The proverb is simple: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But a teenage girl and her mom in New Jersey figured out how to circumvent that difficult “trying” part — by whining until success was easily achieved.
At Hanover Park High School last month, a mother complained when her daughter got cut after cheerleading tryouts. Instead of telling her tough luck, the athletic director placated the mom and changed the team’s policy, allowing any wannabe cheerleader to join the squad.
Naturally this upset the kids who made the team fair and square, and they brought their grievances to the school board.
“I did not put in 18 months of work to lead up to this moment just to be told it didn’t matter anymore,” sophomore Jada Alcontara told News12 New Jersey.
Student Stephan Krueger added: “I tried my hardest. Now everything is going away because of one child who did not make the team. Now all my hard work has been thrown out the window.”
Despite its reputation, cheerleading isn’t just about shaking pompoms and yelling catchy chants. Squad members practice gymnastic maneuvers that require strength, flexibility and flair. Now there will be cheerleaders on the team who won’t possess enough of these skills, while those who do have seen their talents devalued.
Giving guaranteed slots to willing participants may make a team seem more inclusive, but it won’t force its members to be. People given an easy pass are unlikely to be met with open arms by those who earned their way.
And what happens to those who are accepted on the basis of “inclusion” rather than merit?
Three years ago New York City’s Fire Department found out after allowing female applicant Choeurlyne Doirin-Holder to fail her way into a $81,000-a-year desk job. Firefighters fumed at the preferential treatment in an online forum. “If you can’t meet the standards, you are a danger to yourself, the public and most importantly everyone operating on the fire ground who is doing their job,” one wrote, according to The Post.
All this mollycoddling comes at an emotional and developmental cost
That prediction proved accurate. After just 10 days on the job, Doirin-Holder was injured while inspecting equipment in a station house, stepping off a ladder incorrectly and fracturing her foot.
It’s not just the FDNY that has lowered standards. When some women were unable to pass the fitness test for combat positions in the Marines, one of the most difficult endurance tests for female recruits was removed. And as low levels of unemployment reduced their pool of potential enlistees, the Army started allowing at least 4 percent of those scoring at the bottom third of its aptitude tests into basic training (up from 2 percent). The Army also expanded its waivers for marijuana use, so where once a history of taking pot was disqualifying, it no longer is.
Lowering standards has become a nationwide — and even global — phenomenon. When schools were unable to pass the basic proficiency tests of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, educators simply made the tests easier over the years, allowing more kids to pass while keeping the schools’ federal funding intact. And, as of last year, teachers in New York no longer have to take a literacy test that many found too difficult. Meanwhile, in England, schools are now removing analogue clocks in exam rooms and replacing them with digital versions because students unable to read clock faces felt stressed about it.
All this mollycoddling comes at an emotional and developmental cost.
Jessica Lahey, author of the best-selling book “The Gift of Failure,” told The Post: “Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they know when we lower our expectations for them. When we give praise, awards or a slot on the team unearned . . . they no longer trust adults to be honest and unbiased arbiters of quality. Lying to kids about the quality of their work or downgrading our expectations so as not to make kids feel bad will only result in their no longer trusting our judgment.”
We’re not doing anyone any favors by opening the floodgates to the FDNY or even a cheerleading squad. Those given an easy way in end up having lower feelings of self-worth, because they know they didn’t earn their spot and have to face those who did every day. It’s humiliation — not charity.
A famous cheer goes, “We know we’re the best, better than all the rest.” But kids and adults everywhere are learning the destructive lesson that you don’t have to be the best anymore. Just showing up is enough.
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