Wonderful wide world of multiple ribbons

Sharon Kennedy

In our modern public school system it seems everybody gets a ribbon or trophy for participating in sports and just about everything else. Merit often takes a backseat to diplomacy. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We hand out ribbons to competition losers so they won’t feel bad. I understand the logic behind such a trend. We feel sorry for kids who come in last and we don’t want to destroy their self-esteem, but are we really doing them a favor?

When children are taught from kindergarten through twelfth grade they deserve recognition for mediocre or failing work, we have failed them. People do not possess identical skills. Some are more prepared than others. Some have leadership ability while others are more skilled in sarcasm. Some are blessed with quick wit and others are dull. That’s just the way it is.

In theory, passing out ribbons to everyone is like Santa giving out bags of candy. It’s a great idea because it levels the playing field, makes each person feel special, and doesn’t single out one person as exceptional. Those who lost a game or spelling bee feel like winners and realize they win even when they lose so they never really lose and may or may not put forth their best effort. I question the merit of this process. If youngsters never experience losing, how will they adjust to the “real” world outside the school house where losing is as much a part of life as breathing?

Years ago when my daughter was in fourth grade there was an assembly held at the end of the academic year. Stephanie was an excellent student and anxiously waited for the principal to call her name. She thought she would receive a Certificate of Merit. Unfortunately she went home empty handed while classmates with lesser academic skills were acknowledged with Certificates of Improvement. Such discrimination taught her a valuable lesson. It’s one we oldsters learned a long time ago, and we learned it at home.

For example, when I was a kid and we celebrated my brother’s or sister’s birthday, nobody got a gift but the birthday person. There was no such thing as handing out presents to the rest of us, and we didn’t expect one. We knew our time would come when our birthday rolled around. Nobody had hard feelings or felt left out. It would have seemed odd to get a gift for no reason, but in today’s bizarre society, young children are usually given a gift along with the birthday sibling.

In our topsy-turvy world, I wonder if it’s the child who feels insecure or the parent. The 21st century mom or dad might be fearful of showing more affection to one offspring than the other. Perhaps that’s the simple reason behind the amazing phenomenon of multiple gift giving at a child’s birthday party. I guess I can understand the idea of a “treat” bag being sent home with each invitee. After all, each kid brought a gift so each deserves a little something as a “thank you” for attending the party. It’s also an acknowledgement to the parents for the money and time they spent searching for the perfect present.

But imagine how absurd the multiple gift and ribbon giving philosophy would appear if adopted by sports teams in every school that decided points didn’t matter. No team would be declared the loser. Everyone would win. Now suppose this practice was carried through college and into the major leagues. Two teams would win the Stanley Cup, the World Series, the Super Bowl, and so on.

There wouldn’t be any point in having playoffs. Trophies would be handed to the teams with the most season wins as well as the least. The same logic could be applied to all sports. Competition would be eliminated and there would be no need for fans to riot after their favorite team lost the pennant or cup or ring or whatever it is they get when they win because there would be no losers.

This line of reasoning is crazy, I agree, but there seems to be a trend in some schools that everyone gets a ribbon whether in academics or for participation in sports. The possibility does exist that I’m misinformed about such a movement. I have no grandchildren so I have no current point of reference. I’m out of touch with the public school system. I haven’t been a substitute teacher since 2004. Maybe the pendulum has swung back and it’s no longer vogue to hand out ribbons for effort or lack thereof. Someone will have to let me know if I’m way off base. I like to keep current on such matters so I won’t lay awake nights pondering these things.

Surely we can agree that all individuals have unique abilities, but in a competition there can only be one winner. During the nasty 2016 presidential campaign, I suggested giving the presidency to both candidates so the entire electorate would be happy. When Trump got bored, Hillary could take over. My suggestion of a dual presidency was ignored, but it was my way of proposing we re-evaluate this “everybody gets a ribbon” idea.

Except for me, of course. Bud Sargent, are you listening? Green’s my favorite color, but I’ll settle for a blue ribbon if you have one going. My empty trophy case is calling.

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Snowbound Books on North Third Street in Marquette.