Trophy Syndrome

Last week’s launch of the NFL season provides a timely and compelling way to excite your students about the tools of argument, beginning with this recent Instagram gem brought to my attention by fellow teacher and TpTer T.:

Apparently, the sports world has been abuzz with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s decision last month to give back his 8- and 6-year-old sons’ participation trophies to the children’s sports league. The public move by Harrison (admittedly not always the greatest role model) renewed interest in the ongoing debate about the benefit/harm created by such trophies, awards, and accolades. This reminds me of the 2012 commencement speech given by English teacher David McCullough Jr. to the graduates of Wellesley High School, when he struck a similar chord by calling into question the selfishness that’s bred when children are raised to believe they are special and unique.

View McCullough’s speech here:

And here’s a companion clip to bring the debate back to Harrison’s point:

Think your students would have opinions about these issues? Oh yeah they will. To help guide a discussion of the McCullough speech, I built a set of questions to get students thinking about not only the way they and their classmates were raised, but also the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of McCullough’s rhetoric. Click here to check out my companion lesson materials.

As for Harrison and his fellow Steelers, I’ll have a whole new reason to watch #92 of the black-and-yellow take the field this Sunday against my San Francisco 49ers; I know my students, too, will love debating Harrison’s points in class and then watching him compete on the gridiron.

Teach on, everyone!

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8 years ago

I cannot wait to implement this lesson! I am waiting to introduce this right before we delve into the rhetorical triangle and their argumentative essays. I don’t know where you find all of these videos, but I am grateful.

I am glad that this conversation is rekindling. I am amazed that how much the trophy business has grown–exponentially–over the years. I will not give my opinion on participation trophies because this week has clobbered me and I cannot form any coherent sentences, but I am looking forward to sitting back and listening to any debates about this topic.

Laura Randazzo
8 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

Glad you like this one, Michelle. Indeed, the kids will have A LOT to say on this topic. The rub is that they’re all wise to us anyway. The teens I’ve used this lesson with tell me they all know, by about the age of 7, the difference between real accolades and participation trophies/generic compliments. Enjoy the conversation!

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