The Hudson Falls NY Post-Star reports the following on 8/15/13:
Tyler Weaver calls himself “the king of the reading club” at Hudson Falls [NY] Public Library. But now it seems Hudson Falls Public Library Director Marie Gandron wants to end his reign and have him dethroned. The 9-year-old boy, who will be starting fifth grade next month, won the six-week-long “Dig into Reading” event by completing 63 books from June 24 to Aug. 3, averaging more than 10 a week. He has consistently been the top reader since kindergarten, devouring a total of 373 books over the five contests, according to his mother, Katie. “It feels great,” said Tyler, an intermediate scholar student at Hudson Falls School. “I think that was actually a record-breaking streak.” Katie said she is “extremely proud” of her son’s accomplishments.
Not everyone is proud. Library Director Marie Gandron reportedly plans to change the rules of the contest so that instead of giving prizes to the children who read the most books, she would draw names out of a hat and declare winners that way.
Tyler’s offense? Cheating? No. His offense is being too capable. He’s not giving others a chance to win. He’s unfair, simply for being too good.
Now let’s think about this for a moment. People with this librarian’s mentality are usually the ones to claim, “Winning doesn’t matter.” But when one person earns first place again and again—well, suddenly it’s unfair because winning suddenly matters?
Such claims are contradictory on their own terms—even if you accept the terms.
But what about those terms? What exactly is wrong with one person raising the standard in any particular activity?
And when Tyler is kicked out of the contest next time, won’t everyone know that the new winner only achieved that position through—well, through lowering the standard of achievement by keeping Tyler out of it?
Talk about a horrendous lesson to be teaching children. This is the kind of example I have in mind when I claim that schools and educators sometimes do more damage than actual good.
Kicking young Tyler out of the reading contest is not only—or even primarily—an attack on Tyler. He’ll probably get over it. But everyone else will lose their hero, or their standard of success. They’ll lose the sense of there being a “bar” to raise or an ideal for which to strive. Their sense of hope and optimism about achievement—not just Tyler’s, but potentially their own—will diminish forevermore.
How sick. How dark. And it’s done in the name of “fairness” and maturity, or sophistication. That’s perhaps the sickest part. It so mirrors the adult world as we know it, particularly these whacko times in which we live.
Tyler will certainly encounter a lot of people like this librarian in his adult life. They’re all around us now, and they won’t be gone by the time he’s 40 or 50. They are the intellectual twits who seek to equalize ability, by fostering the falsehood that everyone is equal in ability when they plainly are not.
What does it tell children—or adults—to reduce achievement and accomplishment to randomly drawing a name out of a hat? Anyone who proposes such a thing is confessing an ignorance about the nature of achievement. Achievements do not happen by chance. They happen through persistence, effort and the determination to succeed at a given task.
Perhaps the confession is not one of ignorance, but envy. “I never got first place; so Tyler can’t have it either.” The psyche of that nasty librarian is probably not an uplifting place where you’d wish to travel.
As a testament to Tyler’s love of reading, a library aide at his school said that a few years ago, the summer theme centered on regions of the United States. Kids were supposed to read a book on each section of the country. A few children dropped out of the program because they didn’t like the subject matter, the aide said, but Tyler read at least one book on each of the 50 states. “It was just something he wanted to do. He read them and told me about them. He wrote a synopsis and his mother typed it up,” she said.
Other children were not interested in accomplishing what Tyler did. This is their prerogative. But why should one of them get the award for being the best reader, if they didn’t put the effort into it? It’s beyond preposterous.
Notice what the librarian does not do. She doesn’t propose doing away with the competition altogether. Nor did she secretly try to rig the results. Instead, she maintains there should still be a competition. A “competition” implies there’s an objective winner. Yet the winner of the “competition” will deliberately be chosen on a basis other than achievement.
It’s as if the librarian is sending the message, “Screw objectivity. Screw results. Life is just a series of lucky or unlucky events. One winner is as good as another. One achievement is no lesser or greater than another.”
Imagine the world if that were true; or if everyone believed it were true. We’d have no inventions. We’d have no electricity, no clean water, no smart phones, no computers, no satellite technology, no medical breakthroughs. All of these things were accomplished by people like Tyler, ones who gave a damn when it came to achievement, and who were motivated to get things done. Achievers are the kind who don’t wait for their name to be drawn out of a hat. That’s the librarian’s world, but not Tyler’s.
Hopefully Tyler’s experience with the librarian will prepare him for what he faces in adulthood. Hopefully, he’ll come to see such people for the petty, unimportant little souls they are.
Michael J Hurd
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