Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Eliminating Competition in Schools Needs to Stop!

Last month I attended my first PTO meeting, which, if you either remember or click back to read about, is when I decided that PTO stands for Pain in The Ovaries. Yesterday was round #2. Why do I put myself through these meetings? To be an integral part of my children's education. Or to have goodies for y'all to read.

Mostly, it's the second reason. I torture myself for my readers. I don't hate it, I promise.

So yesterday's meeting involved finalizing the volunteers for the Fall Festival (which I had signed up to coordinate the face painting, but as we are moving into the new house on that day, I respectfully declined the position today... oh damn, right?), as well as discussing future fundraising ventures.

Now, this is the Fall Festival that we aren't selling tickets at to raise money, remember? Yep. Not selling tickets to be used to gain admission to the various games, activities and so forth, tickets that help raise money for the PTO, as this is considered a fundraising event. None of those tickets- those money-making tickets. None.

We covered the lack of selling tickets, which means no money is being raised at this fundraiser, right? (If you can't tell, it's an extremely sore subject with me.) Well, it gets better.

The coordinator of the Fall Festival got up and began explaining the activities planned. There is going to be a Haunted Hallway that the 5th graders are making, and the remaining classrooms will participate in door-to-door trick-or-treating. These other classrooms are also going to decorate their doors, and at the end of the night there will be a best door decoration competition, with the winning classroom getting some sort of prize.

Courtesy of Macmillan Dictionaries
The Treasurer in the first row began shaking her head. The Fall Festival Coordinator stopped talking, looked at her and said, "What's wrong?"

Treasurer: Did we not tell you?
Fall Festival Coordinator: Tell me what?
T: There's not a best door decoration competition anymore.
FFC: No, you didn't tell me. Are the classes just not decorating the doors anymore?
T: No, they are still decorating the doors, but there's no competition anymore.
FFC: Why? What happened?
T: Well, we had some concern from some of the teachers about the decorating competition. They stated that they would rather work together than compete against one another. It seems that some of the teachers are more artistically inclined than others, or they have students that are more artistically inclined, and therefore a competition wouldn't be fair to the teachers who aren't as good at art.

My jaw hit the floor. I happened to be sitting directly behind the Treasurer as she was explaining this, so while she could not see my facial expressions, everyone else in the meeting soon turned toward me. Hell, I even got a snicker out of the principal. The more this woman explained how the teachers wanted to promote
school unity by not having a door competition, the more faces I made behind her back... not at her, mind you. Faces of "WHAT?", "You have GOT to be shitting me" and "This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Of course, the Know-it-All Mom piped up when she saw my faces and said, "I don't think it's a bad thing, not having the competition. It does promote school unity, and besides, we should be thankful the teachers are even decorating their doors." Shut your mouth, Know-it-All Mom, no one wants to hear what you have to say, anyway. You never seem to shut up.

My kids' elementary school is doing away with having people buy tickets to participate in a fundraising event, and they are now eliminating the door decorating competition for fear that someone's feelings will get hurt that there is a person out there that can draw a jack o'lantern better than them.

Get the fuck out of town, this is ridiculous.

I am a competitive person. I graduated Salutatorian of my high school class and the only difference between me and the Valedictorian was .02 of the grade point average. That's two hundredths of a point, and yes, I was devastated. It's cool, because I switched my speech from the teacher-approved one to one that told the truth about the politics of the grading system, anyway (which was edited out of the graduation video), so by the time I got done dropping that bomb and got a standing ovation, I was fine with where I stood. (Seriously, what school wouldn't be thrilled about having 3 Valedictorians, which is what was going to happen at my school, until the kid who ended up being Valedictorian and his parents bitched about wanting to know that he was #1. I didn't care, the 3rd kid didn't care, but they drug the grades out to the hundredths, eliminating the 3rd kid from the top altogether, and separating me and the Valedictorian by .02 of a point. Stupid.)

Do I instill that level of competition in my children. Hell no. I burned myself out in school to where I got 3/4 of the way done with a double major degree in college and quit. My level of competition was harmful to my well being. But do I let my kids win when we play family games? Nope, y'all should know better than that.

I feel a healthy level of competition is crucial for children to not only push themselves to fulfill their potential, but to keep things interesting, especially when it's competition between peers. Not everyone can win at everything all of the time, and this is definitely a lesson children need to learn.

What about also showing kids that different people have different strengths? Not everyone can be good at art, or good at sports, or good at music. By having a healthy level of competition, it helps kids figure out what they are good at, where they need improvement, and maybe where to focus their attention instead.

This new (and by new, it's something I've only seen come around in the last few years) philosophy that competition is unhealthy and should be done away with in schools because it hurts some kids' feelings is bullshit. I'm sorry, but it is. If kids never get their feelings hurt, they become spoiled kids who think they are the best at everything because every step of the way they were given a participation trophy, even if their team came in last place. Kids need to understand that how much they succeed is directly related to how much effort they put into something. If they aren't #1, then someone else put in more effort. It's that simple. And if that person that snagged the first place spot didn't put in more effort but just had more natural talent, that's something kids need to understand, too.

I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so do you think I sing? Not outside of the shower or my home. Why? Because I tried that once, I was no good at it, there were people better than me, and I had no passion for it. So, I gave art a try and I won an art contest. That felt amazing, so I decided to do it again. Even when I lost an art competition, it motivated me to do more, to create more, to think outside the box. Here I am, 20 years later, a tattoo artist. Would I have become a tattoo artist if that first art show had no winners and everyone received a pat on the back for participating? Not sure, but I wouldn't have been as passionate about it, because I wouldn't have known I was talented in art. I would have just been another kid who put a piece into the art show and got a pretty ribbon.

