By Gail Lipsitz, MAT
Driving home from work the other day, I was waiting at a long red light. In front of me was a Chevy pick-up truck. There was plenty of time to notice the bumper sticker on the back fender. It read: “MY KID BEAT UP YOUR HONOR STUDENT.”
I was both incredulous and offended. The fact that someone would drive around proclaiming such a perverse and hostile statement continues to disturb me. What would motivate a person to make this announcement? Is it some kind of crude or satirical humor? It certainly gives a message that glorifies bullying.
Perhaps this is a sociological statement, reflecting the divide in this country between “blue collar” and “white collar” workers. But it certainly doesn’t affirm the American dream that continues to motivate people from humble backgrounds to work their way up and achieve success – something that usually happens with the help of an education.
Putting down academic achievement is a prevalent attitude in some circumstances. In low income areas where the school drop-out rate is high, opportunities for employment are limited, and a sense of hopelessness is pervasive, some young people hold academic excellence (and even going to school at all) in contempt, or feel “why bother?” There was also a time, not so long ago, when girls did not want to appear “too smart” because that would turn off the boys.
But why attack a smart kid? Because you are jealous of his or her success and public recognition? This bumper sticker reminds me of former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s colorful epithets in the 1960’s, one of the most famous being when he ranted about the “effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
How about the other side of the coin? Walk around any parking lot in northwest Baltimore and you will see a lot of cars with those bumper stickers saying, “My kid made the honor roll.” Then there are the ones that say, “Again and again and again.” Why do parents display these? Certainly they are proud of their children, and they are also trying to motivate them to work hard and succeed academically. But there is an element of smugness in publicly boasting about a child’s achievements that bothers me.
What’s going on here, I think, is that parents are living through their kids, and they are being more open about it in a world where privacy is shrinking. Parents want, and sometimes are pushing, their children to compete and achieve in areas that the parents value. Has anyone ever asked the kids how they feel about these public announcements by their parents? Does the honor roll student want the whole world to know? What about his sibling who may not excel academically, but who may be a talented musician or swimmer, or who can fix any thing that is broken? And what does the truck driver’s child think? What values is that parent teaching when his kid sees that bumper sticker every time he gets in the truck?
Just about everyone would agree that education is a good thing, and that it’s good to praise a child and recognize his or her hard work and accomplishments. But in doing so, let’s not pit “my kid” against “your kid.” Let’s be careful not to put down other children who have strengths that are different. Our kids need to know that they are important, but that they are also part of a big world – and that their lives will be enriched by its diversity.
By Gail Lipsitz, MAT, Coordinator, Public Relations, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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