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Mixed Messages
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Thinking back over many years as a teacher (many years ago), and watching parents and children interact in a variety of social settings leads me to believe that we give children terribly mixed messages.

The very young children (especially first borns or onlys) are often made to feel unique, special, out of the ordinary, superlative in every way.

In preschool and in the early elementary years they are inculcated with the ideals of equal treatment, everthing divided up fairly, everyone's the same.

At the end of elementary school, 5th grade or so, a kind of meritocratic system develops. In sports and standardized tests, it is obvious that some perform better than others and are rewarded proportionately, the sports being reinforced way beyond any benefit to the community of children or the family. A good report card is fine, too.

Children begin to wonder what's fair, what's equitable. Do the bright kids, the sports stars, the students whose parents make a lot of money "deserve" more of life's goodies? Whatever happened to sharing and taking turns, as we learned in kindergarten?

Extreme egalitarian lessons give way to the rule of those who are better endowed, mentally, physically or by family connections. So where's the fairness, where is justice, now? What is equality? Should an individual go without life's necessities because he is lacking physical coordination or wealthy parents?

Are all people created equal? Clearly not; it would be grossly unfair to treat everybody exactly the same. So what is fair and equitable? Does having more of life's material resources equate with being a more worthwhile person?

Children have to negotiate these thorny questions and somehow, as adults, arrive at an answer which they feel is right (or that allows them access to as much of life's goodies as they can lay hands on).

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