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Sticker Schlock

It started innocently enough: "My child is an honor student at [insert high school here]." It was a simple declaration of pride and honor for the really tough achievement of obtaining straight ‘As’ and the respect of the faculty at the school. Stuck to the bumper of the minivan, it proclaimed to one and all that the kid who rode in it was academically superior. And there it might have stayed, except for a 90s phenomenon called the self-esteem movement. Suddenly, it wasn’t fair that only smart kids got these stickers- singling them out would hurt the feelings of the kids who were not quite as smart. Along came the parental one-upmanship bandwagon, and younger and younger kids hopped on- junior high, elementary- even kindergarten. "My Child is a High Achiever." "My Child is Extraordinary." "My child Attends…" Soon minivans and SUVs everywhere sported these bumper brags about the academic and social perfection of their offspring. Stuck in traffic behind one of these behemoths plastered with ‘My child is…’ stickers, I quietly wondered if there were any ‘average’ kids left in the world. If you believed the bumper sticker propaganda, there weren’t.

Then came the backlash. "My child beat up your honor student" seemed to be the most popular. "My Cat is smarter than your honor student." "My honor student can beat up your honor student." The sticker brigade returned fire with more and more outrageous claims of their kids’ genius, self esteem and capability. I saw one that bragged that their toddler was potty trained at a certain daycare, and another that pointed out that they were the proud parent of an ‘accelerated reader’. What was that? An ADD kid on Ritalin? Or a third grader reading at third grade level? How times have changed.

My mother once told me that I was picking out simple words from the newspaper at the age of three, and was able to write, count, and read simple books in kindergarten. My teachers were amazed, but no one gave my mother an ‘accelerated reader’ sticker to slap on the shiny chrome bumper of our ’66 Chevy Nova wagon. Nor did they hand her a ‘Gifted Student’ sticker when I tested nearly off the scale in fifth grade on their intelligence tests. No, they just called her in and suggested that I skip a grade or two, which she refused to do.

It is just as well that she didn’t get any bragging stickers- my bullying peers would have used my smarts as yet another excuse to beat up on me. Yes, honor students do get beat up (I did), and the stickers proudly proclaiming this nastiness are in very poor taste.

Why all this emphasis on bragging to one and all about the academic prowess of kids? Is it part of this insidious ‘self esteem’ thing that rewards kids for putting their clothes on straight and tying their shoes? Or are our kids really that bad off? Should they be lavishly praised for doing ordinary things? Or, like me, ignored for doing extraordinary things? Both extremes are dangerous. Both can lead to unfortunate expectations- or the lack thereof. Give an average kid too much praise, and you get sloppy work and criminally high self-esteem. Give a gifted kid too little, and you’ll get uninspired work and low self-esteem.

My own bumper remains silent to the fact that I am a USAF vet, left-handed, eccentric, Pagan, and definitely above average. I’d rather people find that out on their own, rather than reading it on my badly in need of a wash bumper. I saw a bumper sticker that really put everything in place for me. It was tongue in cheek, but spoke volumes about the direction our culture is headed. It read: "My child was Inmate of the Month at the County Jail!"

2001 Sunfell

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