Monday, July 12, 2010

Save Competition: Our Dying Value

So... recently we in education have really sought out to destroy "competition". "WE" are frightened by the competitive nature of humans and particularly by how it singles out those frail children who aren't good at anything.

Okay, so I agree. Some kids are not good at anything, and posting their math grades on the wall in a little airplane race is humiliating.

Dodgeball for some... Worst. Idea. Ever. I mean, the idea that we could get physical exercise by taking out the kids who need to exercise most, within the first few minutes of the game...? (Man, I love dodgeball. I'd play professionally if it weren't for the fact that I would DOMINATE humiliate EVERYONE!)

These days, educators are so concerned about feelings that we are trying to get around current issues with the child rather than looking at long-term affects and finding a balance. I think when a child grows up not knowing how to compete, not knowing how to win and how to lose (or that maybe losing isn't the end of the world) then they become very sore losers.

When they get laid off - they move in with their parents and quit looking for a job because they are depressed.

They take a trip to Mamby-Pamby Land instead of to some investors to start their own business.

Instead of continuing to improve, continuing their education, they stick with meaningless-to-them-jobs and they hop from job to job. They can't find a challenge in the old job anymore. No wonder it gets boring. No wonder we have a growing population of kids who will change CAREERS more than 15 times in their lifetime.

Hey, when the bank you own goes under because you were a moron, you don't pull up your bootstraps and start a new business... You beg the government for a bailout and fly out to your yacht in the Bahamas to "recover from stress"... and they comply because they are AFRAID OF THE CHALLENGE of what that would do to the economy because our nation is a bunch of consumers (whoa, this is turning into a full on rant).

When we don't know how to compete, we lose an edge and a spark. Our biology is competition. Our society is competition. Our economy is competition! No competition is against our very nature.

I say the problem is NOT competition. The problem is not having the right competition.

The fact is that we DO have to take into consideration our students' feelings. They are fragile. They are being shaped. Teachers all have those kids who we can't figure out why they withdraw from everything. They end up not doing well in school even when they are extremely smart. And right there is the trick.

Even employers need to consider their employees and how they are motivated. Keep the job fun and challenging, show the person where the success are they can achieve, and that employee might just stick around the company. There is no success without competition - whether internal or external.

Competition is about finding success and dealing with failure. 

When a child is constantly dealing with failure, they of course will have no motivation. Or maybe they do become sore losers because they're so frustrated. People who succeed all the time are actually great at losing. They may deal with frustration, but they often get right back into another game because they know it's not over.

Any inventor will tell you how good they are at failing. And a great salesman might tell you they strive to receive a quota of "No" from clients because they know they sale to a certain percentage of the people they ask to buy. So a "no" moves them closer to the person who will say "Yes".

So... Can you come up with enough ways to make competition for your students? Enough ways so that everyone is going to find some success? Or do you have the creativity and the excitement to get overjoyed for a child's personal success even when it seems minor?

Example of not how to do it: Rope climbing. Was there ever a kid that made it to the top of the rope that didn't make it EVERY TIME? At least in dodgeball the slow kid eventually figures out he can catch the ball and then that's what he does every time, thus becoming a threat.

Here is the power of positive words. Even when someone doesn't win, you can celebrate what success they might have had. And when you can tap into how much they need that celebration - you aren't patronizing them.

My best example, and how I discovered this thought process, is from coaching T-Ball. Not every kid has the perfect swing. But when they make contact with the ball, and you start cheering, they start running to first base with great intensity. And they love the game for that. 

You give them high-fives for making it over to first. You give them BIG high-fives for not piling on a grounder that didn't come their way. And you cheer for the kid even when they take 2 minutes to set their feet and throw the ball while just looking at first base.

And when they ask if their team won, you respond whole-heartedly, "YES!" (notice there is no qualification that "everybody wins"). And if the kids start to argue, then you can tell them that one won batting, because... and the other won running because... And they LOVE baseball because of the great success. And how will that shape their idea of baseball when they play competitively? When they aren't on the starting lineup? I can tell you from personal experience of someone who was a star on a very successful little league team but rode the bench through high school until my senior year - You still love the game. And you naturally find ways to see where you are better than others in certain aspects of the game.

And it carries over to school. To work. To life.

Don't kill the competition.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I couldn't agree more. Depriving kids of intellectual competition is much like depriving them of the outdoors--they are temporarily safer but are weakened in the long term. A lack of competition also removes an important moral/ethical element to education, an element that is hard or scary to deal with and probably accounts for why competition is so often ignored. If you are interested check out a recent post of mine on the topic:

    You hit the nail on the head...the problem is "not having the right competition."