The C Word in Education

Don’t panic, the C word is not what you think: the word is COMPETITION.

You may or may not think of competition every day, but it has become one of the leading topics in education right now. I really want you to think critically about this because it’s a hot topic. I may get a bit of lip from some people but just hear me out, because it’s important.

For the past year in class we have touched many times on competition and the potential effects it may have on students. I didn’t start really thinking about it until this semester during a specific lecture in one of my classes (sorry, I won’t tell you because it’s somewhat irrelevant).

Now before I throw myself out there, it’s important for you to understand that I like to look at both ends of the spectrum when talking about any topic. However, that lecture looked at only the really negative side of competition, and I just can’t have that. Here it goes…..

dominate-the-competitionRight now competition in education is looked as a negative force to some educators. It’s believed that competition is not a natural drive or part of human nature and that it was merely created by the western world.  “There is no such thing as healthy competition.” (Alfie Kohn).

In competition there are more losers than winners, which creates self doubt. Using competitive strategies in classrooms can be detrimental to a child’s development of self-acceptance, aim for personal excellence, and ability to have loving and supportive relationships.

It is also important that students must work around what is known as a community consciousness and learn to work together, not against each other. The idea of competition is really a sink or swim mentality. Therefore, if we must, all students must have an equal chance of winning and no one can.

I could keep going but that would be 20 pages down the blog. Now, I don’t disagree with all of these points being made. The fact that competition can lead to some serious damage towards childhood development isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is how we are going about this.

We live in a society today where competition is a reality. We compete for jobs, university programs, national sports teams, etc. What are we doing to these poor kids if we are teaching them that everyone is a winner????

It’s important to know that we cannot look at competition as black and white (winning or losing), but as an array of colors. Competition comes in many forms: competing against your personal best in a race, competing with other teams to solve a world problem, or even playing in a sports league.

competitionWhat we need to do as future educators is to teach!!!! Teach children the fundamentals of competition and that winning is not everything. Teach them that loss and failure is an important part of life and that all we need to do is get back and try again. It’s no big deal. Why? Because at the end of the day you are still a great kid.

I am beginning to feel that there is this fear among educators that they cannot have certain conversations with children because they are too fragile. I happen to know that kids can handle a lot; I was one of them (sob story for later), and they can handle a friendly talk about competition. We need to somewhat prepare them for the real world.

Just remember that competition can be fun, educational and safe. You don’t all have to be winners!!! And you’re not losing, really; you’re finding out what failure is and how to get back up. We just need to look at competition in different, positive ways. What do you think?



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1 Response

  1. Malcolm says:

    I totally agree. One of the biggest surprises to me was how unspoken and silent academic competition is in University (At least throughout my undergrad). Obviously very extreme competition exists at UVic for jobs and professional programs but there doesn’t seem to be great indicators for sucess or improvement :(.