Saturday, 26 December 2009

The award for remembering to breathe goes to...

I was in the Scouts, you know. I wasn't one of the greatest scouts but I did get a few badges. One was the 'science' badge which involved stuff I was interested in so it was an easy one. If I ever find it I'll sew it onto my lab coat and when anyone asks about my scientific qualifications, I'll point to the badge.

I didn't get many badges. I had one for knots, but I doubt I can remember how to tie a bowline or a sheepshank now. I can't even remember what the sheepshank was for. Still, I've never lost a fishing hook due to a badly tied line, so some of it stuck. Those badges weren't easy to get, apart from the 'science' one and I don't think I've ever met anyone else who had one of those. You had to work for them and earn them.

There was no badge for 'banging in a tent peg' or 'keeping your kit clean'. Those were simply expected. Failure could lead to punishment but the only reward for success was the absence of punishment. Likewise, the expression of good manners in dealing with people. Expected. Not rewarded.

The only thing I remember winning in school was an essay competition. There were prizes on sports day but, well, sports and me just never quite gelled. I didn't like sports and sports didn't like me so we kept away from each other. It worked well. I didn't get a certificate for the essay competition either - the prize was book tokens. Much more useful.

Well, that wasn't the only thing I won. I won a clutch of O levels, A levels and an S level (no, no employer knew what it was back then, either, but it meant I had the full set of biology qualifications when I left). I say 'won' because I had to put in the effort to get them. No certificate was ever handed out without good reason, so we valued the ones we managed to get.

Teachers didn't give us things. They taught us how to get things or make things. My parents still have the aluminium-and-steel model cannon I made in metalwork. I never did get around to making it fire, but I did learn to use a lathe, cast and shape metal, anneal and temper steel, riveting and much more. The only certificate I have is the O level at the end.

What I learned in chemistry and physics is probably best kept quiet about these days. I might get banned from flying if I put it here.

The point is, those certificates and prizes mattered because we had to work for them. The sporty types won prizes for running fastest or throwing things the furthest or lifting the heaviest thing. First, second and third counted. Nothing else. There was no certificate for 'totally bloody useless' so there was no point in me entering. I didn't feel left out or isolated. Those folk might be able to throw me around or run rings round me but not one of them would ever beat me in an insult contest. It meant sports day was worth watching because only those who thought they were in with a chance would enter, which meant there was a real competition going on.

Even the physically useless had an interest in sports day. Some naughty children ran a book (cough).

If our teachers had given us certificates for things like this -

...awards for remembering to bring their PE kit to school, upholding class rules and displaying good table manners.

- or these -

“Being very grateful for all the toys”
“Making a lovely Christmas decoration”
“Upholding class rules”
“Good table manners”
“Attending the multi-skills day”
“Trying really hard to play nicely”
“Being brave about trying Greek food”
“For reading, writing and skipping”
“Returning your form on time”
"Bringing your PE kit to school”
“Listening well and remembering to put your hand up”
“Good sitting on the carpet”

- we would have been bemused at best and embarrassed at worst. An award for listening? The point of listening was that it was the only way to get the award that mattered - the qualification at the end of the course. It's the equivalent of the sports award for being totally bloody useless. It means 'well, he's no good at it but at least he looks as though he's trying'.

As with the scouts, there was no award for remembering to bring PE kit or homework or anything else that was required. There were punishments for failure to do those things. It was made clear that we were responsible for those things and if we failed, nobody else was to blame.

Likewise, if I had been given an award for 'trying really hard to play nicely', I would have taken it as a sarcastic comment meaning 'this little twat is uncontrollable' and so would my father. That award would never have reached home. If I'd shown him an award for 'good table manners' he'd have wanted to know how I was eating before then. The only reason for such an award would be that the child previously ate like a starved and somewhat demented warthog, then learned how to do it like a human. When I was at school, receiving something like that would have been seriously humiliating.

These awards are for things that we were simply expected to do as civilised children. Even the class dope could use a knife and fork and dress themselves. Even the thugs had their ties on straight and their shirts clean and ironed. Even the scruffy ones, like me, would never dare turn up without their jackets.

I mean, an award for reading, writing and skipping? What course is that? If it involves all three at once then it certainly deserves an award. Good sitting on the carpet? Even the wording of the award is grammatical heresy. I expect my old English teacher to rise from the grave at any moment, kill the teachers concerned and leave convoluted sarcastic comments on the wall, written in the victim's own blood. That woman never hit a pupil. No need. She could have convinced us to hit ourselves if she'd wanted.

What is happening in schools now? An award for 'attending the multi-skills day', when attendance at school is already compulsory? That's like an employer handing out awards for 'turning up at a meeting'. Actually, I did get one of those. It was shortly before I became self employed. A visiting consultant was charged with telling a roomful of us about 'commercialisation of research' but instead waffled for most of the day then handed out certificates proving we had endured his pointless droning. Mine went straight in the bin. These days I charge for meetings so nobody asks for one unless it actually matters.

These kids will eventually leave school. Some might get jobs. They will expect to be applauded into work every morning and to get a certificate for turning up more than half the time. They will want sitting-at-a-desk certificates and coffee-making awards. They are going to get a very nasty shock.

