Saturday, August 09, 2008

Education - Is it better to Compete or to Cooperate?


I recently had a discussion with some educators who teach college and some educators who teach high school. The topic was Cooperation or Competition in school.

As I have stated before when I was teaching in a college setting I was and I'm still not in favor of grades.

Students (Pre-School – Grade 16) worry more about grades than they do learning or being creative or innovative and that is a tragedy not only of our education system but also to those who think education is a game. Grades destroy Joy of Learning.

I wonder if there is a rise in verbal or physical abuse at home when it’s report card time. I remember our pastor would sit in front of the class and read each name, if a boy student got a “D” or lower he would toss the card on the floor, as you bent to pick it up he whacked you with his cane. I don’t remember anything being done to the girls (I guess they all got good grades). The whack was motivating, the boys spent many hours making cheat sheets and getting sick on report card day.

Many School Administrators, Middle School and High School teachers worry more about state test scores results than they do a child failing. Sorry people, state test scores DO NOT measure a child's knowledge or intelligence, they measure "Rote" learning at best. I don't blame these folks and in most cases they agree with me. The Feds and State own the educational system and they have no means by which to manage it for success.

How come so many teachers and coaches fret more about their own territorial spaces than they do the spirit of cooperation through open and honest communication. If they worried as much about a child not learning as they do with having a star player on their team we would not be in half of the messes we are today in education.

Why is our education system so competitive? I can understand sports (NOT GYM) and games, but learning should be a joy shared by all so that our whole (system) society benefits. Stop looking at the middle grades and later grades for the answers. I call it trickle down root causes that start from kindergarten (start labeling here, and self-esteem goes south) and it progresses through school years until one deems himself/herself incapable or a failure.

It's always about ME, look at ME, I want to feature MYSELF!

I guess by now you can tell what side of the fence I am on, in fact I was all by myself in this discussion. The first statements were “Competition will prepare the kids for the real world, it’s tough out their just look how many are unemployed.” And, “how will we know who is the best, the smartest, the ones who get the scholarships?” My favorite “If you don’t have competition, everyone will be able to go to Harvard and Yale and of course the University of Michigan.”

qualityg’s response “Who Cares.” They responded “We all care about education, how can you say that?” qg says… - "I did not say I don’t care about education, I said who cares about being the best when it comes to education, and if you cared about education you would understand the correlation between high school dropouts and the unemployed."

I know I’m in the minority when it comes to this topic, but I don’t see Education as a game, I don’t see it having winners or losers, because each time a student fails we all fail and the effects are enormous on the economy, workplace, family, crime, etc… etc….

Education is a basic need like food and water for our existence. Why do we want to destroy so many children starting in Pre-School with labels, negative reinforcement, put in groups by how smart you are, being the last one picked in gym class and then being put in right field, being afraid after 4th grade to admit you like music or art. Formal school years label us by grades (anyone think it might be the teacher).

I ask ‘Why are sports considered education, they are games, I have no problem with competition when it comes to athletes winning games (unless coaches and parents are living through their kids and trying to be something they could not).”

“I thought gym class was to promote fitness and well being, why do so many high schools have it as an elective, and is there any chance or correlation that this may be a factor with the obesity crisis in the United States.”

I have received Emails that say Hey qualityg, “I remember being picked last in gym class, I never wanted to go again and I skipped every chance I got.” Hi qualityg, “I remember being so upset when we graded each other’s paper, even though I was a good student I was terrified.” And, “ I liked gym class when we could run and play and make up games and have fun until the teacher turned everything into a competition.” Hey, "I was put in the 3rd group (lowest) because I could not read very well, but what was wrong with that, it’s where most of my friends were." - YIKES, and now that person is teaching my children.

Folks, education is an essential for every child, should we have a competition where the one that can pound his/her chest the hardest to stop their heart is the winner? Ridiculous, I agree, but are we not doing the same thing to our children’s education when we take the heart and soul out of them with competition being first before cooperation and learning.

This month some schools will be starting classes and the majority in September. Provide positive feedback and recognition for your child and student, they hear so many negatives as to what they do wrong a simple meaningful compliment will go a long way.


I received an Email that disagreed with me totally on this post. Basically it said "How are the children supposed to compete in the global world if they don't know how to compete?" "People will cooperate with winners not losers."

I replied, I watched the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games last night. Never have I seen so many people "cooperate" at one time and what was the underlying theme, it was about China and their people. I look forward to great "competition" during the games.

Each has it's own place and Education should be about cooperation.

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