Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bumper Stickers and Bragging

In my conversations with parents or in conversations I overhear around town, I’ve noticed that many parents publically mention their children’s grades to one another.

It goes something like this:

Me: How are your kids doing these days?

Another Parent: Great. Yea, _____ is getting a 4.7 this year. We are so lucky with our kids. _____ has never even brought home a “B.”

Me: Holy cow, that sounds like (s)he’s been really working hard.

Another Parent: Yea, we are so blessed. They are really great kids.

Or, a FaceBook entry from a Proud Parent: “ ______ got a 4.0 this term. We are so proud of her/him.”

Or, a bumper sticker: “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student at _____ School.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your child’s accomplishments, but let’s think about the message we parents are sending when we announce their grades in public. When we publically proclaim our kid’s grades, we are focusing on their performance instead of focusing on them as whole people. When we do this it’s easy to believe their (good or bad) performance determines WHO they are and HOW they are. I’m reminded of this in the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” when one of the teachers talks about this performance-driven society. Derrick, a teacher in Oakland reflects, “You never knew if he was a good kid, you only knew he was a good student.”

Another reason I’m not fond of talking about my child’s grades publically is I believe it is an invasion of privacy. Adults would never dream of asking each other publically how much money they made last year, yet they don’t have any qualms about telling friends what their child’s GPA is. I personally find it a bit offensive when someone asks me directly or indirectly what my child’s grades are. My child’s grades are his business. Not mine, or my friend’s. If we expect our children to take ownership of their grades, then we must give them the respect they deserve by allowing them to monitor their own grades and make adjustments when they feel it’s needed.

Is it ok to bribe your children to get better grades? That, to me, is like bribing your spouse (with a new gadget or vacation or massages for a year) if he or she brings home a bigger paycheck. Would we ever do that? No! Yet we do it with our kids. What good will come of bribing kids? It will most certainly improve their grades, but at what cost? They may cheat or lie to get a better grade. They may even develop stress-related illnesses to get better grades. And, bribing or rewarding takes the focus off learning. Our kids are supposed to be getting excited about the new things they are learning in school and in life. If we bribe them to get a higher measurable result on a test or in a class, we are overriding the importance of learning with the importance of the outcome--the grade, the number.

It is true that we live in a numbers driven society. In fact, our definition of success is often determined by things that can be measured numerically – grade point averages, salaries, price of house we own, price of cars we drive, price of college we attend, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in this, and harder to stop. But we must stop this focus if we want to value the whole child and his or her learning experience.

The next time someone mentions their children’s grades in public, what are some good responses? How about, “That’s great, but does he/she have any hobbies or time for fun things outside of school?” or, “What else does he/she like about school besides getting good grades?” or, “Who are your child’s closest friends these days?” or, “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about my kid’s grades, but I’ll tell you what he/she is really into these days…”

My husband had a great idea for a bumper sticker. Instead of “My child is an honor roll student” he suggested, “Honor the student, NOT the roll!” And, here’s another one I like, “At ____ school, EVERY student is an HONORED student.”


  1. Kudos and amen to everything you said! I'm never sure what to say when people seem to slip in their child's GPA in the middle of a conversation. It's too bad that the "average" student these days is destined to feel like a failure because they can't even qualify for admission to our (failing) state colleges. A changing, well-rounded education should be the focus of future generations of students.

  2. I am so happy to read your post. I agree that my child's performance at school is none of anyone's business. Honor Roll bumper stickers are not on my car because being on the honor roll does not measure a child's learning, only his/her performance. Our kids are growing up in a society that provides constant opportunities to "go public." Facebook, MySpace, texting, bumper stickers... I'm trying to teach my children the value of "holding their cards close to their chest." We lose ourselves if we think every aspect of our lives is meant to be shown to the world.

  3. I like "honor the student, not the roll."

  4. I totally agree Kerry! Why do parents feel they have to brag about their child's academic performance? I believe they think it is a reflection on how good a parent they are! Not to brag, but I believe I am one of the most involved, concerned, loving, and supportive parents I know, and my kids grades are very average to below average. So what's wrong with us? My midddle schooler is bored and disengaged with school. He just does not care about most of the stuff he learns or does in school. Why? I wish I could figure it out. I just think he is bored and find the internet and the xbox so much more engaging and interesting. Yes it is a problem, I think. But what to do???

  5. you could not be more accurate and right about this...I am with you!Another thing that I found is not appropriate is high school seniors who likes to bragg and show up their new college sweater ( which college they have been accepted).
    They do this by wearing it in front of the entire school....I can understand they are proud to be accepted to such and such college but it feels like a competition and put peer pressure on kids that were not accepted to the college they wanted to.I do not mind having them share it at home with family and close friends but to walk on your high school campus...with your college'sname written all over feel not right to me.Would adults walk around the office with a sweater saying a got promoted to such and such place????

  6. It's super tacky to slip your child's GPA into conversation. Just as it would be to slip your husband's salary into conversation. No matter how proud you are of either one, it's just not polite to shout it from the roof.

    That said, I have no problem 'bribing' my child with a treat if he gets straight As. I see it as a reward for hard work. < Key Words, There! Focus on the hard work! < Just as we would pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate a salary increase/job promotion.

    I wouldn't promise him a treat for a good report card, if I thought it would stress him out. As far as not focusing on the grade, well, the kids already do, so you are fooling yourself if you think they aren't.

