Over the past couple weeks, our school has sponsored several charitable "drives" in the spirit of the season. Before Christmas, there was a huge canned food drive for a local food pantry. This week, there was a drive to assemble care packages for the troops. Still to come is a drive to collect hats, gloves, and warm socks for a local charity. Many students have really gotten into these drives, and a tremendous amount of good has been done for those in need. Kids were seen walking down the halls with boxes filled with canned goods or items to add to a care package. It's a heartwarming thing to see kids so filled with the spirit of giving and helping.
The unfortunate thing is that it's not really the spirit of charity that is driving those kids. It is instead the spirit of competition that has caused kids to go out and drop significant sums of money on mac and cheese and Ramen noodles. Each drive we've sponsored has carried with it a "prize." The first hour class that brought in the most cans got a pre-Thanksgiving donut party. The fifth hour class that was the first to bring in a completed care package gets a pre-Christmas pizza party. The spirit of charity has seemingly been lost as students instead engage in a battle of one-upmanship. One class, in order to be the first to complete the care package challenge, even went so far as to deliver their care package to a teacher at her house the night before. This, of course, launched a huge spirit of protest amongst teachers whose classes were not the first (and I'll admit that I, whose class was technically the second one turned in since I "foolishly" waited to turn ours in the next morning, was among the disgruntled and the words "cheater" did cross my lips albeit jokingly). One teacher (not me) even went so far as to say, "Well, now what incentive do the kids have to do this?" Ummmm....charity? Holiday spirit? The satisfaction of knowing that they've just brought a little happiness to someone who has put his/her life on the line on behalf of this country?
I'm not 100% sure what lesson the kids are learning from all of this, but my concern is that it's not a positive one. If charity does not come with a reward, will they do it? Would my fifth hour students have been scrambling around town to track down bottles of lotion and decks of playing cards if they hadn't been competing for some free pizza? Did donuts and donuts alone prompt students to bring in nearly 1000 canned goods? When they are adults, will these kids be willing to give to a charity (whether it's time, money, or goods) if there is no reward other than the positive feeling that comes with helping others? I don't know. When I explained to my fifth hour class why we had not won the care package challenge, I talked a lot to them about how proud I was of them for helping and what a wonderful thing they had done . . . but I also told them *I* would buy them the pizza I felt they'd been cheated out of. I fed the beast of competition again -- in the name of charity. I guess I'm just as guilty as they are for letting my competitive spirit loose.