Apparently I saved every certificate, every ribbon, and every trophy I received while I was in school, because I came across a whole box of them recently. (I’m not saying it was a big box.)
I have the certificates to prove that I placed third in the softball throw at my school’s intramural track meet on April 27, 1973 and went on to place fourth in the county rally day a few days later. I remember the events clearly because, not only was I proud, I was stunned. Apparently, the softball throw was not a popular event that year.
I got a certificate for reading 30 books in sixth grade. But that was the only reading certificate I could find, though I’m pretty sure I was reading before that.
I lettered in band, track, and basketball all four years of high school, which probably comes as a surprise to anyone who saw me participate in any of those activities. I know it does to me.
But like with success, eighty percent of lettering was showing up, and I never missed a practice. In fact one of my best subjects in school was attendance. I excelled at attendance, receiving Perfect Attendance Awards every year between 1970 and 1974. I’m not sure my teachers saw this as a positive, but I bet my mother did.
It occurs to me that, among other things, the accolades are meant to build kids up when so much of what happens to them in school is downright humiliating. At least it was for me.
Personally, I wanted to end my school career after my first day when a fellow kindergartner asked me if I was a boy or a girl. I was too embarrassed to give her the clever comeback I replayed in my head a million times the rest of the year: “I’m wearing a dress—so there.” I might have played sick the rest of the year if it weren’t for the snacks and stickers.
I was also horribly embarrassed when, just as my second grade teacher was thanking me for bringing her a bouquet of dandelions, ants crawled out of the flowers and all over her desk. Thankfully second grade is a big year for stars on papers.
Not being able to see the blackboard was humiliating. But, once the novelty wore off, so was wearing glasses, especially when they were held together with masking tape. I hung in there and got perfect attendance that year.
My school’s dress code also caused me its share of embarrassment. We had a ‘dress’ dress code. (At least the girls did.) It was upsetting when I tore mine climbing over the chain link fence around the school yard, but it was worse that day in seventh grade when my denim skirt stood up at the same time I did.
And of course, I wasn’t the only one being humiliated, though it seemed like it. I can still remember who threw up in class, who was sent to the principal’s office, and who created a commotion by swallowing a marble in fourth grade.Is it any wonder teachers feel the need to build kids up with certificates and stickers?
Of course, once you’re an adult it’s all over. There’s no more recognition for attendance, though there are some penalties for lack of it. There are no more stars for good behavior and no more certificates for reading, which might explain why everyone sits around watching television. Yup. Once we hit adulthood, the rewards all end. But as far as I can tell, the humiliation never stops.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact [email protected])
Rewards combat school humiliation