Balance and Competition: a Simpler Approach

In the article “competition, education and assessment: connecting history with recent scholarship,” authors Robert Nelson and Philip Dawson discuss the properties of competition in education, detail the research of competition, and propose moderation in educational competition. I would like to discuss the proposed idea of moderation as a counter to a learning environment, and offer my own opinion that competition needs diffusion within education to reach equilibrium.


It is refreshing view an article that does not call for some dismantlement or further inquisition (at least as its sole point) concerning competition. Instead, Nelson and Dawson “advocate for moderation in educational competition,” a claim of outcome that does not promote competition, but does not neglect its potential importance either. The idea of balance is one that tends to be eschewed in this modern age, and often we view things solely as zero-sum games. The idea of merely reigning in our all-or-nothing tendencies, at least in places of learning, is a novel idea. The truth is, and this is also discussed in the article, that no change can happen quickly. Nelson and Dawson, in fact, conclude on the point that progress towards sustainable assessment has been made, but a full application will take some time.


To do away entirely with competition is not a realistic goal. In fact, it may be quite impossible, given our history and the acceleration of which we have integrated competition into our practices. My opinion is that an entire shift of the educational system away from being competitive is not necessary. Instead, we need to lessen the concentration of competition in the system. This could be accomplished in many ways, but in my mind, the easiest would be to immediately remove any public grade display, and only allow them to be accessed privately. Then a shift away from any form of norm-referenced assessment and a movement towards criterion-referenced assessment (I am aware of the difficulty of teaching students to grasp a concept, but ultimately that approach is the only real academic approach). Finally, removal of negative stereotypes and the potential of falling into stereotype threats would greatly increase student optimism and drive and lessen doubt, which would hinder performance.


The reality of our situation is that we tend to overcomplicate a situation. Life is not a zero-sum game, and I think that is a crucial point we tend to neglect. Competition is not a cancerous growth in need of removal, it is a concentrate in need of being diffused. The idea of balance should be one we all think of as a solution going forward, rather than accepting that there are only binary answers.



Image courtesy of Wallpaper.web

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s