Standards? What Standards?

My child has excellent attendance at Charles Dickens

I was stuck behind an ancient Dodge Caravan at a traffic light on Cedar Road. Bored, and positive that I was going to be here for at least one more cycle, I stared at the bumper sticker in front of me. There had to be a reason to put this message on that minivan. It wasn’t placed there to hide a dent or scratch. It would have taken a lot more than one bumper sticker to do that. The plainly worded unadorned vinyl wasn’t attached to the vehicle to enhance its appearance.

It must have been the message. The owner of this vehicle was proud that his/her child had excellent attendance at, presumably, an elementary school.

We have all seen the clear window stickers proclaiming a child’s attendance at a particular university. An elementary school aged child making the honor roll may generate the need for a parent to share his/her pride with the world via a bumper sticker. I can even imagine announcing perfect attendance.

This isn’t perfection. This is simply very good. Have we really given up? Are we really willing to be mired in good enough?

There was an award for perfect attendance at my elementary school. It was a prize beyond my grasp. I knew that I would miss a couple of days each school year for Jewish holidays. I also knew that a sick day or two was very possible. I didn’t ask that the rules be changed for me. I didn’t think that I, or my classmates, should receive an award if we got close. Perfection was rewarded.

Today we reward effort. We have convinced ourselves that our subjective judgments of other’s efforts can be as exactly measured as their actual achievement.

This silliness began in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I remember coming home with a report card replete with A’s, but only 2’s for effort. I was admonished for not giving my all. At one point I remarked that the report card was inaccurate. One teacher was so ineffectual that I really should have had my A for the course work and a 3 for effort in her class.

This culture of rewarding mediocrity, of applauding those who merely show up, has invaded the job-site. I just visited a longtime client. His office manager has the flu, possibly strep throat. He is wondering how many days she will miss due to this illness. His guess is three to five.

The owner of the van finally turned left, as did I. I hope to be behind the proud parents of honor roll students form Charles Dickens. I hope to see a Kent State sticker on that same car. I hope that the children of Charles Dickens Elementary aspire to more than just showing up most of the time.