are we teaching more than competition?

Children naturally compete for resources like food and attention. They are programmed by nature to do so.

If they have enough and they feel safe and loved, many children naturally and good-naturedly share what they have with others.

Children are naturally openly curious about those different from them, and may look shocked and surprised or ask embarrassing questions.

Children often do not naturally make judgments about whether a person is more or less valuable than themselves. This is learned behavior.

Human beings have many natural tendencies and learned behaviors that can be nurtured or squashed.


It often happens accidentally. We have 30 kids who all want attention, so they compete for it. Whether positive, negative,  praise, pity, from teacher, from peers, most kids want attention.  Of course they do. This is how humans learn and thrive and survive. You try to give equal amounts of attention, but some demand more, thus leaving less teacher energy for the rest.

Logistics are also a factor.  If you have 30 kids in a class you have to come up with organized, standardized routines, just to operationalize the day.  A factorylike jaillike setting which puts kids only with kids of their own exact age group, a setting that rewards sitting-down-and-shutting-up skills above all others is not healthy for cultivating an appreciation of differences.

Also,  classist ideas about education being the ticket to a “good job”  causes all kinds of stress.

My heart breaks every time I hear a teacher say “you’d better study, or you’ll end up flipping burgers.”

What’s wrong with flipping burgers? I mean, obviously most folks want a better paying job. But what if that kid’s parent works at McDonalds? Cooking food is good honest work. Why shame it? Why not say “hey, let’s learn this so you can keep growing your brain!” or something, anything  to motivate them other than fear or shame.

Not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer. Any civilization needs people to pick food, remove trash, wipe butts at the nursing homes and daycares, and all kinds of other dirty  jobs. Why do we shame and scorn the people who do the hardest, dirtiest work, instead of being grateful?

It  breaks my heart to hear 2nd graders talking about “good kids” and “bad kids”. It’s already clearly known by then which kids are “bad.”  “Bad” often just means the kid has a hard time sitting still and shutting up. But from the time that kid is little, everyone around him is treating him like he is bad. So as he grows up, he either learns to conform better, or he grows into his “badness” and becomes even more wary of adults. Even adults who have excellent intentions, if they make him feel awful about himself,  they feel like the enemy.

Many students with good grades are good at learning.  Many other students with good grades are actually not learning much except how to jump the hoops and game the system.

Many students who seem respectful in front of teacher are actually respectful. Many others are just good at bullying others when teacher isn’t looking, showing their status by stepping on the necks of weaker kids, while pretending to be respectful when teacher is looking. They wait for policing, and the second policing lets up, they are active. These students love to try to get other kids in trouble, and they relish watching adults get mad, and they relish seeing other kids get punished. The level of sneakiness is astounding. Instead of learning respect, they are learning how to justify bullying and how to cover up their injustices.

Due to all these factors, it is a lot harder to foster cooperation in a class than competition.

Competition is more exciting. Especially for  the kids who spend much of their free time addictedly competing on video games and social media.

Teachers need training in how to be a leader who teaches students to value difference and work together, as an alternative to constantly competing against each other.

Especially me.

Do I believe that all competition is bad?

NO! Of course not! Kids need to press their abilities against others.

We just shouldn’t value competition so highly that it causes us to justify or even encourage feelings of superiority.

Some countries don’t even try to teach reading in the first few years of school; they just teach kids how to treat each other, and how to exist peacefully and cooperatively in a group.

How different would it be in the US if we valued human lives more than we value competition and “progress”?  What if more people actually valued hard work more than gaming the system to get ahead of someone?








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