School awards should not treat student differences or struggles as punchlines

Is this an appropriate award for any student? (WAGA TV)

I remain dismayed over end-of-the-year student awards that are insulting to the recipients and wish schools would end the practice now.

If students want to informally present each other with mean-spirited or so-called joke awards, they can do so on their own time; it should never be allowed at a school-related event. And certainly teachers should have no hand in awards that mock students in any way.

I know parents still miffed over the “Player most likely to miss practice due to cramps” and “Most likely to throw up on the bus,” both presented at end-of-the-year sports banquets.

Here is a guest column by Julie Rawe, a senior editor at Understood.org, a free online resource and community for parents of kids with learning and attention issues. Rawe spent 13 years at Time as a reporter and senior editor. A mother of two, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.

In this piece, Rawe challenges the local school that gave the “Most likely to not pay attention” award to a girl with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).​

By Julie Rawe

It wasn’t funny. It was cruel. Last week a middle school in Georgia gave a girl with ADHD an award for “Most Likely to ‘Not Pay Attention.’” The words were engraved on a glass trophy that was presented to her at a school assembly. It was the fanciest form of bullying I’ve ever seen.

Like many parents, I couldn’t believe that the school had allowed this to happen. As the story went viral, the school district reacted quickly. It announced that two teachers involved in the awards would not be returning to the school next year.

But something else struck me about this terribly unfunny joke in Georgia. It’s an extreme version of something that’s been happening for years: end-of-the-year awards that tease students rather than celebrate their achievements.

When I was in school, we voted on senior superlatives that were mostly positive. Like “Friendliest” and “Best Smile.” But we had a few that were edgier. The girl who won “Most Likely to Show up at the Wrong School at the 10-Year Reunion” was the class clown. She thought the award was hilarious.

But what about our stressed out classmate who won “Most Stressed”? If winning that award upset her, she didn’t show it. Or at least I wasn’t aware of it back then.

Which brings me to last week’s story in Georgia. According to news reports, the eighth-grader was originally going to be awarded “Most Likely to Ask a Question That Has Already Been Answered.”

If the school had stuck with that original wording, or if the child who won the award hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD, most people wouldn’t have thought twice about it. They would have just laughed and moved on.

The Georgia story made headlines because of the blatant insensitivity of giving a child with ADHD an award for not paying attention. But there are subtler digs, and we need to put an end to those too.

It’s 2017, and we still have a long way to go in terms of raising awareness and reducing stigma. That’s why this bad joke in Georgia hits so close to home. It’s a reminder that we need to keep pushing for progress.

Neurodiversity is still a new concept to many people. We need to help more students, parents and educators start to understand—and celebrate—kids’ differences, not turn them into not a punch line.

Reader Comments 0

32 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I find it hard to believe that any professional educator would take part in something like this!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Let us take the time to reflect upon the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy on May 29, 2017.


Kennedy was representative of the America I loved.  He was optimistic about our future, as well as the world's future, and he encouraged all Americans to work for productive results for others within and without (Peace Corps) their country.  He was the genesis of the Civil Rights' Bill that was made into law through the gigantic effort of President Lyndon Johnson in the mid-sixties, and President Kennedy proclaimed to the world that America would reach the Moon by the end of that decade.  We did, through his optimistic and motivating spirit, in 1969, six years after his assassination.


Let us return to the inspiring, and inspired, America of JFK instead of perpetuating the cynical and jaded America of Donald Trump.

bu22
bu22

@MaryElizabethSings The JFK who had the Secret Service and press hide his affairs with Marilyn and through his incompetence took us closer to a nuclear holocaust than ever before or since?  The JFK who put us on the slippery slope in Vietnam?  He was inspiring, but he was hardly a good example.  Sometimes you need more experienced, less dynamic officials.  It took the cynical, pragmatic Nixon to go to China, get us out of Vietnam, bring us back from the edge of Mutually Assured Destruction and finish the job of landing on the moon.  Schools never give awards for "Most pragmatic."  But its a really useful trait.  There is a huge shortage in government and business of people who can actually get things done.

