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The Culture of ‘You’re Special’ Is Ruining America

Are we really willing to let the American work ethic perish in order to prevent little Emma from crying because she didn't get a sticker on her spelling test?

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

October 23, 2013 - 10:00 am
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When I was in middle school (early 2000s) my 6th grade math teacher was asked to stop grading assignments using a red marker because the resulting red, massacred papers were too much for students to bear.  Imagine angry calls from parents because their children were sobbing about being failures.  Come on, you’re eleven years old!  (Only a few years later, teachers were asked to grade using green pens because they were less upsetting to students…)

The way children are raised has shifted from “love + small, measured doses of reality” to “love – exposure to the real world.”  Many children today receive stickers on each assignment (even if they failed the spelling test), trophies for being a part of a soccer team (that they never played on), and award ribbons for participating in required activities.  They also probably have their homework marked in either green or pastel blue.  Their graded assignments meet the “sticker quota.”  Parents give them candy because they are sad they failed a test (because they didn’t study).  I understand kids are sensitive, impressionable, and don’t take well to failure, but kids shouldn’t be coddled forever.

The Millennial generation has been raised to believe that everyone is special.  Barney told me I was special.  So did my mom, dad, and Elmo.  Nobody’s feelings are allowed to be hurt or any stress inflicted.  There isn’t much competition and little incentive to work hard.  In short, there are no losers.  But are there really any winners?

This is the paradox: in order to make everyone feel “special,” everyone must be treated the same–no matter what.  What a contradiction.

This mentality is ruining society.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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Fellow Millennial here--I'd just started eighth grade when 9/11 happened--and I agree. I was enrolled in a Catholic parish school, which may be why we were still graded with red pens, but I do remember participation trophies and so on. I also remember thinking that each one felt like a slap in the face: getting a "You tried!" ribbon was just another way of saying I hadn't done anything worth mentioning.

Ironically, I actually got the best education of my life at a 'special school.' I had a serious chemical imbalance (long story) and got moved to a school for kids with mental-health issues; there, people were organized into small classes based on academic skill and ability to deal with other people, and if you learned fast you got more advanced work. I remember doing basic psychology and brain chemistry in junior year--lots of fun, and fascinating stuff that I didn't get in my other high school. And because this was a school with students who might try to throw chairs or attack someone, there were very strict rules of classroom discipline. No yelling, no talking out of turn, no cursing. But, thank Christ, no participation trophies.

You'll see the result of the trophy culture online. The constant shrieks of "haters!!!!" that echo around Tumblr, for example. There are an awful lot of people who can't stand to think they're not the best thing on earth, and who believe the rest of us have an obligation to make them feel comfortable. Trying to hold a conversation quickly degenerates into accusations of bullying, and nothing ever gets done.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in middle school (early 2000s)...

Oh, that just hurts.

Seriously, though, this is spot-on. Basically, the job of parenting (and of teaching) is to prepare kids for adult life. And in adult life, there are areas of cooperation, and there are areas of zero-sum games -- if I win, everyone else must lose.

We do not do our children any favors, any at all, by pretending the latter category doesn't exist. Far better they should hit the wall, and deal with failure (and learn how to get up and keep going!), when the stakes aren't so high and the adults are able to help.

As John Kennedy pointed out, "life is not fair". And if kids are unprepared to deal with people who are not kind and encouraging -- maybe even downright mean! -- then how will they deal with actual enemies? You know, the ones who want you dead, and are willing to die to make it happen? They still exist, and some of our kids will have the misfortune of meeting them someday.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
My son was a special kid in high school. How do I validate this claim? He went to top no nonsense catholic high school in Northern Virginia and finished in the top 10 in his class and got an academic scholarship from every school he applied to. In athletics he was the captain of the golf team because he could break par and hit golf ball farther than Tiger Woods. (He also knew that there were still many golfers who beat him like a drum)

That is what made him special.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where do I pick up my trophy for making this comment?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I’m not exactly sure when the “you’re special” culture popped up–but I’ll make a guess that it began sometime during the Millennial generation.

We were subjected to the "I'm ok, you're ok" Marlo Thomas crap in the 1970s. But even as young as we were, we mocked it. But that's when the boulder first got pushed down the hill. It seems to have picked up steam though.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nature always finds a way. The onslaught of "everyone is special" seems to coincide with greater meanness and bullying (the real thing, not the hurt feeling kind), and even outright cruelty, than ever before.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here's a maybe crazy thought. The marathon running craze is a relatively recent phenomana. Just FINISHING a full marathon may be considered a cause for celebration. Might that have been a source of the "everybody gets a prize" mentality?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Eh, I think it has more to do with the health craze. Marathons are hard to do and require effort. They've become a way to socialize and stay healthy at the same time.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just hand them their EBT cards and government phones and teach them to vote D or no trophy. They make excellent serfs.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think human nature is more of a motivating force than participation ribbons. By high school, competition in sports and scholastics is pretty steep. Some kids are driven and competitive and others not so much. Same in the job market and life afterwards.

I see what you're saying, but I haven't seen it across the board.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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