A New York Public Librarian’s Egalitarian Hat Trick

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.

  • Sarah Romoslawski

    I would even go less deep here and say that this librarian’s effort seems pointless. Kids that want to read during the summer will do it. Kids who go to soccer camp or other activities all day might read a few books in the time they have left, but I doubt they will be losing sleep at night because Ms. Librarian didn’t make the summer reading club fair enough. If the librarian does want to find a way to reward more children than the grand prize winner, she should add “side quests” with intrinsic rewards (ie illustrate a scene in a book if you read ten and get your drawing hung on the wall in public), but clearly drawing a name from a hat is much simpler than designing motivating features into her summer program.

  • writeby

    You are too innocent, Sarah. (No sarcasm; I’m sincere.)

    That librarian’s efforts aren’t pointless, because she isn’t interested in getting kids to read. That’s merely a means to her end, which end is *inclusiveness*–and the control it affords those who are the “includers.”

    Inclusiveness is the foundation for
    Plato’s Ideal community, one in which everyone, despite differences in race and
    sex, are nonetheless united in their ideas, feelings, desires and needs, where
    everyone belongs (and, of course, wants to belong) and where the “includers” (Plato’s Philosopher King) are able to organize a collective, concerted effort of hope, will and muscle so they may reshape reality.

    In the name of the Common Good, Equality and the Holy Collective. Amen.

    In her little kingdom, that librarian wants to be philosopher king.

    “The best ordered state will be one in which the largest number of persons … most nearly resembles a single person. The first and highest form of the State … is a condition in which the private and the individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasion, and whatever laws there are unite the city to the utmost …” (Plato’s _Republic_ & _Laws_ c. 370 BCE)

  • Sarah Romoslawski

    Absolutely.

    There may be hope! An original Hudson Falls article discusses that her colleague Lita Casey and some parents don’t agree with the new “Raffle Club”. In fact, it describes admirers of Tyler who often giving him “high fives”. Programs like these can benefit from game design principles where motivators are entirely intrinsic, but you are right, those principles will never sway her grotesquely mistaken values as intrinsic motivation is obviously not what she cares about, at least for now.

  • writeby

    Those folks ought to hold an alternative contest.

    Nothing defeats egalitarian schemes faster than activities focused on individual achievement–and the subsequent high 5s of praise, admiration and respect for the achiever(s). ;o)

  • writeby

    Unfortunately:

    A librarian in upstate New York believes she was fired over comments she made in support of a student who dominated a reading
    competition for five consecutive years, The Post Star reported.

    In August, Lita Casey, who worked at the Hudson Falls Free Library for 28 years, called the library’s plan to change the rules of
    “Dig Into Reading” to hurt 9-year-old Tyler Weaver’s chances of winning
    next year’s prize “ridiculous,” the report said.

    The library director at the time, who no longer works there, appeared to criticize the boy and said he “hogs” the contest and ought to “step aside.”

    “Other kids quit [the reading contest] because they can’t keep it up,” she told the paper in August.

    Casey, for her part, called the rule change “ridiculous.”

    “My feeling is you work, you get it. That’s just the way it is in anything. My granddaughter started working on track in grade school and ended up being a national champ. Should she have backed off and said, ‘No, somebody else should win?’ I told her (the director), but she said
    it’s not a contest, it’s the reading club and everybody should get a chance,” Casey said at the time, according to the paper.

    Casey told the Post Star that she couldn’t believe she was fired and asked a library board member why she was fired, and was told the board would not give a reason.

    “I worked there for 28 years without a complaint,” she said. “I have to believe it was related to the whole reading controversy.”

    [Source: FoxNews.com 9-19-13]

    ==========
    Sue the bastards for discrimination.