Tyler Weaver of Hudson Falls, NY, is the five-time consecutive winner of his local library’s reading contest. In this age of increased video-game skills and decreased reading skills, most would agree that such a story should be celebrated. Which is probably why Tyler’s mom contacted the local paper.
And that’s when it all went bad.
The paper called Hudson Falls Public Library Director Marie Gandron for a comment on 9-year-old Tyler’s success, and they got a doozy:
(The Hudson Post-Star) – During a phone call Tuesday to Gandron, the library director said Tyler “hogs” the contest every year and he should “step aside.”
“Other kids quit because they can’t keep up,” Gandron said.
Gandron further told the reporter she planned 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.
She said she can’t now, because Katie has come forward to the newspaper.
This is wrong-headed in so many ways, I want to scream.
First, though, I can (sort of…) relate to a tiny part of Gandron’s thinking, which I assume is a desire to increase the overall popularity of the contest. Fine.
BUT: watering down the contest ain’t the way to go about it, and it sure doesn’t help matters by publicly resenting your best reader!
If the Hudson Falls Library REALLY wants to get more kids excited about their contest, perhaps they should add a few more categories to it, or add a “Book Knowledge Bee” at the end of the summer (my library has one, and the kids loved it).
Or maybe they could start by reviewing the awards themselves. I can personally attest that while true book lovers are going to read everything in sight, regardless (yes, my sister and I were “those kids” back in school), somewhat less-motivated children can always use a little ‘incentive’ to pick up a book.
But as the article notes, over the years Tyler’s prizes have included “…an atlas, T-shirt, water bottle and certificates of achievement…“.
Yikes. An atlas, or a water bottle? And the ultimate in excitement: a certificate? For little kids?? With those prizes, I’m stunned anyone BUT Tyler Weaver entered the contest.
No, Tyler simply enjoys reading, AND wants to be recognized as the best, most voracious reader of his age group in Hudson Falls. And he’s being told, in essence, he’s not being “fair”.
Isn’t that it? Some Utopian ideal of ‘Fairness’ which has infected so much of our thinking? It’s not fair that one kid reads so much better and faster than other kids, so he should “step aside”, even if he IS only nine. One person shouldn’t be allowed to be truly exceptional, lest it hurt the other precious snowflakes’ feelings.
Have these people never seen ‘The Incredibles‘?
- Helen: Dash… this is the third time this year you’ve been sent to the office. We need to find a better outlet. A more… constructive outlet.
- Dash: Maybe I could, if you’d let me go out for sports.
- Helen: Honey, you know why we can’t do that.
- Dash: But I promise I’ll slow up. I’ll only be the best by a tiny bit.
- Helen: Dashiell Robert Parr, you are an incredibly competitive boy, and a bit of a show-off. The last thing you need is temptation.
- Dash: You always say ‘Do your best’, but you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?
- Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
- Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
- Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
- Dash: [muttering] …Which is another way of saying no one is.
In the long run, I’m not too worried about young Tyler Weaver. Any boy (or girl) who has read THAT many books won’t suddenly give-up reading, although he might stop frequenting the library.
But the bigger concern I have is the message that this sends to other kids: don’t be too good. Don’t stand out. Don’t “hog” the spotlight, even if you’re clearly the best.
Don’t be exceptional. Don’t try to excel. Why bother? You’ll only “succeed” in making others resent your success, and who needs that?
Come to think of it, it’s obvious that kids these days have already received that message, …loud and clear.