The Competitive Edge

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There is something bothering me in the text of one of my textbooks this semester.  While this particular book doesn’t necessarily suggest that teachers work to try to reduce competition in the classroom, the book explains that that idea is out there.  In many ways, I couldn’t disagree with that idea more.  As competitive as school can be on all levels, I think we get it all wrong as it is now.  At the same time, making high school less competitive is a good recipe for failure.

Let me explain.  Increasingly it seems as though we as a society are intolerant of people who do not fit certain molds.  We expect everyone to perform academically at such a level that they will be well prepared for college.  I keep coming back to the idea that college isn’t for everyone.  I’m not saying that most people aren’t capable of completing the work; I’m saying that not everyone is a good fit.  Instead of trying to force everyone into a certain mold, maybe we can help people, particularly teenagers, figure what their strengths are and what they enjoy doing.  What is wrong with someone pursuing an education at a trade school if that is what he or she enjoys doing?  It isn’t that I don’t believe that everyone needs some type of formal training and/or education after high school.  I do.  It is an economic reality.  What I don’t agree with is trying to get everyone to fit one version of life after high school:  the traditional four year college degree.  Instead, I believe students need more help and support figuring out what they want to do upon graduation, whether or not they decide to pursue a college education.  Students who would rather do physical work or pursue something other than academics should be supported as much as students who can’t get to college soon enough.

What saddens me is that there are only narrow definitions of success in most high schools.  Either you succeed academically or athletically.  If you are extremely talented, you might succeed at both.  What about the students who like to build?  The students who are artistic?  What about the students who like to create?  It may not always be the case, but it does not seem as though their achievements are celebrated enough at most schools.

At many high schools, sport dominate.  That is all fine and good.  Sports are great for the students who are talented enough to compete.  What about the majority of students who can’t compete at that level?  What is out there?  The answer in many cases is nothing.  For example, I have no athletic ability whatsoever.  That doesn’t mean I dislike sports.  I know that I am not alone.  I’m not sure where I came across the idea, but what would be wrong with organized, non-competitive sports too?  In essence, a high school version of the college intramural system.  When I first came across that statement about how high school is too competitive, high school sports came to mind immediately.  Students who aren’t athletically gifted need opportunities to develop physical talents too, outside of a required general gym class.  There should be room for both competitive and non-competitive sports.

My larger point is simply this:  We all need to recognize that all individuals have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.  We can’t expect perfection out of everyone.  At the same time, natural talents need to be encouraged, developed.  Students need some type of competition.  College admissions are more competitive than ever.  No matter what opportunities students pursue after graduation, they will face competition.

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