Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Catastrophe Award

The home page on my work computer is YAHOO.  YAHOO must have a "man bites dog" gatekeeping policy for determining what stories are headlined on its page.  Yesterday the story was about Harry Truman's paperboy finally getting paid some outstanding charge.  Other recent features were about Venus Williams's diet tips and the same sex marriage of a star from the tv show "Sex in the City."

Today the story that greeted me at work was about a mother who was complaining that her 8 year old daughter had received the "Catastrophe Award" for being the student who came up with the most excuses for not coming up with their homework.  The mother felt that the child had been humiliated.

I wonder if the mother considered the possibility that her child had been negligent and needed to be held accountable for assignments like any other student in the class. There are other 8 year olds in the class who do complete their assignments.  I wonder if before targeting the instructor the mother might think about the long term damage to her daughter of a parent condoning irresponsibility.

The situation may be more complex.  Perhaps the student has some learning issues that have been identified and the excuses were an attempt to deal with some frustrating inabilities.  Perhaps the instructor is an inconsiderate fool who gives out disparaging awards to all of the students depending on their weaknesses.

But assuming that the instructor is attempting to enforce a message already discussed in class: that is, we all have responsibilities and we cannot find excuses for avoiding them, then perhaps the catastrophe award, however humiliating it may be to an 8 year old, may be a far more meaningful message than some bogus end of year stroke that may seem superficially benign, but does not educate young people to be responsible.

All of us who have worked with adults who seem to be able to make up incredible excuses for their irresponsibility--excuses that leave your head shaking and your lips parted--would have appreciated lessons like this relayed to some of our colleagues.

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