Bingo dammit!

imgres“B-37,” one of the moms in my son Eli’s third grade class called out.

“Bingo!” Yelled Samantha. I enjoyed watching the victorious young lady’s glee as she celebrated her triumph.

“N-11,” the mom loudly announced over the myriad pronouncements of joy and despair by the remaining players.

“Perhaps she doesn’t know how to play this game,” I thought to myself.

“G-7,” she continued calling.

“Bingo!” Yelled Taylor. There were more “ahs” and “darns” from the ensemble.

“O-63,” she went on.

She must be on auto-pilot, I worried. Maybe being the Valentine Bingo caller was too taxing an enterprise for her. I decided to leave my post at the bagel and cream cheese station to see if I might be of assistance to her.

Quietly I whispered, “Someone’s already won.”

“N-11,” she proclaimed as if she hadn’t even heard me.

“There’s already a winner,” I spoke out with conviction.

She looked at me askance. “Everyone has to win,” she stated matter-of-factly. “We can’t stop until every child gets Bingo and wins a prize.”

At first, I thought she was joking. I mean I’m well aware of eternal T-Ball ties and even-Steven itty-bitty basketball games. But even in 3rd grade Bingo we aren’t allowed to have winners and losers?

I returned to my bagel station dejected and disillusioned. This is what’s wrong with the world today. We insist on perpetuating a ridiculous myth of equality when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Bingo, someone wins. This also implies the converse. Someone, (usually several someones), lose. It’s a game! That’s the whole point. One person gets the lucky numbers first. That’s why it’s fun. It’s not skill. It’s not personal will or sheer determination that dictate the outcome here. It’s a silly game of luck. Why are we shielding our youth from this reality?

No Junior, you will not always win. Life is about losing some times. It’s about learning resiliency, bouncing back, accepting defeat and fighting to win the next time around.

Instead we are raising lazy, pathetic people who expect prizes for failure and unlimited chances to win. That’s not how life works. Why are we doing this?

Later that night when we were sitting around the table I asked Eli, a fiercely competitive child, if he noticed anything unusual about Bingo. “It was really fun,” he concluded. “But what do you mean by unusual?”

“Well, who won?” I inquired.

“Nobody,” he answered plainly.

“But I kept hearing kids yell ‘Bingo’,” I asserted. amazed that he had missed something so obvious.

“But we were playing ‘Black-Out’ Bingo, mom” he clarified, “You know, where you have to fill in the whole card before you win?”

“Ah ha,” I smiled. “So nobody really won? That’s interesting.”

“Why mom?” he questioned, “Tell me why you’re asking.”

“Just curious,” I replied, unsure if I should reveal the truth or not. Maybe it’s better this way, with him believing in the illusive golden ring that remains always a bit out of reach.
“But everyone got a prize,” I just couldn’t leave it alone.

“Yeah mom,” he laughed to himself, “Everyone always gets a prize. That’s just how they do it these days. But don’t worry, I know that nobody really won. They just don’t want to hurt the kids’ feelings. I think it may have to do with law suits or something.”

I shook my head and giggled. “Yeah,” I said, “You’re probably right.”

So while most kids walked away feeling like winners, my competitive junkie filled in the blanks a little differently. I guess competition really is in the eye of the beholder.

Unstandardized testing

A notice I received about the upcoming standardized testing at my 8-year-old son, Levi’s, elementary school:

“To the parents of Levi Gettleman:
…your child qualifies to receive modifications and accommodations during the test, such as an alternative setting, extended time, and/or support with reading.”

It goes on to say that these “alterations” will be noted on your child’s report card and asks for a signature to accept the alternative testing accommodations.

I read the letter over a few times. Levi’s a handful, no doubt. He’s extremely bright, quite advanced verbally, and overly sensitive (no idea where that comes from). He also tends to run high on the anxiety scale. His fine motor skills are a little behind, so handwriting is grueling work for him and causes him untold frustration. I can see where he might need some extra help on an essay test. But I’m fairly certain that the Stanford 9 only requires kids to fill in those tiny, little ovals with a #2 pencil. I’m pretty sure he can handle that.

I shoot an e-mail off to the school “Instruction Specialist,” asking what type of modification Levi might require. I’m kind of confused as to why I wouldn’t want him tested in a regular classroom with the rest of his class.

In her response, she delicately alludes to Levi’s tendency to become agitated when he faces time deadlines and his urge to write all over his papers, desk and himself while he works. She explains that there is no writing on the test other than filling in the requisite ovals. If Levi takes the test in a more test-friendly environment, he’ll have scratch paper and no time limits.

I write back immediately thanking her for the information and unequivocally declining the special set-up. This seems like a no-brainer to me. But as I talk to other parents, I’m amazed at the cadre of responses I get. Most feel I should stack the deck in Levi’s favor by accepting the testing modifications and minimizing the stress. “If he was autistic,” says one friend, “ Or sight impaired, you wouldn’t hesitate to make his environment more appropriate.”

“That’s true,” I contend, “But he’s not. He’s a high-strung kid who’s got to learn how to take tests and deal with anxiety. The longer I put off that learning, the harder it’s going to be for him.”

This strikes me as another one of those weird over-protective child-rearing things we see so commonly in our generation of parents. We’re so afraid of having our kid’s suffer that we shield them from realities they need to experience in order to learn how to function in the world. We don’t let our babies learn self-soothing by crying themselves to sleep. We don’t keep score in T-ball. We allow our lives to center around our children’s needs. We only supply them with positive feedback for fear of damaging their tiny, fragile egos. Well, you know what? Babies who can’t go to sleep on their own, grow up to be people with sleep disorders. And some kids are better T-ball players than others, and their teams are gonna win every time. Losing sucks. But it happens. The truth is, sometimes life is unfair, and you’re not always the best, and if you don’t learn how to take a test when you’re in 2nd grade, you’re gonna struggle with test-taking for the rest of your life. So by being “kind” and offering my child a safer, more comfortable environment, you’re really hampering his ability to compete in tough, real-life situations. No thank you. My son is gonna need to face his own fears and anxieties and learn how to breathe through it, relax his mind and body, and focus on whatever task lies before him. I believe in him enough to let him learn those lessons.