A lot of what the Olympic scholars and competitors at the Waldorf School had to say reminds me that children often get it right.
When my younger daughter was six or seven, she participated in a summer program that took place a couple of evenings a week at the high school track. Several remarkably patient men organized it, hoping, I think, that the program might encourage perspective soccer, football, baseball, and basketball players to pay some attention to running and jumping. Maybe these kids would become dedicated sprinters, quarter milers, and pole vaulters when they reached their teens.
I don't know if it worked out that way, but I do remember being amazed at how patient the kids were when they waited, and waited, and waited for the adults to finish measuring each jump, though the kids would probably have preferred to just keep jumping.
I remember that nobody cheated, though it would have been easy to do so. And I remember that though the adults made it clear that winners got blue ribbons and those finishing second got red ones, most of the kids were equally happy to get green, pink, or yellow ribbons, or brown ribbons, or purple ribbons, and some of them traded whatever they won so as to go home with a ribbon of every color.
Like the students at the Waldorf School, I've done some research into the Olympics recently, and I discovered that in the early games, to paraphrase something Vince Lombardi is supposed to have said, winning was both everything and the only thing. There were no silver or bronze medals. It strikes me that my daughter and her friends and fellow-competitors would have found that an exceptionally dull arrangement.
Recently, I've also seen a lot of kids get it right on the basketball court, where my daughter now spends a lot of her time. When games go badly, some of the parents of the players, myself included, get pretty upset. We wonder how the tournament officials could have matched our small, inexperienced girls against this or that aggregation of amazons, all probably bound for UConn or Tennessee. We assure each other that if they got fair draw, our kids would do much better.
The kids, meanwhile, are doing fine. They play on. For the most part they smile at their teammates' mistakes and shrug off their own. When one of their number makes a sharp pass or scores, they cheer from the bench, never mind that the basket doesn't pull them to within twenty five points of the other team. At the end of the game, they line up, shake hands, and say "nice game" to their towering adversaries, as if they were just kids like themselves.
This program aired on June 4, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.