Discouraging Excellence: 9-yr-old reading champ’s success depresses other kids, told he should “step aside”

books 2Tyler 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!

The fail is strong

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.

incredibles88888Have 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.

occupy-wall-street_eat-the-rich

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32 responses to “Discouraging Excellence: 9-yr-old reading champ’s success depresses other kids, told he should “step aside”

  1. livinrightinpgh

    “Other kids quit because they can’t keep up,” Gandron said.

    THAT’S the spirit, Ms. Gandron! Teach children that every time in life someone does something BETTER than they can do it, they should just give up! After all, we’re going to see to it that EVERYONE who excels in this Country is punished anyway, so you might as well get used to being the next lemming in line.

  2. OK — Although it does make us want to scream, let’s compromise. It is entirely possible that this bright young man represents a .1-percenter in the reading skills area, and that there is virtually no chance that any local could ever “beat” him in a contest. However, since he is clearly self-motivated to read well and often, and the prizes are unlikely to significantly improve his family’s economic condition, he doesn’t really need this contest, or its prizes, to excel. Why not just have the contest recognize these two likelihoods, as well as the .1-percenter possibility, and limit the consecutive wins to 2, total wins to 3 (or something similar to this)?

    • I’d have to disagree, partner.
      Respectfully, of course.
      😉

      Your heart is in the right place, no question. And at first glance that sounds nice, Illero, EXCEPT:
      the category isn’t a static one, I’m sure. My boys are in Summer Reading programs every year (they’re insatiable readers, like me), and they never go up against kids vastly younger or older: it’s segmented by age. Tyler will keep getting older and be competing with the same group of peers.
      Not sure how capping the awards sends the right message.

      Almost all of us have had the experience of competing against someone who was head-&-shoulders above us in ability in some arena: sports, academics, work, etc.,..
      Part of maturity is figuring out how to compete better, to raise your game. It’s not “make that person who is so good stop being able to compete, so I can win, too”.

      This is the same thinking that has some schools and teams not keeping score in games or academics.

      And folks wonder why our kids aren’t competitive against Asians/Indians in school performance any more.
      They compete, hard. We don’t.

  3. Because the contest is most books read, not “ok, let’s give prize to someone who doesn’t read many books”.

  4. “Now David, think about this. If you should happen to slay Goliath, you are going to make everyone else look bad…”

    • Think about poor Goliath: he has a family to support, and his self-esteem will be crushed, …along with his forehead.”

      Competition is insensitive, and MUST be outlawed.
      Yay, ‘Fairness’!!

      • livinrightinpgh

        But WHY does “fairness” always have to mean that we all SUFFER together with less?

      • “This just in…The words “champion” and “championship” have been ruled to be politically incorrect…Also under consideration are “winner”, “best”, and “first place”….More at 6…”

  5. Much as I agree with my brother–and I have been the victim of the “don’t make other people feel bad” police, as early as 1970!!–I do think that the library should rethink its contest. Our local library has a summer reading program with prizes, every year. And the prizes are based on the number of books one reads (significantly the top prizes are FREE BOOKS)…but that means that if everyone read the maximum number of books (or pages, or hours, or whatever the criteria is that year), everyone would win. If one’s goal in designing a program is to stimulate kids to read, making it a one-winner contest is the absolutely WRONG way to go about it. Of course, reading programs like ours require funding, and I know that grant money can be hard to come by…but to encourage reading? I’m betting that this is a case of “you don’t have because you don’t ask.” Anyway–reading CONTESTS may be appropriate in other venues, but at the library, I think they’ve shot themselves in the foot.

    • livinrightinpgh

      I completely concur with the fact that they could have thought through a better contest, with prizes for various levels of accomplishment. You read X number of books, you get THIS prize. You read more, you get that prize, plus something else, etc…. At least in that way, every child is motivated to discover the joy of reading while recognizing those who truly excel.

      My ENTIRE problem with THIS instance though is summed up by: During a phone call Tuesday to Gandron, the library director said Tyler “hogs” the contest every year and he should “step aside.”

      SHAME on you, Ms. Gandron. Not only for the comment, but for the fact that in multiple years, YOU couldn’t come up with a better program. You certainly show YOUR character (or lack thereof) by blaming YOUR poorly conceived program on a child who excelled under the rules that YOU created!

      • Man, I wish you could have been the one interviewing her, PGH…would have loved a recording of that speech and her response. Very well said indeed!

    • I agree with revamping the contest, Sis, but I wouldn’t throw out the “most books read” category. Heck, it’s only costing them a water bottle or a t-shirt presently, so it’s not a matter of cost.
      But a reading comprehension bee, where kids are tested on their actual knowledge of various books, is an event in itself and goes beyond just reading. We have one at our local library, and it’s a ton of fun. They even have a trophy, which the kids want more than a water bottle, I promise you.
      Plus, there’s refreshments for all the kids, etc.,.. and it drives home the goal: reading books, and being able to accurately recall what you’ve read.

      But that doesn’t seem to be what is driving this librarian, which is wrong. She’s just tired of seeing this kid win.
      Pathetic.

  6. Incidentally, this is not an entirely new psychology being applied here. I know a guy who excelled in math, physics, and biology in a college that gave one award for achievement in each of those areas. He was awarded math and physics, and was told that, although he earned the biology award, it seemed only fair to let someone else get one of these awards. This was in 1965.

    • If I live to be a thousand, I’d love to never hear that word again:
      “fair”.
      Your example triggers about 10 similar ones of my own, partner, and I’m guessing that most (not all) of the time, they are/were well-intentioned.
      But they undermine what they hope to achieve, namely telling the winner that they are the best.
      What kid (or adult) wants to “win” when someone else should have, but was prevented from competing because they’d already “won too much”?

      It’s a hollow victory, at best. I have other terms, but they aren’t suitable for this blog. 😉

      Thanks for being here, as always, Illero, AND for taking the time comment.
      Hugely appreciated………

  7. Sooner or later we all learn that life can be very unfair. Some brighter, some stronger, some richer and the bottom line, our value we place on ourselves depends on our unique ability to adapt and find a way to have a happy life. Personal values, a moral compass helps greatly.

    • Well said, B-Ville.
      That’s why the words we all know are “Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness”, not the REALIZATION of happiness.
      Success is not a right: the PURSUIT of success is.

      This Library must not own a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

  8. Wow I never caught that in the movie, very good insight. Shared this blog on consestogether.com keep up the great writing. 🙂

  9. Maybe they should have tried this with Ken Jennings . . .

  10. Pingback: “Good Enough” is not a useful standard | Two Heads are Better Than One

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