Monday, February 18, 2013

Here Comes the Judge

I can tell you exactly what's wrong with our nation today: No child ever gets the impression that he or she is not a WINNER IN EVERY WAY. We don't want to hurt the tender feelings of our tenderest ones by suggesting that maybe that other kid is better at this specific activity than you are, My Precious. Not only is no child left behind, every child is told that in all probability HE IS LEADING THE PACK! Wooooo!  

Kids today are the victims of affirmation inflation. Their grades are higher (although standardized test scores are not), their walls are filled with ribbons, they walk away from competitions they did not win believing that they would have taken the first place trophy if they had not been the victims of moron judges.

I know these things largely because I have been watching them happen for the past 26 years. Hey, my Boys are smart and cute as bugs' ears, but even my proud mother's heart cannot fool my thinking woman's brain into considering them top athletes. And still we have ribbons and trophies from their soccer and baseball days.

That's why, when I was asked to judge piano players at the county-wide 4-H competition Saturday I was determined to set the youth of our nation on a better road. I would be firm but fair, and I would cull out the ones who had no talent or work ethic. I would only give top ratings to the absolutely top performers.

Or at least that's what I thought until I sat behind the judge's table and looked into the performers' eyes.

There was the first pianist, who played a lovely Brahms Ballade and there was the adorable seven-year-old with the rhinestone belt so new to taking piano lessons that her music didn't even have ledger lines, just notes with finger numbers on them. Between those extremes were another dozen who had sucked up their courage and sat down in front of a judge (me) to play.

Want to know exactly how hard I was on these kids? I gave exactly one red ribbon, and that was to the kid who admitted loudly that he hated this piece and hadn't really practiced. Everyone else got blue ribbons, and here's why:

I was that middle-of-the-road kid myself 50 years ago. I was not Much Older Sister, who was a dazzling piano player from the time she took her first lesson and at age eight was chosen to play for a high school end-of-school reception. She took the top blue award every single year she entered the contast. By contrast, I plugged away and could play hymns pretty well. I never once received the top blue ribbon at 4-H day.

And yet...  

I was an okay player, and I kept practicing, and I kept showing up, and I kept getting blue ribbons for non-excellent participation year after year, and today playing the piano is one of the joys of my life. If I had gotten a red ribbon, even one time, that probably would not be the case.

So Saturday, when I judged these fledgling players, I told each one of them to keep playing. "Some day, you're going to be so glad you did," I told them. Then I gave them blue ribbons to cement the pledge.

I am a bad judge, and the nation probably suffers from my kind, but I am not sorry.

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