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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Keeping Score: Does It Damage the Precious Snowflakes?

We live in a society that increasingly exalts the individual as supreme in the political, social and religious realms. We exalt, what Bill Whittle calls the "precious snowflakes" to preeminence with the new iron doctrine that everyone is special and everyone must have certain things or be able to do certain things he or she wants to do regardless of their ability. This new system of belief that is being foisted upon us by politicians, educators and (sadly) religious leaders has sprung up in an age where, as C.S. Lewis put it, "There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose lives are devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exists.  They call it 'taking the young people out of themselves' or 'waking them up' or 'overcoming their apathy'."   

(c) by William Wetmore
We see this most clearly in the physical education classroom. Gym teachers, once the tough, no nonsense, hard-drivers of the education system have increasingly bought into the precious snowflake philosophy of teaching. Many have not only stopped keeping score, but have also stopped even teaching kids how to keep score on the grounds that scoring sends a negative message to children that some of them are better than their fellows and, as we all know, each of us is the same - individuals to be sure, just not too individual.  In this system there are limits to one's individuality.  We are all equal members of the team only in the sense that we are all the same, except, of course for our leaders.  On that issue Lewis further complained that, "If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him."  The precious snowflake version of individualism is useful if you're planning to dump a lot of six-sidedly uniform individuals into a snowdrift or a socialist collective somewhere. Doing away with scoring of athletic competitions in the name of protecting the feelings of "individuals" is an essential precursor to creating a collectivist state.

There is a time to score and a time not to score according to Solomon.  What he actually said was, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven," but it means the same thing.  I worked with abused and emotionally disturbed kids for almost a decade as a therapeutic recreation director at a residential treatment center. I taught the kids to play games like baseball where there was plenty of scoring.  We even fielded a team in the local youth league. We kept score. The kids lost a lot. Some of my colleagues thought this was a bad thing for kids with already low self-esteem.

The kids thrived on it. While on the ball field the kids held themselves to a higher standard of language and behavior than any other team out there. They measured their performance by the scores, yes, but as they improved, they also knew they were making real progress because nobody was playing down for them.

The telling moment one day was when the scheduled team confused their schedule and only half of them showed up for the game. We had the field for a couple of hours, so those that showed up decided to play anyway.  We mixed up the teams and played a joyful game of softball for two hours. The good players were helping teach the poorer players (mostly those on my team) and we had such a blast that we totally forgot to keep score.

I started an equestrian program for emotionally disturbed children that everyone said was insane. They were certain the kids would run away on the horses or get themselves hurt or abuse the animals.  What people don't understand about horses is that they teach their riders as much as their riders teach them.  Horses score you on how well you ride and the consequences are immediate and more than a little disconcerting. 

So, if our best game was unscored and our most therapeutic activity didn't post numbers to a scoreboard, am I saying there is no value to games that have no score?  Not at all. The unscored pickup game I played with my treatment center ball team was probably the most therapeutic of the year, but it would not have been so without its having been set within the framework of the scored games. I'm saying there is no value to games that have no point.  The score of a game may well be whether or not you accomplish a task.  The score for the unscored game was mutual understanding and helping each other learn the game.  The score for horseback riding was a successful ride in which the horse went where you wanted it to.

I took a group of kids out once to the woods to build a trail.  We cut the trail, cleared the brush, lined the trail with logs and then wheeled in sawdust to fill in the trail between the logs.  It took weeks to cut a two mile trail. The "score" was riding down the trail on horseback and knowing we'd built that trail with our own hands. No one got paid. Everybody did what they could. The stronger guys pushed the wheelbarrows. The smaller kids spread the sawdust and pitched branches aside. Those of us who could use machete's and axes cut the branches and brush back.

My kids trying out the new trail.
That's actually a pretty good metaphor for how a team or organization of true individuals actually ought to work. Paul (the apostle, not the Beatle) compared it to the organs of the body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you."  The eye also cannot claim to be the hand for it is not at all the same thing.  Each has his part to play. Each is an individual, distinct and whole, but without whom the rest of the organism would be unable to work.

In the opposite way, the athletics departments of our schools have gone too far by making the individual all important and reducing the lesser players to a supporting role. We elevate our stars to a lofty and privileged stature and in the process the stars forget that they are, or at least should be, part of a team. This also is an essential precursor to the formation of a collectivist state in that this teaches that some should be elevated in status over the mere rabble (Marx called them the proletariat) because of their special and genetically superior genes.  These elevated special people then become the privileged caste who are charged with managing the snowdrift.

"There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders," says Lewis.  "It sets its face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism, an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies."   When at last we renounce both the collectivist's "precious snowflake" notion of "individualism" and the equally destructive notion that some of us are superior by birthright, we may then move on to achieve a state of true selfhood.  When we submit our will to God, we get it back from Him, scrubbed clean of all the old grime and with all the psychological entanglements we've accumulated over a lifetime pruned away. Everything that has all along prevented us from achieving our true individuality is removed and we may, by our own unencumbered free will choose to fit ourselves snugly into the very place in the universe for which we were all along intended.

(c) 2013 by Tom King

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