In Competition, education and assessment: connecting history with recent scholarship Robert Nelson and Philip Dawson make a compelling argument, advocating moderation in educational competition while questioning the inseparability of the two. By explaining that most people support competition in schools and by proving its role to be largely destructive, they give their argument relevance to our lives. I agree with their claim and appreciate the flowing structure of this text, as well as the clarity of the points made in this paper. Firstly, I would like to argue that since competition is increasingly inevitable in today’s world, we must avoid it where we can, in hopes to lighten an overly competitive mentality that has swarmed society. Secondly, I wish to reiterate the link between capitalist structures, namely business, and education, with an emphasis on the American higher-education system. Finally, I will address two main connections between this reading and others we have discussed in class.
By making efforts of cooperation instead of competition, this mentality of combat can be lessened, and hopefully, extend to restore the integrity of education over time. Eliminating competition as an ideology is important because school systems are what educate the youth that will grow up to be in charge of our world and its future. We all have an interest in seeing education teach new generations to cooperate because cooperation leads to progress. The issues our world face will not be solved if children and young adults are taught to be constantly on guard for adversaries, blinding them to the potential of cooperation and sparking constant anxiety–a phenomenon which Nelson and Dawson show is becoming increasingly common. In order to move away from competition, and towards ‘concurrence,’ “a concerted flowing together…without a suggestion of rivalry,” we must engage in cooperation when we can and encourage others to do the same (p.309). This change must begin amongst students to be the most effective. As students, we should feel a responsibility to begin a movement which will lessen the role of competition in our schools, in the interest of a better, more progressive future. Strive to work together: help classmates who do not understand the material as quickly as you do in order to lift them up instead of pushing them down for the sake of your own ‘success’. We will be truly successful when we see it as a collective, societal phenomenon and less of an individual one. With an atmosphere of cooperation, we can improve together and begin a path towards schooling that values feedback and real progress over grades. Of course, a sense of competition will not and should not be eliminated completely, as moderated use of it can be stimulating, but we must learn to cooperate before we compete, not the other way around.
Competition in our education systems is more closely related to competition in the marketplace more than it should be. “There is scarcely a greater slur in the mainstream of commerce and industry than to label a product as uncompetitive,” and this same label would be an insult to a student (p. 305). Not interpreting ‘uncompetitiveness’ as a negative term may not be entirely possible, but we should move away from it through our daily actions. Private education in America is even a business itself, propelled by wealth gained through a ‘competitive’ presence in the marketplace. An overbearing sense of competition is not only infecting our students through their parents who are able to fund their education through a history of competitiveness and ‘success’ in big business, but drives the industry itself. Median incomes do not cover the cost of education and only families who are associated with big businesses and accumulation of wealth can afford prestigious education for their children. This is becoming increasingly apparent as the cost of higher education is constantly on the rise, and median incomes do are not rising with the demand. Having an education requires wealth–wealth obtained from an overly competitive and unhealthy capitalist economy. I deem the American capitalist economy unhealthy because capitalism should exist to give everyone a relatively equal chance to succeed, and it currently exists to keep the one percent in power. It’s a zero-sum game: the one percent vs. America. Students who enter “good schools” already have a preexisting, overly competitive drive that has only been enforced by private schools their whole life growing up, and these are the students who are most likely to have an influence in the world when they grow up. We must break this cycle. Extreme competitiveness is seen as necessary to become successful, where competition is defined as being more successful than others, and success is defined as being wealthy.
I see two main connections between this reading and others we have seen in class. The first, in regards to Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon, is the use of analysing root words in order to show how society has morphed the meaning of the given word as a whole over time. The second, pertaining to The Myths of Independence and Competition by Mary Catherine Bateson, arises in the discussion of whether or not competition is a natural phenomenon. Hutcheon discusses the Greek term agon, which “originally meant just a gathering or assembly … [and] .. came to have its associations with fierce competition, [and] with the struggle” (p. 44). Nelson and Dawson use a similar strategy when addressing the evolution of the word competition, as derived from Italian and Latin: concurrentia (Italian concorrenza), which again begins with the Latin preposition ‘with’ (cum) and adds the motif of running (cur-rere). So competition means running together with others, without necessarily a sense of one runner being pitted against the other (p.309).” The original meaning of competition, ironically, looks a lot more like our interpretation of the word cooperation today. The second, is found in Bateson’s article, where she argues that competition is not natural, and has no place whatsoever in the natural world: everything is co-dependent. Contrast this with “the implication of [the] Darwinian persuasion .. that competition is eternal, beyond culture and an absolute law throughout all of life” (p. 307). Although I agree that competition is necessary throughout evolution, we would not exist without large-scale corporation, either. We live in a world where we have the power to choose to cooperate, and since corporation clearly leads to more effective progress, we need to re-examine the role that competition plays in society, notably in our education systems.
Although competition is inevitable in today’s world, it should not play a role in education. Overbearing competition causes anxiety while discouraging progress. The American higher education system is doing a remarkable job of discouraging progress among students by building itself on the very competitive ideals that should not be present in education and by associating wealth with competitiveness and self-worth. This article proposes a pathway to better education systems while drawing parallels to other articles we have read in class.