Tag Archive | competition

Education: competition or cooperation?

I cringe as another competition programme comes on the telly. As if we haven’t got enough with ‘Bake Off‘ and ‘Sewing Bee‘ and ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’.

It’s not that I don’t like these programmes and I know they’re terribly popular. It’s just that we can’t seem to have something entertaining and enlightening without it being a competition.

And one of the worst things of all about them is that pregnant, sensationalist pause before the winner is announced, as if the judges enjoy the power they’re holding everyone ransome to. As if that is a good example of a way of behaving, which we’re demonstrating to all the young watchers, when it isn’t!

I know it’s just telly – (is that a good enough excuse?) – but I think it’s bad for us, individually and as a society.

But I think it’s especially bad the way this competitive culture invades education too, when we promote education as competitive and as the only way of being good at something or doing well.

Education is surely about the development of each individual and the only way competition serves us well in the educational field is to use it to compete with oneself in order to better oneself, regardless of beating others.

However, the really truly destructive thing about it is that competition is the opposite of cooperation. And it’s cooperation that makes the best societies; cooperation we should be educating for.

To develop cooperative societies we need education to build knowledge and understanding, which will more importantly build the skills of empathy in the children; the ability to understand another’s point of view and have some empathy towards what others are feeling and going through. This is the best way of using education to improve the world, rather than seeing education as something to be top at. Whenever competition is involved there are always losers. There don’t have to be losers in education.

That’s why I love home education so much. It is truly a way of educating for the betterment of the self, there is no top or bottom, winners or losers involved – or there doesn’t have to be. And it offers the chance for a happier education.

Why is this important? Because it benefits everyone. There’s a post about it here and how that happens.

Meanwhile I’ve been reading a beautiful book called ‘The Little Book of Lykke’ by Meik Wiking of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ fame. It has a lovely story of an age old game and turning it into a chance to learn about empathy, rather than doing others down.

It’s musical chairs; I’m sure you’re familiar with it, there being one too many children for the amount of chairs so someone is going to lose out when the music stops and they have to find a seat. The game described in the book has one less chair than the amount of children but instead of being ‘out’ two children have to fit on one chair. During the second round another chair is taken away, so two pairs of children have to sit on a chair together which requires cooperation. As the chairs get less, more and more kids have to pile on less and less chairs which requires more and more cooperation and is far more fun than getting people ‘out’! And it teaches kids how to look out for others, a far better lesson than just thinking of oneself.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if education was more like that game of musical chairs, was more about helping each other along, than being the top at the expense of others?

When I come to think of it, I reckon that’s how most home educating families operate. Or is that cooperate!

Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!