Boston — I used to know a teacher who ran enormously popular all-school contests. They weren't athletic events. They were academically rigorous, intellectually exciting scavenger hunts where special bits of information and not physical trivia were what was sought.
Parents, friends, relatives, in fact anyone but a local schoolteacher or administrator could be asked to help.
And the local public library found that some of the most esoteric reference books had to be placed on the reserve shelf during the heat of the contest.
While the scavenger hunts themselves were popular, the prizes, as the kids said, were "something else." First prize: a one- day climb up a local mountain using the blue trail. Carrots and raisins to be supplied by the leader.
Second prize: a one-day climb up a local mountain using the blue trail. Only carrots and no raisins supplied by the leader.
Third prize: a one-day climb up a local mountain using the "most difficult" red trail. No carrots or raisins supplied by the leader.
As one of the more competitive scavengers said when she read the directions for the hunt and the list of prizes: "This is the first time I've ever wished I could come in fourth!"
I knew another teacher who used to hold spelling bees, and the one who came in first had to teach the one who came in last 10 new words. The second place winner had to teach 10 new words to the one next to last, and so on.
And yet another who ran all sorts of contests during the school year, requiring that the winners bring something for the class toy box -- a collection of old, pupil- repaired toys which the local firemen gave away for them each spring.
Probably no school practice is more devastating or counterproductive than the awards system which honors a few (generally the same few year after year), and neglects the many.
Many a child has worked to the best of her or his ability on a project, only to be an "also ran" in a field not of his choosing. There's no way to make such a practice fair or just.
If everyone is to produce, and all work to capacity, then teachers and administrators should have as much ingenuity as the children and provide awards to meet each accomplishment.
Children love prizes, ribbons, and awards, and should have every chance to earn them. And it behooves those who love children enough to teach them, to plan awards activities which bring joy to everyone who participated.
Back to the mountain climb: One year the winning scavenger hunt team was made up of "bookish" girls, and the team that came in last were so delighted with the thought of those girls doing all that hiking that they offered to come along and carry the heavy carrots a nd raisins!
:Next week: A spelling test