Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Participation Trophies

I have heard and seen a growing amount of public hand-wringing over the so-called “participation trophy” generation. Depending on your particular ideological bent, the phenomenon could be responsible for overly-sensitive entitlement liberals or insensitive trust-fund babies that never had to work for anything their entire lives. In either case, the scorned group is portrayed as having been debilitatingly-coddled for so long that they are unable to fathom failure or stomach disappointment. The concept of someone else’s contributions or ideas being valued over their own causes them to demand that the very fabric of society should be altered to conform to their worldview.

While there does not appear to be a consensus concerning the time-frame of this unfortunate generation, I suppose this would be the proper juncture to admit that I received several participation trophies as a child. The first was for my T-Ball team when I was 4. It was rather impressive in stature and I displayed it proudly in my room for quite some time. My disillusionment came later when I discovered that both the funding for, and design of, the trophy was the collective responsibility of the team members’ parents. At the age of four, it never occurred to me that our local Recreation and Parks department did not employ an objective oversight committee to distribute them based solely upon merit.
My next participation trophy would come in Kindergarten. This one was ostensibly awarded for being “Student of the Month” but I am fairly certain that - despite the statistical implausibility – everyone managed this achievement once. It should also be noted that Kindergarten is much more rigorous now than it was then. Remembering which color-coded table I sat at (the orange one) and managing to avoid peeing on my own shoes practically fast-tracked me to magna cume laude. When my wife starting teaching Kindergarten, it felt like we were a state-standards revision away from book reports on Faust.

My final participation trophy was for Fire Prevention Month. You heard me. I got bragware just for NOT starting a fire in the presence of the Fire Marshall and whatever poor intern they forced to wear the Dalmatian costume. That being said, this trophy took its rightful place alongside my T-Ball trophies and student of the month. If my streak continued at this pace, we were going to need a sizable display case before I hit puberty.  

I suppose one could argue that having parents hand out trophies to their children with blatant disregard for their skill-level or giving awards for being alive and conscious in the same room as a fireman is conditioning them for failure. I believe that the validity of that concern varies greatly with the child’s age. My son is 3 years old and playing rec-league T-Ball where no one keeps score and everyone gets a chance to bat. I argue that it is OK to recognize the sustained effort it takes to work together with one’s peers toward a common goal. It also provides needed encouragement at a very impressionable age.

Conversely, I do not believe it is appropriate to hand a fourteen year-old a trophy simply because they did NOT commit arson or to allow high-school students to perpetually retake tests or exams until they reach a desired outcome. There must be a transition period where a child prepares for life by experiencing the tangible (and often cruel) hierarchy of personal achievement.

Unlike some of my more athletic peers, I had to come to terms with the fact that trophies awarded for participation were the only ones I was likely to receive. It was not so much an emotionally-devastating moment in time as it was the gradual realization that while I may possess talents and abilities, I would have to make peace with the fact that sometimes our greatest efforts and accomplishments will remain uncelebrated. Sometimes the work is the reward and the right thing to do is the path least likely to garner attention or accolades. If my children manage to embrace that philosophy despite my shortcomings as a parent, I may just have to buy myself a participation trophy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Election Quiz!

This federal election is making me sad. It appears that we will be faced with a choice between the two most disliked candidates in modern American politics. I have heard it likened to being given a choice between a megalomaniacal fascist and a deceitful career politician who still does not seem completely comfortable talking to humans.

Photo Credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty; Sean Rayford/Getty 

Although he is staunchly conservative, The Blaze contributor Matt Walsh summarized the disillusionment of many Americans regardless of their political ideology:

They’re both elitist progressives. Both pathological liars. Both morally bankrupt. Both narcissists. Both entirely unconcerned about the issues and willing to take whatever position assures them more power. Both Statist. Both authoritarian. Both tyrants, the only difference is that Trump actually ran on a platform of tyranny – promising to murder women and children and squash dissent. etc. – whereas Clinton has to pretend she’s not a tyrant. That means Trump will have a mandate for tyranny that Clinton will, much to her chagrin, not be granted. 

Since all of this can get rather depressing, let’s play a game. I have created fill in the blank statements taken verbatim from the “positions” section of the candidate’s official websites and you get to pick whether it is Hillary or Donald based upon the wording and stances portrayed. Think of it as nominee mad-libs.

Category 1 - Healthcare

________________________ will “expand coverage for millions of Americans” and “improve value and quality care for Americans.”

_________________________ “will broaden healthcare access” and “improve the quality of care available to all Americans.”

Category 2 - Prescription Drug Costs 

“Prescription drug spending accelerated from 2.5 percent in 2013 to 12.6 percent in 2014. It’s no wonder that almost three-quarters of Americans believe prescription drug costs are unreasonable. _________ believes we need to demand lower drug costs for hardworking families and seniors.

______________ insists “Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service.”

Category 3 – General Veteran Care

___________________ believes “Today’s veterans have very different needs than those of the       generations that came before them. The VA must adapt to meet the needs of this generation of younger, more diverse veterans

___________________ believes “Veterans must have access to a system that puts their needs first. But in order to build such a system, prepared for the unique and growing needs of the twenty-first century, we cannot simply throw more money at the problem…”

_____________________ “A VA with 20th century technology cannot serve 21st century service members and their needs.”

_______________________ wants to “Create a new framework for VHA health care delivery by refocusing, reorganizing, and streamlining the VHA to best serve veterans in the 21st century.


Category 4 – Veteran Care for Women

“The fact that many VA hospitals don’t permanently staff OBGYN doctors shows an utter lack of respect for the growing number female veterans. Under __________ ‘s plan, every VA hospital in the country will be fully equipped with OBGYN and other women’s health services.” 

__________ will “ensure women equal and respectful, going beyond simply modifying facilities and increasing the number of OBGYNs employed by the VHA, to include expanding provider training, ensuring culturally-competent VHA staff and policies, and providing other gender-specific health services

Category 5 - Gun Violence

_____________ will “fight to improve existing law prohibiting persons suffering from severe mental illness from purchasing or possessing a gun”

_______________ believes that "all of the tragic mass murders that occurred in the past several years have something in common – there were red flags that were ignored. We can’t allow that to continue."

Category 6 - Taxes

___________ “This plan does that with needed tax relief for all Americans, especially the working poor and middle class…” and “This plan also reduces or eliminates loopholes used by the very rich and special interests…”

___________ will “provide tax relief to working families and small businesses” and advocates “closing tax loopholes and expenditures that benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.”

Category 7- Trade with China

___________ believes that, “such currency manipulation, in concert with China’s other unfair practices, has resulted in chronic U.S. trade deficits, a severe weakening of the U.S. manufacturing base and the loss of tens of millions of American jobs.”
___________ wants to “level the global playing field for American workers and manufacturers by aggressively combating trade violations. Establish and empower a new chief trade prosecutor reporting directly to the president, triple the number of trade enforcement officers, stand up to Chinese abuses, and crack down on currency manipulation that hurts American workers.”

Obviously the candidates do vary and while their end goals may be similar in some cases, their chosen methodology of bringing them to fruition varies. Given the amount of work that must be outsourced to staff, I doubt either of these candidates would fare any better at identifying their stances than you did. Wake me up when November ends.

Answer Key (does it really even matter...)
Category 1 - H, D
Category 2 - H, D 
Category 3 - D, H, D, H
Category 4 -D, H
Category 5 - H, D
Category 6 - D, H
Category 7- D, H