Patience: Competition in the Classroom Limits Learning, Improvement


By Alisa Patience

Some like to argue that it’s a part of human nature to compete. However, competition, is in my opinion — a social construct. The only thing that’s natural for humans to do is survive and love.

Everything seems to be a competition nowadays. School is no longer about learning or betting yourself. It’s about getting the best grades. Having a job isn’t about surviving anymore, or providing for your family. It’s about having the most money. Being beautiful is a competition. Casual hobbies have been made into competitions on television with things like tattoo design, baking, construction, owning pawn shops, cooking, dancing, singing, painting, you name it. If it’s a hobby somewhere in the world it’s likely a television show conveying it in the form of a competition. Even love itself is a competition, with shows like the Bachelor or Bachelorette.

Competition isn’t only present but is encouraged in schools. We are encouraged to want to crush the enemy schools’ sports teams or get the best overall combined scores in the state. However, competition is dangerous in schools, especially to young children.
Here’s the problem with competition: if you win, you are proud of your hard work and revel in your joy. However, if you lose, you develop a disdain for those who win and consider your hard work a waste, letting discouragement ruin your motivation for improvement. There are negative aspects to winning as well. You start to look down on those who have lost. This attitude will cause an already upset person or group of people to feel even worse about themselves.

All throughout high school, I entered competitions with all that I had. But each time I tried, I lost and my heart would break.

When a person measures their value by how often they win or lose, they stop valuing themselves at all. “Gen Xer’s” and “Baby Boomers” complain that a child winning a medal doesn’t mean anything because they all end up getting something just for participating in a competition. What they don’t realize is that kids still compare their own medals to the prettier, bigger ones of the winners. And competing in the first place is a brave thing that should deserve praise. Giving a child a prize for trying is the best way of showing them that being the best at one specific task isn’t the most important thing in the world. Children should want to learn and get good grades because it will help them in the future to learn and open their minds, not because they have to beat other students’ scores.

At the beginning of high school, I had a friend and she and I both loved English and learning. We had many classes together and just happened to compete for a lot of the same things. Our idea was to motivate each other, not do better than each other, but to do better than we previously had. This, theoretically, is a very good, healthy form of competition. But, unfortunately, by the time we graduated, we weren’t even speaking. The thought of her today makes my stomach churn and thoughts rush through my head like, “You will never be better. Everyone will always love her more than you because she is smarter, prettier and nicer. She will succeed and you will fail.” The constant competition turned best friends into enemies, and the drive to learn morphed into an obsession to get better grades than each other. Attending different colleges has done wonders for my self-reflection and motivation to do well in school.

My high school football team is famous for losing. Each win is a miracle and celebrated and spoken of for years. But losses come as no surprise. And I would often hear among the players that, “there’s no point in playing if we know we’re going to lose.” They would play because they had to. I overheard the coach attempting to motivate the team, telling them to crush the opposition. But the team was not motivated by the idea of competition. They didn’t really want to win. They just didn’t want to lose. It’s easier to motivate a team that actually finds consistent success. You can’t motivate people who have been told that their constant losing makes them worthless because eventually that’s what they’ll believe, and no amount of pep talks will take away their shame and discouragement.

During a pageant, I asked a girl who would have definitely won this particular competition had she entered, why she wasn’t entering. “I don’t like taking part in things that puts girls against each other,” she said. I thought I was a true feminist before, but upon hearing those words I realized that I needed to support the success of other girls instead of being bitter about it. It’s just hard to do when one person’s success seems to come at the cost of another’s.

In America, we tend to assume that those who are successful deserve to be successful, and those who fail deserve to fail. We’re all about competition. But a person can do everything in their power to get his or herself off the ground and still fail. Instead of trying to beat each other out in every aspect of life we should be trying to help each other, build each other up. No one has to lose for us all to be winners.

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