In real life, there are punishments for getting things wrong but no awards for getting trivia right. Some things are just expected and if you can't do those things without constant praise, nobody will employ you for long. The way we were taught prepared us for that. The way these kids are being taught does not. Worse, many will fail to spot the difference between these random awards and real qualifications. Imagine receiving a CV with a list of these things!

The one that really caught my eye was this -

"Creating a lovely jellyfish independently”

Craig Ventner, the man whose team won the race to sequence the human genome, is currently trying to create a simple bacterium from scratch. It seems the schools are a little bit ahead of him on that one.

Perhaps that child will be applying for God's job one day.


Stewart Cowan said...

Your final sentence, LI, reminds me of this from the Proverbs:

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Prov. 13:24.

People are the same as they've always been, so this applies every bit as much today as it did 3,000 years ago when it was written.

The 'Righteous' today, i.e. the self-appointed ones, not the actual ones in the Biblical sense, are changing everything around. They are playing with nature - changing the age-old rules on what is appropriate human behaviour.

God says to chastise a child appropriately, but the Righteous say: no, that's wrong, reward them for not being bad instead.

Result: well, it's becoming all too clear.

When we go against what the Almighty says then we are in trouble. My many woes are testament to this as well.

Here endeth the lesson.

JuliaM said...

'Being brave about trying Greek food'..?


JuliaM said...

And I note that one is for 'Trying really hard to play nicely'

For trying. Not for succeeding...

Leg-iron said...

Stewart - they took away any form of punishment from teachers and parents and insist on 'rewards' instead.

The result is a whole generation of kids who don't know where the boundaries of good behaviour are. No matter how far they test the boundary, nobody ever says 'stop'.

Julia - I see you have the story of the apprentice paedo. He'll soon get his award for 'trying to resist buggering the kid on the next desk'.

He can look forward to a shiny suit and a short career in pop music.

merry christmas said...

And don't forget the schoolboy who got a GCSE for 'getting on a bus'

Stewart Cowan said...

We used to get 'drama' lessons in first or second year and we were told - next week bring in your gym shoes.

Half the class forgot. The half that remembered didn't get rewarded, but the half that forgot got the belt.

Amazingly, I'd remembered mine.

This was the mid-70s, but it sounds like something from a Dickens novel now!

Sir Henry Morgan said...

I was never rewarded for not setting off fireworks in the school cloakroom.

The one time I succumbed to temptation I got a hell of a sore arse though.

No, not the Apprentice paedo type of sore arse.

Anonymous said...

Some of the awards were copied out nicely by the Telegraph from here:

The jellyfish one was for a nursery aged child.

I wouldn't worry about the future behaviour of those children judging by the maternal comments on the thread!



microdave said...

I was going to mention the GCSE for 'getting on a bus', but I've been beaten to it.

Somewhat O/T, but if we really are headed for a new Ice Age, heaven help us if the current generation are working on the railways.
I saw this excellent film clip in the comments at WUWT. The HSE wouldn't approve...

I hope you enjoy it.

Angry Exile said...

I'd hope that kids can spot a bullshit Certificate in Pretty Much Nothing Really for what it is in the same way they are, despite what the righteous would have us believe, that what happens in computer games is not the same as reality. I saw something in a UK paper a while back that gives me a little hope. The journo writing it mentioned that their kid had described another kid at school as being a bit special. The journo's pride in their child's generous spirit turned to something else later on when they realised the kid meant 'special needs'. In my school years it would have been 'spastic', 'spaz' or 'flid' - all outlawed and replaced by the politically correct term 'special needs'. So if children naturally hijack the PC term and make it un-PC they might even undermine the whole wank certificates thing by taking the piss out of the kids who get Digestion Certificates and the coveted Not Falling Over Much awards.

English Pensioner said...

We used to get rewards for not doing all the things you mentioned - either a high speed bit of chalk or the blackboard rubber coming in your direction, or a quick clip round the ear.
And at a top grammar school, the most "O" levels one took was eight, most of us passed only six with only the true swots getting more. But this was considered good. At "A" levels we took a maximum of four subjects, and I, in common with most of my friends passed three. Not dozens like they have these days!
Our "A" levels comprised in most cases two three-hour papers, plus practical were appropriate. And most decent employers and universities would require you to have taken all the subjects at one sitting, not module by module, subject by subject, spread over a number of terms.

Anonymous said...

How dare you make light of my darling Emily's achievement (she was mentioned in the Telegraph article as receiving an award for floating in the pool because she's less wonderful at swimming - well, she can't, yet).

My Emily is a highly gifted child and this is evident from her sensitivity - if she isn't rewarded for everything she does, she sobs uncontrollably. I will be honoured to see her receive her certificate next term in breast stroke with one foot on the bottom of the shallow end.

When she grows up she will win an olympic gold medal - she intends to live her dream and believes, as I do, that if you want something badly enough you mustn't let anything stand in your way and, after all, lack of talent is such a little thing.

A hurt but very, very proud mother.

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