I've been thinking about the topic of this post for a while, but I finally got annoyed enough to post about it today. Here goes.
A contest was spearheaded in Yeshivas all across the US and Canada, called The Gedolim Album Contest
. Basically, the Yeshivas distributed albums to the students. Within each album, there are 204 spaces for stickers of portraits of various Gedolim, past and present. The students need to fill the albums in as quickly as possible to be eligible for all sorts of prizes. From the type on the back of the album:
We invite all children to join our exciting campaign!
Be the first 135 to complete the full collection and win valuable prizes!
5 Grand prizes: first five completers win a free trip to Eretz Yisroel and to meet Gedolei Yisroel.
10 First prizes: 10 runner-ups win 10x speed bicycle.
20 Second prizes: 20 runner-ups win stereo system.
100 Third prizes: 100 runner-ups win Seforim.
Be from the first 25 to collect 102 cards (halfway through) of different Gedolim and win:
5 prizes: first five win a bicycle.
20 prizes: 20 runner-ups win 50 packs of Gedolim cards (100 cards total).
Now, let me preface my rant by saying that the idea behind this project is one that I can certainly embrace as a positive one. Who can object to children buzzing about cards of great Jewish religious figures, as opposed to trading baseball cards or Pokemon cards? I certainly can't. However, the execution of this project leaves much to be desired.
The project started out with an assembly. Each student was presented with an album, and a few packs of cards. They were told that they would receive additional packs as a reward for good behavior. That all seemed perfectly noble to me. Who doesn't love a reward-based system for good behavior? My son was beyond excited, and spent the first few weeks excitedly and meticulously placing the stickers he had earned in his album, working toward the exciting goal of the hope of winning the huge prizes he had read about on the back cover. Until.
He came home one day, complaining that his friend had filled so many more spaces in his album. My son happens to be doing very well in school, both behaviorally and educationally, so I was a bit surprised that his friend seemed to be receiving so much more positive reinforcement. I brought it up at Parent-Teachers Conferences, worried I was missing something in my son's behavior. I wasn't. The Rebbe explained that while my son was behaving beautifully, and was receiving packs of stickers at a good clip, there were many students in the class that had their parents purchasing the cards for them at the local Judaica store
. I was floored. I had no idea that these cards were also being sold, up and down the avenue, at $1.00 for a pack of 4. As soon as my son got wind of that, he was begging me to do the same as so many of his more well-off friends' parents were doing, and buck the system by buying huge quantities of sticker packages. I couldn't help but be reminded of the scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
, where Veruca Salt, the insufferable spoiled brat, has her filthy rich father employ an entire factory of workers to unwrap and discard thousands upon thousands of candy bars in order to find one winning ticket. The comparison is even more apt when you factor in the "random" nature of the stickers in the packages. I found this out the hard way. I finally gave in to my son's begging, and purchased a stack of packages to award him with when I felt his behavior warranted it. Unfortunately, the packages I bought all seemed to have been from an unshuffled print run, and my son received at least four of almost every card. I am not a statistician, but I would think that for him to receive 6 packs, with almost the identical cards in each pack by chance
, would have to be a highly coincidental event, and statistically improbable. So my splurging for the cards didn't even get my son anywhere. Seemingly, in order for my son to be competitive, I would have had to purchase hundreds of packs. But the kicker was when my son came home, aslking me for a dollar, to buy some cards off an older kid who was selling them for a "discount" on the bus. (Yes, I called the Yeshiva to inform them of the wheeling-and-dealing that one of their students were involved in. Though I have a feeling that this particular student will have his name prominently displayed on the main Yeshiva building in 20 years.) In addition, the prizes were all won very early on in the contest. Likely by parents who had a similar game plan to that of the aforementioned fictional Mr. Salt. Which, of course, made the contest a heck of a lot less competitive.
Now, I have no particular problem with the school running a behavior contest. A point system for good behavior can be fun, and competitive, and the prizes can be just as large and extravagant. But points cannot be bought in the local Judaica store or kosher supermarket. When they can, it becomes less a behavior contest than a wealth contest. And Lord knows we have enough of those around here.
Another issue I had with the contest was the subjectivity of the albums. For example, I personally know that there is a Lubavitch parent in my son's school who was extremely offended and incensed to see the past Lubavitcher Rebbe omitted from the album. Where is Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, inarguably a Gadol of our generation? Who was the arbiter of who the top 204 Gedolim are?
Again, let me reiterate that I think this project was of noble conception. But also of extremely poor execution.