Reading & Reacting: Learning is Not a Competition

Photo: Cyclist

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Rex Boggs

By Donna Miller Fry @ Learning About Learning

As more and more edreformy efforts focus on data and measurement, there seems little doubt that a major effort is afoot to compare, rank, and sort students, teachers, schools, and any other education related element that someone believes can be reduced to a factor. Donna Miller Fry takes on not only the notion of competition in education, but cheating as well.

In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is. It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.

This strikes at the heart of what I see as a major problem in many of the edreform efforts. The corporate-reform juggernaut that continues to threaten public education, seeking to turn it into a competitive marketplace, is obsessed with “recognizing excellence.”

Thus, there will simply be more winners and losers than already exist. Do we really want any of our children and students to be deemed losers? I am not even sure I want any believing that they are winners, at the expense of their peers. There is plenty of time for all that.

Fry opens by referencing doping cyclist Ryder Hesjedal as an exemplar cheater and reckons that cheaters not only “hog the podium” in cycling but in school too. One place where she draws a distinction is in the compulsory nature of education. She maintains that in an educational context competition works against learning, rightly.

However, students are not afforded the choice of whether or not they attend school. Yet a system that endorses competition amongst students ultimately dooms all learners to losing. Our cultural elevation of winning as a value increases the stakes for all students, whether they like it or not. As those stakes rise, competition for marks in school often fuels cheating.

There have been some cheating challenges where I work. A few years ago there was a minor problem with students cheating in an Advanced Placement course. I asked a number of students taking the class, “Why cheat in a class that essentially is preparation for an exam? What is the advantage?”

While none of the students I asked were caught in the cheating, To the student they explained that it was all about weighted grades and grade point averages. Essentially, they cheated to boost their GPAs, regardless of any consequence they might later experience should they sit for the AP exam. It was all about getting a broader competitive edge that they saw as more valuable than a test score.

Sadly, there explanation made too much sense. Their GPAs likely are more valuable to them than an AP score,and they are probably right about that too.

Image: iPad

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and flipped to Teaching Today

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