Teaching Children a Twisted View of Success

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“The agentic state – people allow others to direct their actions and then pass off the responsibility for the consequences to the person giving the orders” Milgram (1974).

Too many adults, escaping from work is simply spending time without ‘the man’ telling them what to do. It can be safely argued that the vast majority of adults are naturally opposed to the level of control they are subjected to in the workplace, however necessary that control often is. Even when a kindly boss delivers orders in a courteous manner, a strong desire for autonomy remains.

When I used to play conkers, marbles, army, snowball fighting or sliding on schoolyard ice, it was with a degree of autonomy combined with roughly agreed rules where infringement of those rules were met with a collective justice of the young playground populace. Wrong and right were self taught and self learnt as a consequence of everyday experiences without the controlling influence of adults. These are the generation who grew into adults with a respect for authority but also a fear of it. Blind obedience under the harsh glare of authority has been evident throughout history, and the consequences have been horrific. Eventually, people who have been allowed to develop and learn for themselves, that all important sense of right and wrong, have been victorious.

Nowadays, in the absence of conkers, marbles and other frightfully dangerous activities, and in the midst of test targeted pressure learning in the classroom, you would think that children would be allowed to at least be able to govern themselves on the sports field. Alas, the grown up perception of ‘success’ has stretched its ugly tentacles to creep into the foundations of even that pure bastion:

Some months ago, I was asked to supervise and accompany a group of Year 3s to an indoor cricket tournament. Due to a pod mix up, our children had been trained prior to the competition – in hockey. Not to be deterred, the general brief I gave our budding cricketers was hit the ball, run have fun. Now quick cricket grants the rival teams 200 runs apiece. We finished with a score just under 200 due to the fact that despite their (our) lung bursting and glorious runs between the wickets, we inevitably fell victim to ‘stumping’ and the consequential six run deductions. Nevertheless, smiles on rosy cheeks was the order of the day and children were justly proud of their efforts. Then came your school.

In contrast to my own jumping around and cheering, the other team’s coaches sat static and stony faced. Initially I put it down to some form of professionalism or not getting carried away with their own performance (which I thought, given that particular team and cricket, would put fear in the opposition). Before the first over was in fact over however, I (and thankfully not my team of 8 year olds) soon understood the reason for the aforementioned stony fizzogs.

Guilt cannot be disguised easily by decent folk (and so I know your staff are decent folk). But something in the ‘got to please the man’ system has gone sadly awry. Each and every single time an (other school) batsman put willow to leather, their trained feet remained planted – in that respect their well drilled discipline should be commended.

Thus no runs were conceded and they ‘won’ the game.

But smiley faces and rosy cheeks were not in attendance.



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