Sunday, May 8, 2011

Learning as a competitive sport

Every time we cast learning as if it were a competitive sport by ranking and sorting kids where one must conquer another, we fail children more than they could ever fail us.

The best parents and teachers never make success artificially scarce by ensuring that if one child succeeds another must fail - but that is exactly what we are doing when we make learning a competition.

When we encourage children to raise their grade or ranking in comparison to their peers, we are really saying that we want other children to do badly.

Is there any surprise that Alfie Kohn describes this practice as "intellectually and morally bankrupt"?


  1. Don't you think that they will be ranked in society in general when they graduate? Then they will be unprepared for the competition in the real world. Don't we set them up by not teaching them the need for competion inherent in life?

  2. I agree, learning shouldn't be a competition between students. I think students would be better served by being taught how to compete with themselves to get better; to develop a drive to better their own learning, and not worry about anyone else. If they have this drive, they will handle the competition in the real world just fine.

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  4. In his book – No contest , the case against competition AK shows that competiveness does not get one very far. In fact it is those people who are supportive and know how to collaborate with people who do the best. Making our schools competitive so kids can deal with the real world is like polluting our schools so kids will be able to deal with pollution in the work place. Mrs E – puts it well – strive to compete against yourself and achieve excellence , that will prepare one for the real world.
    When assessment is not authentic and reduced to a number we have comparisons, rankings and competition. Phil Breseden ex Mayor of Nashville and Governor of Tennessee - Cspan lectures Accountability and schools notes that test scores only measure the company's ( school kids ) performance at a point of time. So we need much more frequent testing. The best outcome of bad data is that they become outdated very quickly. Unfortunately Phil Breseden doesn't appreciate that the data is inherently bad.
    I suggest to Phil Breseden and others to follow Joe's lead – ' I have not graded for 6 years , but I assess everyday.

  5. I agree with Mrs. E and Thinking Education. Competition is reality. The question is how do we get across an healthy understanding of competition while helping students develop their inner drive and motivation to improve. I work hard all year long to wean my students from their myopic attitude about the grade and focus on the learning. It's a valuable process.

    I think we have to be cautious that in our efforts to reform education, it's not a slash and burn approach.


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