem programs and how it all basically backfired. By teaching kids that they're always winners & can succeed at everything, they're actually being set up for chronic disappointment when life is (as it tends to be) unfair. Food for thought. I'm not sure I completely buy that -- it seems a bit bitter to me -- but it's interesting to consider.

E.B. Black said...

This is the opposite of all the graduation ceremonies I went to this year. People actually had blow horns and noise makers at those.

Mindy McGinnis said...

I was always a middle of the roader - people cheered for me, but was I the girl with the loudest cheering section? No. Did I get angry about it when someone else's family was louder? Um, no.