I'm not who I was.
Once every other week, J goes to Art Club after school. Each year the Art Club kids participate in the Federal Junior Duck Stamp contest. They had been working specifically on their ducks since after the new year. I was intrigued to see what J would produce. She is definitely “artsy” in many ways, but coloring neatly isn’t her strongest attribute. (She comes by it honestly; I’m still a crayon-breaker even as an adult).
After the new year, there were several holidays that happened to land on J’s art club days. No school meant no Art Club after school, so J’s group was 3 weeks behind the rest in trying to make their deadline. Fortunately, extra days were eventually offered for any Art Club students who wanted to put more time in… or in J’s case, catch up.
One day after school, J informed me of another hiccup: her artwork had been lost. She said that because of this, her art teacher had drawn a duck for her to trace and color-in. “She did it to help me because I am so behind.” My eyebrows furrowed as I processed the situation. I tried to have J clarify her story for me several times, but it still ended up turning out the same in her words and understanding. It seemed that her new duck was not exactly hers. Now, before accusing anyone of dishonest actions, I kept in my mind that a lot can be lost in translation between teacher, student & parent, so I had plans to get the teacher’s side of the story. As it turns out, the instructor did draw a duck, but it was only in order to give J practice time with her coloring skills until they located her lost original art. (Which they did eventually find). There was never any intention of having J enter her only partly-hers art in the contest. I was very pleased to discover that it was just a misunderstanding on J’s part and that she wasn’t being encouraged to cheat. Other than J being put a bit MORE behind, no harm was done. In fact, some good came of it.
While waiting to get the full story, I had the opportunity to address the issue of integrity with J. She is not typically a purposefully dishonest kid. In fact she is pretty adamant about standing up for what’s right when it’s obvious to her. The trouble is, temptations to waver on integrity are often subtle. Throughout our conversation it became evident that J didn’t initially “get” why using the teacher’s outline for the contest would have been wrong… particularly because it wasn’t her fault that the artwork had been lost and because it was the teacher who had initiated the “help”. We had to discuss how *if* things were indeed the way that J had explained them to be, it would have been dishonest to enter art that someone else had drawn part of and claim it as her own. It would also have been unfair to the other kids who had legitimately done the work all on their own to compete with a partly adult-drawn duck. Not to mention, it would have been against the rules and warrant disqualification. I told J that it would have been better for her to turn in an incomplete work that was fully HERS and lose than it would have been to turn in the work that she had traced and win. You get the picture. Once I walked her through it, she understood. But she was disappointed.
For a little while, J had to face the idea that pulling out of a contest when she had already put so much effort into it may be a real possibility. She had to come to terms with the concept that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good in the moment. Integrity means honesty, regardless of convenience. Sometimes that costs you something pleasurable in the short term. Sometimes you have to give up what *seems* fair for what IS right.
Of course, as previously mentioned, it turned out that there was nothing to worry about. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to address the issue of integrity with my 7-year-old in a “little thing” that did not actually result in having to follow through with a difficult decision when it was all said and done. I’m proud that the work is ALL HER… I mean really, my child would choose a PINK duck, of course. I saw some of the winners’ work, and man, would you be seriously impressed at what some elementary kids can do.
Be intentional about upholding integrity today.