Everyone Shouldn’t Get a Trophy


Original Photo by Robert Corl

“Mom, look! I won! I won! I got a big ribbon!”

“Wow, sweetie, that’s great! What did you do?”

“All I did was show up to the game, mom! Isn’t it awesome?”

“Oh honey, you’re so special! Good job, I always knew you had it in you!”


There is a delicate balance between the two different mentalities of equality and competition, be it in communism versus capitalism, socialized health care versus privatized health care, or everyone gets a trophy versus only a few get a trophy. In some ways, equality is the morally correct option because not everyone is provided equal opportunities and resources; the less fortunate should not be left out. On the other hand, competition rewards dedication and hard work; those who do not put in the effort should not be treated the same. However, neither mentality is categorically correct or incorrect, as there should be balance. But what role should the two ideologies play in society? Specifically, should our education system adopt the mentality that everyone deserves a trophy? In the retrospective eyes of a student on the brink of college, no.

In the past few decades, society has attempted to become more “politically correct,” as in unbiased and nondiscriminatory. As noble of a goal as this may be, people have, in a multitude of ways, over-corrected. The streets are now filled with righteous, Twitter wielding social justice warriors that feel the need to combat everything ever said that has the potential to offend someone. Even the education system has been subject to the same social justice warriors, in the form of angry parents, who as though feel their child has been “left out.” While some of the strongly worded emails towards teachers may be justified, many fail to realize that their darling Jimmy doesn’t deserve a trophy because all he did was catch a ball in gym class. Despite this, the education system has, over time, succumbed to the pressures of rewarding basic behavior.

In elementary school, children receive medals for showing up and participating in field day at school. In middle school, students’ papers are littered with “Good Job!” stamps for merely writing their names on the paper. In high school, the grading system is formed such that A’s and B’s in many classes are earned by completing the assignments, but not necessarily by learning the material. Students with GPAs of 3.5 and above litter the hallways while putting minimum effort into their classes. So few students understand the concept of failure because the education system, and parents alike, has sheltered them from it. Is it so the schools can report better statistics? Or to attract more students to attend? Or do they worry of painting the world too dismally for students in such an important part of their life? Regardless, students live in a bubble, disconnected from the experiences of the real world.

In college, parents won’t be able to email their children out of missing assignments. Students won’t have 40% of their grade based on homework; they will actually need to learn the material to succeed on the tests. The professional work environment won’t be as forgiving either. Showing up to work late results in termination, not a visit to the dean’s office and lunch detention. The difference can be overwhelming, and the education system isn’t preparing students for the change, all as a direct result of the “everyone deserves a trophy” mentality.

As a society, we aren’t properly preparing our students by sheltering them from failure. There shouldn’t be a participation ribbon given to everyone other than the top 3 place winners; at that point, why even bother handing out rewards if they no longer have meaning? The principles of basic inflation show that when there is more of something, the value of that thing decreases, and praise is no different. Students should compete to succeed and that effort should be rewarded. At least the status quo rewards the top few more than others; however, it consoles the rest of the competitors with only slightly smaller trophies. Despite what people think, it is just as valuable for someone to learn what they’re bad at as it is for them to learn what they’re good at. But if we keep telling students that they are good at things they may not be, they are only given a false sense of security.

So what needs to change? For a start, people need to become more comfortable with the concept of failure. It is not the end of the world to get last place in a race; either it will serve as motivation to practice harder or to just find a different sport. Likewise, we shouldn’t shelter others from failure. The fear of “hurting someone’s feelings” should not dominate how we frame our education system. Competition is healthy and it’s time to embrace it.