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In time for Thanksgiving, we dredged up the last box of old sports trophies from the bowels of a bedroom closet. For our adult sons, home for the holiday, the message is: These trophies need to go.

In the distant future, archeologists may puzzle over landfills crammed with plastic artifacts engraved with "Rose City Tournament, 4th Place, 1996," or "SRYSL, Participant, 1989."

Some of these mementos — and there are dozens of them — testify to our sons' contributions to winning teams; some were their reward for showing up.

Win or lose, the drill was usually the same: Year-end party, eat pizza, hand out trophies. I'm not sure when or how this ritual started, but it became what was expected for teams that won and teams that didn't.

This obligation never made sense. Kids know the score, and kids are tougher than that. But I never knew a parent to refuse. For parents, there was a mix of emotions at play in these season-ending rituals.

The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote last week about "the modern cult of self-esteem" and the recent opposition to more rigorous national standards for America's schools. Bruni's column asked the question: "Are kids too coddled?"

Bruni found his answer in an analysis from Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy: "While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better."

I'm not sure how, but Bruni even knew about the plastic statuary gathering dust in our spare bedroom closet. As proof of the ways we coddle kids, he mentioned trophies awarded "for participation."

What Bruni didn't say is that the movement to shield children from consequences didn't begin in New York or Washington.

The self-esteem movement began — where else? — in California. In 1986, Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, signed into law the measure to create the State Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility.

The bill was championed by a Democrat, Assemblyman John Vasconcellos of San Jose. Channeling what he learned from various new-age movements, Vasconcellos would become the Johnny Appleseed of the self-esteem movement.

In the Doonesbury comic strips and elsewhere, the commission became the butt of jokes about those wacky people in California. A San Jose State University political scientist told the New York Times, "It sounds so California. I can't imagine Idaho having a task force on self-esteem."

But never under-estimate the power of an idea born in the Golden State. Soon enough, parents, teachers and coaches all over the country were finding ways to shelter kids from life's bumps and bruises.

It should be said that the good intentions that drove the self-esteem movement were a response to institutions that sometimes seemed determined to make kids feel bad about themselves.

Just as it doesn't help to tell a youngster he will be the next NBA superstar, it doesn't help to tell him that he will never be good at anything. For a time, the teaching of discipline and toughness seemed to require arbitrary punishments and other ways of administering humiliation. Be around organized groups of youngsters for very long and you will encounter a teacher or coach who thinks sarcasm and screaming are the only effective forms of communication.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the self-esteem movement wandered into the weeds, swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction.

We all have our stories to tell — of inflated grades, of pass-fail courses, of spelling and grammar errors left uncorrected, of classes devoted to watching movies, of closets full of plastic trophies.

In some ways, Bruni's column comes late to the game. In recent years, educators and some parents, too, have been moving away from the approach that worries more about children's feelings than about their ability to compose a complete sentence, write an equation or work in groups to solve problems.

Bruni's column, after all, focuses on the reaction to the Common Core curriculum, a system of national standards that requires students to demonstrate their success in learning.

Over the past decade, it's been easy to fault the way that new, one-size-fits-all tests have been written and administered. There is more to learning than passing a test. But these testing regimes do recognize that kids won't succeed without hard work and the occasional disappointment.

As a society, we are searching for that middle ground, where we know when to praise kids and when to remind them that life comes with responsibilities.

We learn as we go along. I know many young adults, including my own children, who survived the self-esteem movement and found success.

Now if they just get those damned trophies out of my house . . .

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.