I settled in early at the Hershey Track Meet that happens at Lula's school every year to watch her run the first event, the 1600. It's a beautiful day, the bleachers were still empty, and YMCA was blasting on the speakers. This is fun, I thought. Maybe I've been too harsh on competitive sports, I thought. But then the sick feeling came and settled into my belly. I find it unbearably painful to watch children come in last place. Maybe, in fact surely, this is a reflection on my own over-sensitivity and subsequent trauma as a child, but if even one child feels as sick and miserable as I did at events such as these (and they were way more cut-throat in my sports-crazed hometown) it's not worth it. Am I happy that Lula had fun running and preparing for the meet? Yes. Do I think that the motivation of "winning" is a worthy one? Absolutely not. I've been guilty in my own teaching practice of occasionally resorting to competition as a motivator, but I've always chickened out at the last minute and awarded everyone. I noticed that it was a cheap trick that damaged the winners and losers alike, with no positive long-term outcomes. I've carefully weeded out as much comparison and rivalry as I could from my mothering and pedagogical approaches.
So I sat through the meet and took deep breaths, feeling o-so-alienated--was anyone else feeling the same way? I thought about Jesus. I thought about Quakers. I thought about my friend's daughter's way more progressive school on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Do they have formal competition at her school? I thought about the time Lula "borrowed" a ribbon for her Arbor Day poster in second grade, and I got fresh anger about the impending end-of-year ceremony where they always hand out medals to students who score above the 90th percentile on state testing. Isn't that illegal under FERPA (the student privacy protection laws)?
Am I too angry and sensitive? Please tell me, because right now, in the context of old-school values and education, I feel like a freak, and like I have no one to talk to about this because I've used up all of my credibility in this community by being a constant nay-sayer.
Jesus would support me, wouldn't he?
When Ingrid was little, and to this day, she always refused to be a part of any competition, explicit or implicit. When she got older, she happily became a volunteer cheerleader for her peers and siblings, but has never herself participated.
I think she has it right.
O Friends School of Provo, where are you? My Great Aunt Helen called herself a Feminist Quaker Mormon. I think she had it right, too.
I wish she were still here to consult with.