I was reading Xan's umpteenth post on Skipping Levels, and I realized something. There's a really important part of the equation that's getting left out: The Kids.
PrepSchool and Stitch used to be friends. They'd play during group class warmups and during public skate together. But ever since PrepSchool's sudden bump, PrepSchool doesn't talk to Stitch anymore. PrepSchool just eyes Stitch with a weird disdain. During last session, when we got stuck watching the Pre-Freestyle group working, Stitch watched PrepSchool. The disconnect in Stitch's mind was clear in his expression, and it was painful for me to see. I think Stitch knows that Gordon has been bumped to Pre-Freestyle. I didn't tell him, I was keeping that from him to avoid the hurt he gets from The Prepschool Situation, but I think he knows. Coach might had told him, or Gordon did. Last week we were waiting for Gordon's lesson to finish and I went to the glass. "Let's watch Gordon," I said cheerily.
"Yup," frowned Stitch. "There he is. Not. Very. Good."
I shushed him and told him that kind of talk wasn't acceptable, but he was right.
How do I explain to a kid who literally skates his butt off that those other kids are cheating? How can I justify to him that they're in that higher level, when they don't skate as good as he does? They're cheating, and their moms force it, the rink tolerates it, some coaches condone it, and the kids can't skate for shit, but there's absolutely nothing I can do to fix it.
You can't tell a young child, "Just wait a few years and this bullshit will catch up with them. Don't worry." I might as well tell Stitch to wait until he's thirty. The bruises are now, the ice kisses are now, the hours and hours in skates are now. He sees the disparity as much as I do, and I can tell that this is a major bummer for him.
The other kids are getting their labels whether they've earned them or not, and I'm left holding the bag on a kid who is hurt and confused. I am really glad that we don't have to watch the Pre-Freestyle session anymore, and I can now take Stitch back into the relative isolation from the aura that these cheaters create. When he does get there, he will be ready, confident, and every bit the happy skater he is now. Not the slow, stumbly, awkward and embarrassed messes we saw out there, the ones who didn't earn it.
Children fixate on Labels. Overhearing Lucy rag on Stitch for being in a level lower than her makes this plain. "Look beyond the Label, Stitch," is what I want to say. Perhaps I can take this chance to teach that Labels on people are stupid. They are nothing more than fabricated constructs; easily altered, distorted, created and destroyed according to some passing fad. And L2S/Basic Skills is a passing fad. There will come a day when it ends, and then what? Reality sets in, I guess.
In the meantime, I can't blame Stitch for his feelings. The problem seems so ingrained in Home Rink's culture, he's got no choice but to soldier on through this. The Patch Quest is serving as a good defense against detractors and cheaters. Secretly, I'm hoping it ends up throwing a wrench into the Cheating Culture so readily absorbed by parents needing an ego feed and kids who aren't being taught to be any better.
Stitch is a great skater, no matter what level he's in. He's also really smart. He reads and comprehends text well above his grade level. That doesn't mean I'll be asking him to be bumped to fourth grade. Reality, people.