The story of a Connecticut eighth-grader who feels he was cheated in Jeopardy recently popped across my monitor and caught my attention—as a teacher, yes, but as a parent as well.
The answer to the Final Jeopardy question was “Emancipation Proclamation.” The young man spelled it “Emanciptation” Proclamation.
The spelling is incorrect—and more than a simple misspelling, it creates a new, pronounceable word; so, it’s impossible to know if the young man thought this is how you spell “emancipation” or if, in fact, he believes the document is called the “Emanciptation” Proclamation.
As an English teacher, I would tend to side with the judges on the game show. A simple misspelling—where he wrote, perhaps, “’Emmancipation’” Proclamation” might be a tougher call. But this young man’s answer was wrong.
It was wrong.
And the fact that it was wrong is okay.
What’s not okay is that his response—not to mention the response of many, many adults—is that he was cheated.
As the mother of three children, I can say with confidence they make mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all do. But when we stomp our feet and blame others, then say we were cheated, we miss the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
When we say we were “cheated,” it implies we have done nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong, and that the fickle finger of fate has somehow selected us for a moment of bad luck. But ask my husband about the time he was pickpocketed in Paris and he will tell you he should not have had his wallet in his back pocket. Ask me about my camera being stolen in Athens and I will tell you I should have had my hand on it the entire time I was on the train.
To my children, I try to impart that no matter whatever hand life deals us, we always bear some responsibility—sometimes in the event itself, other times in how we handle it. It’s a question I regularly ask them after they lament the latest injustice that is plaguing them: “What part did you play in this event?” If the answer is “none,” we dig a little more deeply.
No one is doing this young man—or the young men I am raising—any favors by allowing him to think himself blameless. His public proclamation that he can make a mistake and still be entitled to the prize sets my children up for disappointment. They will see him here in this moment; and when their moment of loss comes, they will wonder where the public’s, indeed their mother’s, sympathy is.
But sympathy plays no part. What does is the type of adult I want to send out into the world: an adult who can say “I’m sorry” and mean it, who can accept responsibility for his transgressions, who can learn from his mistakes, who can maintain his dignity in the face of loss.
Anything else is the real jeopardy.