The sub-species of scoundrel known as the cheating-parent doesn't just hope for the best for their child but seizes it with both hands. That's parenting according to the NASCAR ethic that “it ain't cheatin', it's just gaining an edge.” So it is that dim students win spots in good colleges. Their brighter classmates, the ones shackled to honest parents, get lapped at the very start, but then, what cheating-parent cares about that? They aren't concerned with somebody else's kids.
For those who resent the syndrome of the cheating-parent, Girl Scout cookie season evens the score, because, during this month and next, the meddling of the adults doesn't offer an advantage. It actually takes the edge away from their daughters. It's an injustice in which many are complicit, without wanting to be.
At this time of the year, a few customers may truly seek out the cookies, which we all know are wildly overpriced, costing $5 or $6 for a lightweight box that'd cost a buck-and-a-half under any other brand. Obviously, that's not the point. As with any fund-drive, the idea is to support the cause, but with the cookies, uniquely, customers buy them to give “the awesome girls who sell them,” in the words of the Girl Scouts, “the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within.” Research has shown that none of that happens when parents sell the cookies at work.
The cookie drive should be better than that. Selling is crucial to every endeavor, in that it requires the ability to make a convincing presentation, to answer questions, and to project self-assurance. Everyone needs to do that, in one form or another, but that last attribute, in particular, is sometimes lacking in the best of us, especially shy young ladies.
Since Girl Scout troops keep track of sales by individuals, even offering prizes for the best results, parent-cheaters can hardly resist the chance to prove their own sales skills and boost their girl to the top of the ranking. So it is that the cookies land on a desk in a skyscraper without a Girl Scout in sight.
At the cookie booths operated by troops at malls or on street corners, you can try and do your part for the girls, asking one of them a question in order to coax her into a sales pitch. The answer, however, is likely to come in an adult voice from somewhere in the background. Soon enough, the Girl Scout will be nudged aside, while the parent makes a stunning display of his or her business skills. Thanks.
If a Scout comes over to the house for a sales call, a parent will undoubtedly come along as an escort. That's all right, except that the parent will do all the talking, no matter how hard one tries to give the awesome girl standing off to the side the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within. With the adult recording the sale and later delivering the cookies, their daughter the Girl Scout—all in one stroke!—wins a prize for outstanding sales and loses the chance to learn something about sales.
I remember a similar situation when, for extra credit, the sixth-graders in our local school were invited to select an ancient Greek temple and build a wooden model of it. On the morning that the temples were displayed on a long table in the back of the classroom, the teacher proudly surveyed about a half-dozen striking replicas made out of hardwood and crafted in such exacting detail that the Greek government could have arrayed them at the embassy in Washington.
Next to those replicas and at the end of the line was a temple taped together out of balsa wood, Elmer’s Glue-All oozing out of the crevices. Its builder had bypassed masterpieces of architecture honoring Apollo and Athena—with colonnades, pediments, and grand steps—finding instead a picture of an ancient Greek temple shaped like a car wash. Even so, in miniature at the back of the classroom, it leaned. Once the display was up, dads were on hand to take photos and carefully nudge the other temples to the perfect center of their painted bases. The builder of the last temple didn’t dare touch it. Or breathe on it. Quite obviously, that intrepid little person was up against the fathers of the other students, grown men who had woodworking shops in their basements.
I… was that sloppy little person. I received a grade of C (C– to be specific). Nonetheless, I learned a heck of a lot more than my classmates had.
For the sake of the runny-nosed little girl, who keeps poor sales records, lets her boxes get crushed in the back of the car, and exhibits more enthusiasm than smooth-talk, kindly sidestep the parent-cheaters and let her learn. In fact, make her learn and insist she does the talking.
J.M. Fenster is the author of Cheaters Always Win: The Story of America.