All is Not Fair

As a child I was raised to believe that fair means giving each what they need. Fair is not always equal and equal is not always fair. As a teacher I always told my classes and their parents that I will treat and teach all the children fairly, but that does not mean they will all be treated or taught the same.

I recently read an article in Family Circle Magazine called All is Not Fair, by Karin Fuller (on-line it's called Not Every Kid Deserves a Prize). I not only read this article, I pulled it out of the magazine, had Richard read it and then sat down to underline the parts I felt were blog worthy.

I have sat through 2 soccer seasons in which they do not keep score, but it is nothing like t-ball. In soccer the children are all encouraged to play their hardest. They are praised for good plays, be it a pass, throw-in or goal. They cheer for their teammates. The parents are excited to see good plays no matter what team makes them. It could be the coaches Blake had, but it seemed that that was the norm watching most coaches. Each child gets a trophy at the end of the season though, which at 3 and 4 is nothing more than a dust collector. Do they actually care if they get a trophy? They like getting one, but I don't think that they would be disappointed if they didn't get one. I agree with Fuller who stated "...if you start something, you finish it. And that gets an "atta girl" not a trophy." Children need to learn to participate for the intrinsic value of participating and finishing. They need to find what they are good at and find pride in doing his/her best.

In t-ball there seems to be this need for "equality". Each child bats in each inning. There are no outs. On Blake team last week they insisted each child catch the ball each inning. So those who are really "into" playing the game would get the first few and then they had to sit there and watch while the other got a turn. Why did this come about? We had children crying because they didn't get to touch the ball. Ummm you got to play, but you can't expect the ball to roll into your glove. So many of the parents were complaining that it wasn't fair that their child didn't get his/her turn. As Fuller stated in her article "Are we so obsessed with fairness that we raise children to believe everyone should be treated the same, regardless of effort of skill?" I realize that they are learning to play, but should you punish the children who want to learn that game because other children cry when they don't get the attention? Aren't there other ways to motivate those children in leu of telling the more attentive players to back off?

When I was a teacher I did not give every child a sticker, certificate or what not. I tried to find positives in each child every few weeks. I didn't want one child to get all the attention, and others none. But, each child received different things for different reasons. If I gave out only awards for knowing the alphabet, children who came into kindergarten knowing how to read did not need to be rewarded for learning their letters. A child who is struggling to learn the letters in his/her name should also not be rewarded for at as it is still not mastered. If every child gets the same reward for the same thing, what does the reward mean? Fuller states "What they're failing to see is that rewarding everyone, the trophy is devalued, or the certificate becomes nothing but a piece of nice paper with a pretty font." Would it not mean more if the child actually worked hard to earn it? If they were one of a few who was recognized than one of many or the whole group? What are we teaching children by giving everyone the same?

Are we not doing a disservice to children? (Fuller states) "By bolstering self-esteem across the board, we're sending the message that self-esteem is more important that hard work and achievement. But, ultimately, high self-esteem doesn't guarantee success. That takes self-discipline, self reliance and self-control." "We need to challenge our children to excel and reward them when they do, but kids also need to know they're loved regardless of whether they win a prize."  Different children excel in different areas. Different children see success in different ways. One child may feel playing the game and participating and/or the thrill of the win is the reward itself. Other children may be motivated by verbal praise from their parents and coaches. Still others may just want the high five or pat on the back.

When I was growing up these internal motivators were the rewards. This was the way parents pushed their children by praising a good attempt, hard work and effort. By recognizing the child who went above and beyond. Most children were not "paid" for grades or good behavior. You did it to please yourself and your parents. Often times parents turn towards rewarding children with food, toys and money. Which is not a great thing, in my opinion, but when you reward them with these things for no effort, then why put in the effort? Why should I try when I'm just going to get the same thing as the child who sits next to me? Why should I go above and beyond?

I feel Karin Fuller states it best when she concluded by saying: "Ultimately, we aren't simply raising children -- we're raising adults. And if we want them to become functioning members of society, they need to learn how to win and lose. They need to be able to take criticism, cope with arbitary decisions and handle setbacks. They need to see that people who work hard to achieve - even if they fail at first- will be rewarded more than those who don't. That's called real life. And it's fair."



  1. I agree with many of your points... I'm still in education, and we reward mediocrity often. We accept just enough. And we push everyone across the stage at graduation to make our numbers look good. When I bump into former students, I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn they've done ok... they certainly weren't given real life in many of their classrooms...

  2. Totally agree with you! Yes at certain ages it is good to let everyone get a prize- but it quickly needs to stop or they are being taught all the wrong things.

  3. Great post Lori! Hoping to teach my children how to work hard to achieve, though I am definitely guilty of bribing my children from time to time. :)


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