Long gone are the days of just a high school and a college graduation. Ceremonies at multiple levels of grade-school matriculation are here to stay and ubiquitous. Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, it depends.
During my lunch time this past Tuesday, I was listening to a conversation on sports radio about the topic of 5th and 8th grade graduations, and the show host was none too happy about them. It was clear I had turned on the radio and had begun listening well into the conversation, so I don’t know how it started, but the show host was clearly not pleased about the fact that 5th and 8th grade graduations had become a common and accepted practice at elementary and middle schools through the country.
From what I could glean, the host was of the opinion that children should not be rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do in the first place, and transitioning from 5th to 6th grade and 8th to 9th grade are actions that are supposed to take place, because a child should be expected, and actually is required, to finish those grades and move on to the next level. He further opined that the act of rewarding a child for a required action serves to coddle the child and threatens to compromise his/her initiative for academic achievement.
Many callers agreed with the host, and many others did not, just as with any sports or non-sports topic introduced on the station. What made this discussion particularly intriguing to me was that I come out on both sides of the argument. I pride myself in being able to keep perspective and consider both sides of any argument, but I rarely have much of an issue coming out on one side or the other and clearly articulating the reasons why.
On one hand, I’m 31 and participated both in 5th and 8th grade graduations, so the concept is not all that new. I am proud to be half way through a doctoral program, so the stated potential for me to rest on my laurels from excessive celebration and somehow damage my ability to succeed academically did not affect me one iota. On the other hand, I am of the school of thought that children today are indeed coddled way too much and are so shielded from disappointment that they don’t learn the all-important principle of paying dues until they face the deep disappointments of adulthood that gold stars and ice cream can’t fix.
Today’s children receive too many participation ribbons and trophies without learning what it means to just not be quite good enough, experiencing the sadness of not winning, and figuring out what needs to happen the next time to produce a favorable result. And such kids may or may not have the internal achievement-pointing compass necessary to stay focused on the ultimate goal, even in the midst of celebration. Multiple graduation ceremonies throughout the grade school experience most likely work to their detriment.
As at least one caller pointed out, though, child, behavioral, and educational psychologists have identified several advantages of celebration, not the least of which is the positive reinforcement of good behavior, which helps a child continue achieving. I have definitely found this to be true. I reflected on the discipline of celebration last week, when I shared that taking the time often to celebrate the good things that happen your life helps you remember how good God is and doesn’t allow room for the enemy to swoop in and convince you that everything is wrong when clearly, that’s not the case.
If Satan can convince you, at any point in your life, that the sky is falling, you’ll be more likely to substitute the lifestyle of holiness for that of worldly convenience to aid you in getting out the seemingly insurmountable circumstance he’s created in your mind. At that point, you start living below your purpose and, worse yet, in sin.
Ultimately, whether or not a child will benefit from the extra grade-school graduation ceremonies comes down to the parent(s)’ commitment to excellence and their ability to translate that commitment to their children. In any moment of celebration throughout my life, I’ve been happy but I’ve always remained focused because one, I had high-achieving parents who accepted nothing less than the best, and two, because earning a doctoral degree has been my goal and my focus for many years.
If that child, however, neither has any positive educational reinforcement coming from the home, nor any kind of internal motivation to succeed, then constant celebrations can indeed prove to be a massive distraction.
If we practice sound stewardship over the things and the people God has given us, we will become intimately acquainted with success. If not, well…
Peace and Love,