Milo
Milo

Give the awards to teachers. 'Best Right Hand Hook', 'Lowest IQ', 'Worst Grammar', 'Most Likely to top 300lbs', 'Worst Impression of Smart Person', 'Most Likely to Cheat on Standard Tests'. Seriously.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@Milo Fair enough; I nominate you for the most deplorable Get Schooled Troll award.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Milo's responses on this thread are indicative of this "newer, more brutal" American sensibility to which I referred, below.

As Americans of conscience, we can change this "brutal" sensibility if we care to do so.

Milo
Milo

@MaryElizabethSings

Nah, brutal is what we saw in your pretend ex-school district the other day. The hits keep on a coming. Wow. 

Milo
Milo

@DrProudBlackMan

Nah. Deplorable is your two 'sisters' demonstrating  your culture's conflict-resolution prowess on video for the world to see. And we wonder...

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

 MEH: “… ‘winning’ OVER others through mockery.”


Indeed, though some will think it benign, harmless.  Who could possibly know for any one person?


But without question, mocking the child is yet another insidious and pernicious form of competition, in this case exhibited by two adults having LEARNED it is okay to “win” at even a child’s expense because, very likely at varying points in their lives, the two adults were made “losers.”  So the two adults figured, perhaps below the level of consciousness: “I turned out just fine so if it was good enough for me to be made a ‘loser,’ then it is good enough for me to make ‘losers’ of others, even children.”


Why do some folk believe their competition mindedness learned in one context will not surface and play out in other contexts in insidious and pernicious ways?


Why is it so hard for some to get that people made “losers” through pernicious competition almost always figure out how to “win,” one way or another, in some form or fashion?


Why would anyone believe the great many “losers” made through that most insidious and pernicious form of competition commonly called “racism,” a misnomer, won’t keep on figuring out how to “win” at the expense of those they perceive to be their antagonists?  


Why would anyone believe blatantly removing Confederate monuments from public spaces won’t make some “losers” who will then go about figuring out how to “win” at the expense of those they perceive to be their antagonists?


See the vicious cycle of competition that keeps us trapped?


It is unfortunate Rockdale County dealt with the two teachers by making them “losers” for the problem they created rather than helping the teachers rise in consciousness.  The teachers so helped might then in turn help others to also rise in consciousness and thereby set off a virtuous cycle of cooperation replacing the vicious cycle of competition.


Just don’t talk with Betsy DeVos or a certain local superintendent about cooperation v. competition; it won’t register.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Thank you, Ed Johnson.

It is good to see that another poster will venture bravely into expressing the state of mind called conscioudness with the phrase "rise in consciousness."

We have become so jaded in the America of today that one is often mocked for using that phrase, even by supposedly educated posters.

Sad that competition rather than cooperation has become a prized value in the newer, more brutal America of today.

redweather
redweather

The graduation award events I've attended have been long on boilerplate superlatives. It also often happens that the same handful of students keep trotting up on stage to accept yet another award. For that reason I see no harm in these "joke" awards, although I think it would be good practice to make sure recipients are agreeable to accepting such an award.  

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MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I remember well when Americans were not as cynical as they are today, which is reflected in rudeness and mockery instead of wisdom among citizens.


This negative style eventually filters down into our classrooms (and blogs) as an accepted way of communicating.


As an educator, I can never accept that type of mockery, which is bullying, as normal.


I pray that God will give each of us the grace to see what we are doing to our young with this cynicism and to seek the wisdom of communion WITH others, more than "winning" OVER others through mockery.

Milo
Milo

@MaryElizabethSings

35 years? Why has not one ex- student posted here? Must have made quite an impression. 

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

God, how tired we are of political correctness.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@Alt AJC Translation: God, how tired I am of getting called out on my boorish, bigoted behavior.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@Milo I'm sorry that your G.E.D. didn't pay off like you thought it would. Goodnight deplorable troll!