Insane culture of competitiveness

Having a kid in elementary school is a great reminder of ones age. You think about what school was like when you were a kid and quickly learn how much has changed! And mostly for the better honestly.

But one thing I keep running into is the insane competitiveness that seems to be taking over everything from reading to art and athletics at younger and younger ages.

For instance, how ridicules to take a sport, an activity that children are playing for fun and for health reasons and turn it into professional league training when the kids are still learning to do arithmetic. It’s called an ‘extracurricular’ for a reason. And now local high schools spend fortunes supporting playground activities and equal time recruiting kids into their districts to act as toys for the grown-ups who never grew-up. The father’s (and I have met a few)  who are trying to relive their youth through their children.

Even reading is turned into a competition via the Battle of the Books. I have mixed feelings about this one, obviously. But I’m not sure increasing reading and comprehension needs to be in the guise of a ‘contest’.

I know schools are under pressure form the free-market types who truly do believe there is a winner and loser to everything but more and more I hear from children who are under pressure to read or dance and competitively engage in an activity that is not a ‘fight to the death’. Parental obsession is the main factor I see. Even some parents who should know better fall into it.

For all the talk of having a truly rich and multifaceted education it’s ironic that we turn everything into a binary system of rewards.

And often it’s parents who seem to be behind this desire to place children, exclude children and rank them in seemingly endless ways outside the classroom.

Now reading is a good thing for children. In fact more and more of the studies I have read say it is THE most important activity for building a strong mind and increase critical thinking (man do we need more of that, huh?!). But you undermine the value of reading and comprehension if you turn it into just another awards ceremony for gladiatorial combat.

There’s a place for competition, honestly as I’ve gotten older I see less reason for it, but yes, there is a time and place. But 3rd and 4th graders don’t need their schools turned into a endless and ultimately senseless race.


About mfearing

This entry was posted in School Days, school visits. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Insane culture of competitiveness

  1. Absolutely! I’m not going to claim the U.K. doesn’t have the same issue because I’m sure it does. However, we moved to the suburbs of the US from a rural, sparsely populated area of Scotland. There it wasn’t very competitive at all so to me there was a huge learning curve when it came to my introduction to that kind of culture of parenting and education. I think the school day here is quite fatiguing enough without my kids being packed off to extra-curricular activities several times a week. Each of my kids does one or two activities each – some as part of an extended school day like art club and some wholly outside school such as guitar lessons. With four kids, that is absolutely quite enough. And they do these things because they want to do them. We don’t push them. Nevertheless I have been told by more than one local parent that I’m hindering my childrens’ prospects by not having them signed up for this, that, and the other. I’ve particularly been criticized for not having them in sports (one kid plays soccer; the others have less than zero interest). I’ve been told they won’t get into good colleges because they can’t play orchestral instruments. What the actual heck? I’m in the business of raising kids to be happy and fulfilled, to be compassionate, kind, and thoughtful, and ultimately capable of being fully functioning, independent adults. If I make them do things they have zero desire to do then not only will they have miserable childhoods but they will never learn to be self-motivated or how to exercise freedom of choice and express their own wishes and desires. I want my kids to experience some healthy and helpful degree of autonomy, not be cogs in a factory of my design. Incidentally, a couple of these very same parents complain about how their schedules are slammed from taxiing their kids back and forth to various commitments and from spectating their sports games. Ugh. These people. Rant over and out. You clearly tapped into a vein of rage in me with your post today.

  2. mfearing says:

    I hear you! I live in an area really dedicated to kids being in sports for some reason. And it’s not for health or enjoyment. It’s cultural. My daughter swims and sometimes plays water polo because she enjoys it. It’s always up to her to decide if she wants to stay involved. When it comes to school we expect her to be involved and pay attention but when it comes to extra circulars it is her interest that guides us. This country is very focused on competition, as you have obviously seen. But it’s not always very healthy notions of competition and the idea of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ has been extended into our culture so deeply that for many people the idea of healthcare should be regulated by it – as in people without it are ‘losers’ and we don’t care about losers. So yeah, it’s bad and getting worse. So I try and keep a little sanity around the issue. But hearing from you makes me realize it’s not just me!

  3. What a wonderful post! When my daughter was in kindergarten, I remember a dad telling me that his very smart daughter read Harry Potter at the age of 5. Meanwhile, my also very smart daughter was a struggling reader. Turns out, she (like me) is dyslexic. With some tutoring, she is now a great reader who consumes graphic novels (including yours!) like candy. What we learned is that the worst thing you can do is make a child feel that they aren’t reading enough or fast enough – or the “right” books. All books are equal – spoken word, comics, picture books. 🙂

    • mfearing says:

      I think often parents give into the fears that their child will be behind if their child isn’t reading Harry Potter by 5! It’s become a cudgel to make kids read and that’s pretty sad. But I deficiently see schools giving into parents worries about their children so they push reading very young. I have met kids who are reading books that are so far beyond them it seems silly. Just to say they read it and get accolades. I’d much rather a child read a book that they ‘get’ when they are ready. One student I met had read Harry Potter but honestly had no idea what she had read. I think she would have enjoyed a book that better fit her age then one that really was just a mess of words and concepts that left her not captivated or enthralled but confused and looking for rewards for reading it. Not the right way to inspire a love of reading! And hey, I read a graphic novel almost every week and I’m almost 50!

  4. Kerri Hall says:

    My friend and I discussed this today at breakfast. We have in no way encouraged rabid competitiveness in our daughters, but its starting to rear its head. For the past year, ML wanted to be on a competitive gymnastics team. She hadn’t taken gymnastics since she was four. She’d been learning from friends and teaching herself different moves. We agreed to sign her up for lessons. She worked really hard and was asked to join the Stars team. I envisioned this crazy, drive all over the southeast sort of thing. Thankfully, from a competitive standpoint it is low key compared to many other things I hear about. It’s been both a good and bad thing. She has been very determined to learn how to do a back handspring without a spot. After months of practicing it, she did it for the first time this week. I’m proud she set the goal and achieved it. But her motivation for wanting to do it was pure jealousy. Her friend could do one. She didn’t want to be outdone. Finding the balance between helping your child be ready to enter our very competitive society and encouraging other forms of interactions is often a fine, hard line to determine.

    • mfearing says:

      It is a tough set of calls. There is always some jealously, it’s really how it’s dealt with between the kids and parents that makes the difference. I just find it’s getting to be a bit much with parents driving kids way beyond what the kid wants or needs. School is one thing, I have expectations and we certainly do push her. But with the ‘fun’ stuff outside of school I believe that needs to be driven by my daughter. We discuss it and try and understand her expectations and goals, and will help get there but I won’t force her into a schedule. But every time I make decision I wonder if I’m being a ‘good’ parent or not!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s