The Death of Mastery – The Illusion of Awards

What have we done?  In the most primitive societies, people learn what survival has taught.  Live or die is the standard of measure.  Children start learning as innocents:  parents give “protected” lessons, small doses of harsh truths; they provide regular rescues and frequent warnings of the dangers.  As children develop, parents and family show them life skills in increments, and let them practice within safe limits; let them make small levels of all the natural mistakes, and suffer slight versions of all the natural penalties and results.  Primitive environments offer little slack between action and consequence.

The family teaches them the practical skills of eating, drinking, bathing, shelter.  Children learn to hunt, fish, farm, gather, make and use tools.  Their family shows them how to escape danger, hide from threats, and adopt social skills.  The kids learn what is required to stay alive.  After they can demonstrate the basics, they begin to refine and master whatever they need to live and prosper as an adult.

The parents, siblings, family and tribal members know how much survival demands that they know the differences between success, failure, and something in between. Children and adults constantly watch, listen, practice, and compete with others to improve their knowledge and skills.  They win some, they lose some, they best some, and lose to others to find their place on the scales of mastery.

They are never allowed to go forward believing they can do something they cannot.  Life hangs in the balance, not only for the child, but for everyone in the connected community.  Mistakes by one spell critical danger for them all.

What happens when a child is not given direct links to truth and consequences?  What happens when they get vague or misleading feedback?   How will they fare in real-life competition when they grow up, after being praised for mastery they do not have?

Today, I read about the importance of education and thinking skills when competing for jobs.  Almost a quarter of the students entering college require remedial courses to fill the yawning holes in their high school learning.  How has the freshman year in college become the junior/senior year of high school?

Deception.  Modern upbringing and education deceives our children mentally, emotionally, and socially.  The advent and prevalence of “alternative evaluation” such as “participation awards,” has deprived children of the ability to answer life’s most important questions: What happened?  Did I win, lose, or draw?  What did I do or not do to get my results?

Part of the occlusion comes from cumulative generations of parents who have no foundation in their own education.  They cannot measure or judge their child’s knowledge or understanding of subjects that are foreign to themselves. Another contributor is the deliberate removal of clear measurement standards from school.  Whether grades are A – F, or 100 – 0, they give the student a place to stand on their personal learning curve.

All the malarkey about emotional intelligence, self-acceptance, cultural awareness, instead of mastery of subjects, derails education, and generates unprepared high school “graduates.”  Such subterfuge is just a smoke-screen to camouflage ineffective teaching systems, unsuccessful learning efforts, incompetent, deluded teachers, and dishonest, political, school officials.  Federal and state money to schools can rely on student achievement and advancement.  When the students  do not perform on standardized tests of basic subjects, penalties arise for the school district.  The incentives to “play the game” are vast.

The saddest thing about this structure is its cumulative, self-perpetuation.  High school drop-outs do not just disappear, they grow up, they have children whose parents are not educated or enthralled by the school experience.  These children do not have adult models of success, and are less likely to value and complete high school.  They grow up, they have children who have two generations of parents with limited education, and success, and so on.

The answer is not to pass students from overcrowded class to overcrowded class, frustrating year to frustrating year, with phony, political, grading methods; it is not to issue them a counterfeit high school diploma, and kiss them good-bye.

What are the answers?  Cut the psycho-babble crap; forget the “participation” trophies; tell our children the truth; give them grades on a finite scale; offer them tangible ways to measure what they really know; teach them learning skills and habits.  Let them see who has learned, and who has not.  If they fail to learn some parts of subjects, show them; then let them know that failing once, or twice, or ten times is not the end, show them how not to quit, show them how to try again.  No child learns to walk or ride a bicycle on the first try.  Why should other learning be different?

Want to see motivated, determined learning?  Watch children play sports and games.  Kids will practice and practice until they find out what works, what does not, who is good at them, who is not.  Failure does not stop them when they want to play.  Golf is a great example.  Golfers are not daunted by the fact they may never be excellent.

We are telling parents and children that their only hope is college.  At best, this false notion leads many underqualified students to enter college unprepared, to struggle into insurmountable debt, fail, drop-out, or earn a useless, jobless “degree.”  College is not the only way to qualify for a respectable job.

The absence of non-college career training is a glaring omission in modern education.  Why can’t we emphasize quality trade schools as respectable alternatives to college?  Restore prestige to learning trades.  A master plumber can earn more than a poorly-performing college graduate.  Trades offer decent earnings opportunities, as well as professional pride and respect.  In addition, most trades cannot be “outsourced” to another country, or eliminated by technology.

Why not:

  • Offer trade-related courses in high school as an alternative to college preparatory courses?
  • Reinstate work/study programs related to trades.
  • Offer trades training to undereducated parents
  • Let parents and children see that most trades require knowledge of basic math, language, and science.
  • Offer trades-enhanced GED diplomas
  • Let parents bring their children to afternoon and early evening classes.

Think about the stages of human mastery:

  1. Discover something you want or need to learn
  2. Test your current knowledge
  3. If you fail, analyze, learn, and adjust
  4. Retry, analyze, learn, and adjust
  5. Once you learn the basics, practice, analyze, learn, and refine
  6. Practice, analyze, learn, and refine until you excel.

What might happen if we taught this mindset and process?