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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Is academic competition a good thing?

How serendipitous! (Did I spell that right?) Hot on the heels of Palm Harbor Middle School student Aadith Moorthy winning the National Geographic Bee comes this provocative article about academic competition in the latest Education Next.

Moorthy Americans thrive on competition. It’s why our phones are smarter, our farms are more productive, our athletes run faster, our pop stars are raunchier, and our lives tend to be better—except for the raunchy pop stars—every year. But American schools have been suspicious of competition for generations, and are generally horrified by the idea that success should be accompanied by a reward like a title, a trophy, or a cash prize. Knowledge is its own reward, after all.

Carol Tomlinson, who taught in Virginia public schools for 21 years and is now a professor of educational leadership at the University of Virginia, makes the case against competition, even while arguing that schools have taken it to an extreme. Middle school is “the last time we have to get kids from low-income families to buy into school,” she told me. The surest way to “incorporate and affiliate” those kids is to show them they can succeed; the surest way to lose them to indifference is to hand them proof of their own failure. And what could be clearer proof than to be knocked out of a spelling bee?

Susan Brookhart, former chair of the Department of Foundations and Leadership at Duquesne University’s School of Education and now a consultant on testing and motivation, takes that argument one step further. “Anything that sets up a universe where it looks like being smart and dumb are traits that you’re born with is not good for learning for anyone except—surprise!—the winners,” she told me. She includes classroom star charts in that esteem-crushing universe, as well as anything that ranks youngsters against one another.

Read full article here.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 10:07am]


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