Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Scoreless Games and Social Promotion

Underneath most trends and customs you will find the germ of some philosophy, ideology or creed. One such trend today seeks to downplay differences between people by eliminating consequences. And through the elimination of consequences, all the emphasis is put on process or experience. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going; the point is that you’re going...going somewhere.” That's right. As long as you are a bird in flight, destination and results are irrelevant.

The advantage to be had by doing this is to avoid being judged or feeling bad. This non-judgmental philosophy has long influenced public education policies and is just now beginning to find its way into the sports world. If you are a parent, you may have noticed the sport games children participate in are becoming “scoreless.” That is to say the score (or the results) to games are not being recorded or displayed. Although the practice of not keeping score at sporting events is not yet universal, it certainly is gaining currency.

With scoreless games, children are not only being spared the possibility of losing, but they are equally being deprived of the reward of winning. “It’s how you play the game,” some say. “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.” To be sure, there is some merit to this claim. The manner in which a child plays the game does count. And as for youngsters, such as five year olds, winning is not all important.

But the push for not keeping score is going beyond little league sports. It is making its way into an older demographic of players. And no doubt it derives from a philosophy of life. The main drive behind this “everybody wins” philosophy is to minimize, as much as possible, the bad feelings that come with losing; to eequalize the results. This is outcome-based sports at its finest.

Locally, in my neck of the woods, the little league baseball teams do not even have their own names or identity such as the Cubs or the Reds. The teams are given different color jerseys. As for the baseball caps, there are all the same. Although I do not claim to know the ulterior motives for this approach, I suspect there is an aversion for the “us versus them” dynamic.

When all is said and done, differences among teams and the unequal results that naturally issue from their athletic performances are quietly being discouraged. What is now beginning to be felt in the sports world has already been institutionalized in our nation's public education system.

For years, public schools have been practicing what is known as social promotion. Education Week defines it this way: "Social promotion is the practice of passing students along from grade to grade with their peers even if the students have not satisfied academic requirements or met performance standards at key grades. It is called "social" promotion because it is often carried out in the perceived interest of a student's social and psychological well-being" The same source goes on to report, “According to the American Federation of Teachers (1997), a majority of teachers reported that they had promoted unprepared students in the past year.”

It is interesting to note that if certain students were held back based on their performance, it would reflect poorly on public schools. As such, there is considerable pressure to pass on failing students to the next grade level. In some cases, it is an attempt to spare the child from experiencing a kind of "defeat." At the very least, social promotion seeks to avoid unfavorable judgments from outsiders.

For instance, in Spokane Public Schools, "Procedure 4425, written in 1988, says, 'No student shall be retained more than once during K-8 grades except in special cases' ('Policies,' 1988). The Procedure says it's because 'research demonstrates that retention does not help students who do not succeed because they have low potential; have social, emotional, or behavioral problems; or lack motivation.'" But with this kind of accommodation, it is very difficult to incentivize academic achievement. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to uphold standards of academic excellence. In no small measure has this contributed to the malaise of our public school system.

The point here is that social promotion in schools is reminiscent of that same aversion to winning and losing in sports. This egalitarian philosophy in which differences between people are eclipsed and the distinction between achievement and failure are blurred, has entrenched itself in our public institutions. This ought to concern Americans for the simple reason that a similar set of beliefs hastened the decline of the Roman Empire and other civilizations.

Scoreless games and social promotion are a kind of offshoot of secular-liberalism (and/or egalitarianism). It makes a god out of process and equality; so much so, that it reduces everything to one dead level. Indeed, as long as the emphasis is on the process, experience or the journey, we need not bother with results. And in the absence of results, there is no judgment, no failing, no losing. Only beginnings. T.S. Eliot put it this way: “That liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.”

All of what has been said about scoreless games and social promotion speaks to a deeper, more hidden spiritual reality. Our Lord said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (John 3:20-21)
This is not to say that everyone who endorses scoreless games and social promotion is guilty of some wicked deed. But collectively, when a people drift away from the Light of Christ, there is a strong tendency to avoid moral absolutes and the feelings of guilt that result from a failure to observe them. From this social drift, if you will, the human conscience then becomes oversensitive at the slightest hint of guilt or the prospect of being reproved. The suggestion that an examination of conscience is in order is aggressively shunned. As the book of Wisdom testifies, “For wickedness, of its nature cowardly, testifies in its own condemnation, and because of a distressed conscience, always magnifies misfortunes.” (17:11)

Could it be that losing a game or failing academically is but a faint reminder of the spiritual and moral misfortunes of life.? Unconfessed sin has far reaching effects. And in a society that denies the reality of sin, a distressed conscience can overreact to even the mere appearance of misfortune.

In any event, winning and losing as well as passing and failing prepares children for the ups and downs of life. More importantly, it prepares every one of us for eternity. After all, if going to heaven is ultimate success and going to hell is ultimate failure, it is good that we have a few illustrations and rehearsals on this side of eternity.

*Certainly not unrelated to scoreless games and social promotion is the utter intolerance demonstrated against those who oppose same-sex marriage. To stand for the Christian definition of marriage- a union between a man and a woman -is to merit both social and political retribution from those who subscribe to secular-liberal principles. The bottom line: It is an attempt to prevent the judgment or moral reproval of others.