Americans love competition.
We follow sports teams. We compare our Olympic medal count with those from other countries. We brag about having faster cars and the newest cell phone, and the whitest teeth. At times (it seems) everything is a competition; that we are always trying to surpass what our neighbors have or can do.
This sense of competition (unfortunately) extends into our schools as well. Our students want to know who got the highest test grade, who takes the most Advanced Placement courses; who got the best report card grades. We are constantly comparing ourselves to each other.
When it comes to schooling, I have a statement for our students (and their parents):
School isn't a soccer game, it isn't the Olympics, and it isn't a Reality Show to be won. School is about learning. Some students will excel in some areas, some might excel in all areas (or appear to excel on all areas), and most will probably be average. The goal for all of these students is to learn.
The danger of the "competition" aspect of schooling is when students strive for high grades or correct answers by means that don't require a lot of learning. Some students are good at "playing school"; they do what they need to do to get good grades (such as turning in homework and classwork on time and participating in class), but avoid actual studying and real learning. They do this because of a misguided notion that the goal of school is getting good grades. When student compete for "grades", they can miss the most important purpose of schooling which is learning. In a classroom, this means that they are afraid to try new things or to offer suggestions or ideas for fear of being wrong (and perhaps labeled as "less smart"). This isn't what we want in our schools.
Learning is a lifelong skill. School cannot be a place where students merely learn how to do what they are told to do. School has to be a place where the skill of learning is learned and understood. A place where students learn how to problem solve and how to ask the right questions and how to access resources that they need. Students shouldn't have to worry about doing better than other students. They should only be concerned about learning.
Let's make our schools a competition-free zone. After all, there are plenty of other areas in a student's life where they can compete. School should be one of them.
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