It’s May. So it’s spring. Thus we’re nearing the end of the school year. And this year, the end of the school year in this house promises to be more chaotic than most years. With an 8th grader and a 12th grader, it’s going to double the extra chaos. Plans are being worked out and finalized, calendar slots filled in, and boxes of tissues are being stocked…I’ll share.
This past weekend I attended an Eagle Court of Honor for 2 scouts from our boy scout troop. I was taking notes because this is one of those events that’s on our plate next month. What’s an Eagle Court of Honor? It’s a ceremony…a celebration that comes after a long journey and a test (or 2). For boys in our troop, it starts the spring of 5th grade. It’s a very set (but optional) journey with some very specific requirements and some requirements with options. The journey really involves multiple quizzes along the way, ending with 2 tests…a service project and then a final review. After completing all the requirements, being a leader, and sitting before a review panel of strangers who sign-off (hopefully) on the dotted line, only after all that, can there be a celebration. The Girl Scouts have the Gold Award.
Mike has been saying for several years that these sorts of journeys or rites of passage have been whittled away. As I ponder this spring’s events, I would have to say I agree. And I’m going to use the term journey a bit loosely as I describe some of these. For the purposes of this essay, I’m going to use journey to represent those trials, challenges that take time and work, and which can take on many different forms. These days, we often seem to have very little of the journey part, no test, and lots of celebration.
I have now watched and supported 2 7th graders spend months with a research topic. They learned how to do quick research to narrow down the possible topics and then dug in with full blown note cards, outlines, bibliographies, drafts, and final versions for the selected topic. Then, because that wasn’t enough, they had to produce quality visuals for an oral presentation complete with questions and answers segments and judges.
I’ve also watched the same 2 tackle a group project the following year that also ended with a culminating presentation. A group journey can be a great deal of fun and will create both good and bad memories; but a group journey also has its fair share of quizzes and tests along the way.
In the Jewish faith, the 13 year old comes to the end of a long journey which ends in a test and celebration; the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah. Many Christian denominations have confirmation programs, usually for 8th or 9th graders. An 8th grade acquaintance of ours is on that journey now in the Catholic church. And from what her mother says, the quizzes along the way are numerous and the final step involves talking with the local bishop…how’s that for a little scary? Mike remembers having to face his Lutheran congregation and answer questions…right/wrong questions, not reflective questions. I hear it was intimidating. Maybe a small panel of members asking reflective questions might be better.
This coming weekend, a favorite 2nd grade friend of ours will be taking his First Communion in the Catholic church. He’s been on a journey too with retreats, classes, confessions and I suspect…though I don’t know…some test, or maybe finishing the journey is test enough…I just don’t know the detailed requirements. Anna will be attending while the rest of us juggle prom activities. But he will have his celebration and we will join his family in that.
Ask a scout who has done any, or all, of the high adventures…Philmont, Northern Tier, Sea Base, or the home grown C & O Canal bike trip. Or hikers who tackle the worlds highest peaks or the Appalachian Trail. These journeys are riddled with quizzes and tests…and then celebrations with real food, plenty to drink, hot showers, and real beds.
I think that in recent years, we’ve shortened a number of journeys down to the point that they don’t exist or have lost their meaning. Or if the journey is still a piece of the picture, the test has been eliminated. But celebrations have gotten bigger and EVERYTHING deserves a celebration. We are very much in a mode of everyone gets a trophy and everyone is a winner…even if nothing beyond the minimum is accomplished, at times the minimum isn’t even necessary. A couple of years ago, a local middle school gave honor roll certificates for C averages at the end of the year. Really, this was worth celebrating?
Another mother who is a psychologist and works with our school system, was telling me that there are more and more kids who are having real difficulty with rejection letters, not being at the top of the heap, or generally not faring well with the slightest competition or challenge. Is this a result of “Everyone is a winner”? “Here’s a trophy just for being you.” Our local elementary school 9 years ago told us we couldn’t set up a science fair with place ribbons because it wouldn’t be fair that some kids wouldn’t get blue ribbons. I also haven’t heard any of the students at our high school talk about THE big research paper for any class. Way back, we knew that THAT was the big item for the Composition class in 11th or 12th grade.
It seems that more and more, that children are not going through any of these journeys that culminate with a test they have to face in order to be able to celebrate having accomplished something of value. Following through to the end of the journey and its final challenge is what creates grit, character, the sense of accomplishment, self-esteem and self-confidence…and is worth the celebration…not simply being given a trophy for showing up or giving everyone the same prize or same grade or whatever.
We need to offer children those journeys and those tests again, and then the celebrations will be more meaningful.