Competition in Education: An Incentive When Used in Moderation

Robert Nelson and Phillip Dawson argue for moderation of competition in the field of education in their article Competition, education and assessment: connecting history with recent scholarship. I agree with their claim and want to further elaborate on some of their arguments with additions from my own perspective. First, I would like to give an example from my own experience in order to illuminate the benefits of competition in education and argue that competition is best when kept in moderation. Secondly, I will elucidate the ‘dark side’ of competition and tie it to the psychological harms of excess competition. Finally, I want to draw direct connections from Nelson and Dawson’s paper to Linda Hutcheon’s article.

As a student, I have witnessed teachers competing with one another to get funds and positive feedback. One instance I will never forget happened during my senior year of high school. Each year, faculty members compete to win a grant to travel to a country abroad. In order to win, they have build a persuasive argument of why traveling would be beneficial to their students and courses. My English teacher found a research paper I wrote applicable to both our studies and real life, and won the grant to travel to Berlin. In this case, competition amongst teachers enabled meaningful engagement; without the incentive of a grant, my English teacher would not be successfully making connections. As a result, it is possible to see the benefits of moderate competition; it energizes and pushes both students and teachers forward.

As we all know by now, in a competition there are winners and losers. However, when this concept is overused in education, the process of gaining knowledge and skill are solely seen as a means to an end. The only intention becomes winning the competition and avoiding failure. Even if a student reaches competence through the process, the accumulated knowledge becomes invaluable because the student was unsuccessful in the competition as an outcome. This approach to education induces anxiety and depression amongst students. Mental health is the ‘dark side’ of competition. Competition  can evoke stereotype threat, which is proven to be harmful for the negatively stereotyped student’s performance, self-esteem, and mental health. Excessive competition has its bad effects, therefore competition should be kept under control and used in a a positive way as an incentive.

In terms of connection to our previous readings, Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon, and Rhetoric and Competition by Nelson & Dawson both question the history of competition. More specifically, both of these articles examine the root words for competition in different cultures throughout different times, thus come to conclusions about the meaning of the word, what it used to be associated with and how it has changed over time. Overall, they conduct a semantic analysis of words to give deeper context. Nelson & Dawson conduct a more philosophical research on competition and tie it nicely to contemporary ideas of competition in education. According to them, the Greek word for competition, ἀγών, was correspondent with sports, battle, and music. The Latin equivalent, certamen, was used to describe an eloquent contest. Therefore, they conclude that competition was not fundamental to learning and teaching in Roman history. Meanwhile, Hutcheon evaluates the Greek word agon and how its meaning has changed over time from gathering to competition.

Overall, competition is not inevitable, and it should not be. From my point of view, competition has its pros and cons, and should be used carefully in moderation. When it is predicted to be detrimental to the mental health of students, it should be minimized, and when it is seen as constructive to educational purposes it should be incorporated into the course. And as for similarities between readings, both Hutcheon and Nelson & Dawson use multiple references to the ancient Latin and Greek counterparts of competition to strengthen their arguments.

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