Thursday, October 13, 2011

Competition Is Good...

...except when it isn't, according to the Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools, Joshua Starr.
Elementary is doing this pretty well, but we need to have it more in middle and high schools," Starr said. "We need to convince folks out there that competition might not be the most important thing for our kids."
What is the most important thing, then?  It's one thing to say we put an overemphasis on competition to the detriment of other things, but it's another thing to say this:
"I'm a little concerned about the level of competition that exists these days," he said. "There's something in the American value system where we value competition over collaboration and cooperation, and if you look at how problems are actually solved in the world, many more are actually solved through cooperation and joint teamwork."
That's just a bunch of malarkey.  Cooperation and teamwork are all fine and dandy, but if there is no competition, the reasons for, ahem, TEAMWORK (and all of the implications that go along with the use of the term teamwork) simply vanish.  Competition implies a standard of some sort, and without said standards, it's a little harder to get things done.  Another problem is that Montgomery County doesn't rank their students anyway.  It's hard to compete when there is no system that allows for it.

I'll probably be in the minority in saying this, but the lack of emphasis on competition is a bit insidious.  Part of the larger problem in society, in my opinion, is that a whole generation has been brought up not knowing how to lose and how to fail.  I see it in a lot of the kids I have worked with, I see it in my own peer group, and I see it in the people who are out 'protesting' in New York, DC, and assorted other places.  Life is, for good or ill, one gigantic competition. There are winners and losers in all aspects of life, with death being the great equalizer to that end.

I have always said that the most valuable lesson my parents ever taught me was how to lose. When I was a kid, I never was just allowed to win, and if I did win, it was because I earned it, not because Mom and Dad threw the game against me.  Thus when I do lose or something bad happens, I don't just go into a hole or a funk for a long stretch of time.  Perseverance has been lost, because self-esteem has become the highest value instead of some semblance of self-reliance.

The world isn't necessarily built for failure, but no one is guaranteed success either.  The faster we learn this the better off we are.  I don't like the ever-increasing creep of not keeping score, participation trophies in lieu of actual awards, and a requirement that everyone receive something for their effort.  Why?  So we don't hurt feelings.  The problem is that kids always know the score (even in my T-ball league in the 80's when we didn't keep score, we always knew who had won and lost), participation trophies cheapen the events, and mere effort is not enough to get a reward.  It would like reward someone who burned a house down because he didn't intend to do it.  We don't pat people on the head for good intentions (paving roads to hell and all that), and we shouldn't reward effort for its own sake.

So what's next?  Are we going to play high school football games 'just for fun'?  Are colleges just going to let anyone in who has a high school diploma, which may have been given out rather than earned?  Actually, come to think of it, the whole attitude of taking away competition reeks of the whole notion of good intentions.

Or are we going to start rewarding people just for having good intentions too?

(Pardon my extreme pessimism on the subject...)


Nick said...

This goes beyond classrooms and coddling kids. This goes all the way up the food chain. Our kids nowadays are being indoctrinated into thinking that they will never be allowed to lose. Remember "Too Big to Fail?" When they see big buisnesses getting bailed out due to poor business decisions they made, they'll think that they can get away with anything and always have SOMETHING to fall back on. You and I know that this is simply not the case. Now I'm not criticizing business, far from it. But if you make poor decisions...or is somebody makes BETTER decisions, you are going to lose. You said it exactly. Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win. If you learn from losing, you are far more likely to win more often in the future.

Joshua Lattanzi said...

I agree. The whole "Too Big To Fail" phenomenon was a big symptom of the larger culture. Businesses make decisions and rise and fall on those.

When I was a kid, my parents didn't bail me out of stuff. I either had to make it right, or cut my losses and admit defeat, which prompted me to start over. Like I said in the post, the best lesson they ever taught me was how to lose.