I feel bad for kids nowadays. I even read an article that said some high schools are doing away with Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors because it promotes too much competition and causes the other kids to not feel as adequate. That's the biggest load of crock I've heard yet. Not rewarding the kids who put in the most effort because it will hurt the feelings of the kids who didn't give a shit in school. What message does that send to our kids?

That you don't have to try. You don't have to excel at anything. You'll get a participation trophy just like everyone else, because you gave it your best... which you may have, or you may have sat on the bench all season and not even touched a ball. But that's just as important as the kid who trained every evening with his dad, practiced hitting at the batting cages during the off season, and can throw a 90 mph fast ball. He'll get the same trophy as you, because if we, as a society, decide to recognize his accomplishments, we'll be hurting the feelings of the kid next to him who was only on the team to make his dad happy.

Are we going to eliminate worldwide historical events like the Olympics because they put the top 3 people in their field up on a pedestal and give them medals, while everyone who didn't place goes home with just the honor of participating? Do we take away the event that many athletes began training for as a child who sat and watched the Olympics thinking, "One day, that will be me"? Or do we keep the Olympics but just do away with the gold, silver and bronze medals in light of plastic participation medals for every competitor? Keep in mind- this means we Americans don't get to have so much pride in how amazing our athletes perform in the Olympics. It won't matter anymore if we continue this line of thinking.

There would be no more Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys. No more Top Mom Blogger awards... Stop the insanity, now, please, I beg of you. I've yet to make Babble's Top Funniest Mom Blogs list!

I'll even support my argument in another way. This is an election year. In less than a month we will elect a new President (or the same President for another term), which means that person received the popular vote by his peers. In this new world of not recognizing achievements and leveling the play field so no one's feelings get hurt, are we just going to let both candidates become President? I'm sure when one of them wins, the other one will feel sad or pissed that they didn't win. So, do we just have two Presidents to save the loser's hurt feelings? If that's the case, what about the guys who put in the effort to get the top spot in each party but didn't quite make it? Do we make them President, too? They shook hands and made speeches and kissed babies just like the 2 candidates that did get the bids for their parties. Don't they deserve to be recognized the same as the candidates that actually won the positions?

This is how far this shit could possibly go, and if the Olympics or President scenarios seemed ridiculous to you, then omitting competition within the schools should seem the same. So, how do we solve this possible epidemic?

We teach our kids what sportsmanship is, and how to win and lose gracefully. We don't eliminate the winners, but teach the winners how to celebrate in a respectful manner and how to tell the losers that they did a great job and really mean it. We give out participation ribbons to everyone and trophies to the top teams, and if someone yells out 'That's not fair,' we explain to them that the team receiving the trophy trained harder and if they want a trophy next year, they need to practice more. If they choose not to, then they can't complain about it. It's that simple.

What we don't do is take away a simple door decorating competition because there are some teachers or students who excel at art more than others. We see what these kids can make, honor the ones who have amazing talent and say 'Great job' to the others. Or, we create several categories of awards to spread the wealth more, like "Scariest Door" or "Most Creative" or "Most Traditional". Yes, unless you specify that one door could not win multiple awards you run the risk of several doors dominating the competition, but if they truly are the best, then they deserve to be recognized as such.

This subject seriously struck a nerve with me. I have raised my kids to be competitive on a healthy level, not take it too badly when they lose, and to congratulate the winner. They know, because of competition, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and I do encourage them to push themselves in the areas they are strong in and take interest. Do I push my agenda onto my kids? Maybe at first to get them to try something new. If they like it, I encourage them to pursue it. If they don't like it, I don't make them do it. As a result, The Girl is amazing at just about any sport you can teach her, and The Ginger is an amazing artist for his age. Do they think they are the best at either of these things? Nope. They know there is always better out there, but that what they need to do is try their best and push themselves to succeed to be their best.

Yes, I understand the saying 'It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game', and I do agree with it. But I also agree with honoring those who played the game better. That does not need to be a lesson left on the wayside when teaching children what to do in life.

I'm off my soapbox now. Unless, of course, I get an award for being on my soapbox. Then I'll stay up here. (I'm all about positive reinforcement.)

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  1. Wow, that was...a lot. And yes, I totally agree. Without competition we can't improve, grow and expand. I'm not a competitive person when it comes to sports and things. I just don't see the point. But when it comes to being my best I appreciate that 'my best' isn't just what comes naturally. I'll only be able to find it by striving forward, trying new things, challenging myself and pushing the limits.

    And not allowing children to fail is largely why we have a growing population of anxiety ridden twenty-somethings. If people don't learn early on that life isn't fair, that life is indifferent and no matter how we plan, prepare and 'bubble wrap' - things won't always go our way - how can we expect them to cope?

    *standing O* Brilliant blog. Too true.

    1. I'm glad you pointed out the anxiety ridden twenty-somethings, because it's so true. Young people are so sensitive and so spoiled today, and yes, I believe eliminating competition is part of the culprit.

      I said 'young people' like I'm 70 years old or something, lol. Thanks for your reply!

  2. I agree with your point in how competition might benefit society but severe competition in school and getting to universities and getting a job is not fun, not anymore. Constantly worrying about my grade has never increased my love for any of the subjects especially the ones that involve mathematics. I seriously wish i had spent my high school years exploring around and finding what my passion was, instead i became valedictorian and somehow made it into engineering in a top school breathing for sleep. Not saying its bad but the level its in right now no wonder young people like me become lazy and hate academics and just give up its not about gaining knowledge anymore but its about "i have to be better than this person."

    1. Very valid points, and I can also agree. I graduated salutatorian of my high school class and to this day do not have a college degree because I burned myself out so much in high school. But I did other things to further my intelligence without getting a degree. It's all in motivation and perspective, I guess.

      Thanks for your comment!