    Finally, I do not let my child watch TV, or play video/computer games. It's the best things we've done for him. He loves Learning! And School! And Books! And he is a fun, creative, sporty, active, polite child. I know he would not be such a book work or be excelling at school the way he is if he was a couch potato.

    Sorry, but no one has ever said those things are good for your kid - so why would you allow it?

  7. Two months ago, a neighbour of mine asked me how my son was handling the pressure of school/homework. Her daughter, who is in a different school, is coming home from school each night in floods of tears due to the pressure that is put upon her to study.

    My neighbour was very unhappy that this was happening and talked about the need for less pressure on her daughter from her school and that she would be contacting the school to make a complaint.

    Last week, the same neighbour asked me how many GCSEs my son is doing early (answer: none). She then spoke enthusiastically about the fact that her daughter is taking 3 this year (a year early) and that she will be taking 15 in total. The average number for a `bright' student is 9.

    What's all that about?

  8. My daughter attended private school from K-4. The school's bumper sticker read: "We Honor ALL our Students at XYZ School."

  9. I have a well rounded inquisitive child with ADD who sees himself as a failure because his grades don't reflect his understanding. My heart broke as he tried like crazy to make the honor roll. What is our society doing to the children? When I was in school, we actually got two grades for each class: one traditional grade and one EFFORT grade. This way my family could celebrate our hard work, and I think this is why my brothers and I kept getting advanced degrees. It wasn't because we were getting good grades. It was because effort was valued and - it was because we LOVED (and still do) LEARNING.

  10. I reluctantly put my kid's honor roll sticker on the bumper because he wanted me to. I think I will have a chat w/ him about this. I really don't like those bumper stickers because I think they make others feel bad, and I don't like to brag.

    I'm so fed up w/ public school these days....

  11. Love your post. It's well said and well written. I basically tell my kids to try their best and find what their talents and interests are. We have limited television and computer games. No games or T.V. until homework is finished. We do have a Wii but not an Xbox. The Wii keeps them active and not as "addicted." I also find the parents who say "our children don't watch television or play video games, they love to read." are just as annoying as the parents who brag about their child's GPA.

  12. "Our kids are supposed to be getting excited about the new things they are learning in school and in life." This presupposes the school is teaching them anything new.

  13. I no longer enjoy talking with some friends because all conversations end up being about their kids' school performance. They continuously monintor their children's grades online, and if they dip below an A, they completely stress out and complain to the teacher. (Notice that the parent takes the primary role in monitoring the grades, rather than the perfectly capable high school student.) I have little to contribute to these conversations because I think my children's grades are not anyone else's concern. Are people so insecure that they have to use their children's achievement to raise their own self esteem, social status, etc.?

    I have also come to dislike the "student of the month" bumper stickers at our middle school. Students receive a sticker on the recommendation of a teacher, but not all teachers participate in the program. But even though not all students have an equal chance to earn a sticker, parents still use them as a bragging tool. It seems like every car at school at pick up time has at least one sticker; some cars have multiple stickers. I've heard one parent complain because her child hadn't gotten one while other (in her eyes) "less deserving" children did.

  14. "Finally, I do not let my child watch TV, or play video/computer games. He loves Learning! And School! And Books!"

    This type of bragging is outright nauseating. In fact, it's worse than publicly boasting about grades. When parents boast that their children just love books and school and learning because they don't allow them to watch TV or play video games, the parent is simply seeking attention for themselves and what an "awesome" job they are doing.

    What's next? A competition to see which child loves the most vegetables because we don't allow them to eat candy?

    Please. Stop using your child as a merit badge.

  15. Hi Kerry - thanks for this post. I really like the idea of printing up a bumper sticker that says "At ________ school, every student is an honored student!"

  16. Cool idea Kerry.
    It's either that or the "My kid can kick your honor student's ass" bumper sticker...

  17. LOVED this post. I have been guilty of some of the things you wrote about and the blog was refreshing and a good check for me.

    The other day I asked my teenage son what he had learned in high school and his comment was, “Mom, public school isn’t about learning, it’s about getting good grades.”

    That being said, I do think the boys are learning at their public high school, but there definitely is a huge focus on grades, and with the pressures of college admissions, it is hard not to fall into that trap.

  18. two thumbs up! i think everyone - parents, kids, educators, communities - need to understand that the end point is most important focus, and that is on raising kids to be happy, productive and healthy citizens. schools are suppose to help us achieve that, not be a huge hurdle to get there.

  19. This is a pet peeve of mine unless I’m with my CLOSEST friends, and it pertains to the subject, i.e. HOW are they getting into a college without a certain GPA? It’s so sad that our average, good students can’t feel successful just because they don’t have 4.7’s and all AP classes!
    I’ve also been very frustrated with the curriculum when it comes to “projects” and such. Even my high school senior has a very time/money consuming project this year that basically grades him on his scrap-booking skills. Not what I envision mattering in his future!! I’m biting my tongue until the end of the year before I let the teacher know my feelings.

  20. Shortly after our son was diagnosed with autism, I could not pass one of those vans with the stickers without crying -- knowing that there were so many parents who only fixate on accomplishments, knowing that according to those parents I'm a failure and so is my son. KNowing how many parents dismiss those who aren't perfect.