In their paper on “Competition, education and assessment,” Robert Nelson and Phillip Dawson compare the recent scholarship on the subject with historical perspectives, including that of the ancient Greeks, the Romans, Renaissance thinkers and artisans, Nietzsche, and Freud. Their examination is so broad, and education such a fundamental facet of society, that it is not hard to see how it relates to the other subjects which we have examined so far. Though Freud was not a main focus of the paper, Nelson and Dawson’s use of him is a wonderful example of the multifaceted nature of their examination of competition in education. While examining the human motivation for education, they are not afraid to dip into the psychology of the matter, mentioning Freud’s theories of the sexual basis for curiosity, which—in Frued’s theory—quickly flowers into competition, linking curiosity and competition closely in the human psyche. While this insight is certainly relevant to a discussion of education, as it explains the basis for curiosity and thus the basis for the human learning impulse, it is also of interest to any psychological investigation of competition. Freud’s competitive theory for the basis of curiosity certainly connects with Garcia et al’s demonstration of the relationship between social comparison and competition—as well-summarized by @dcorrech. Freud’s theory was that a child begins to feel curiosity as he desires to understand sexuality, and that this area of interest becomes competitive for the child as the child begins to compete with his father for the affection of his mother. Of course, Freud was the father of psychoanalysis, and many of his foundational theories—this one included—are not exactly modern. However, it is certainly an interesting connection to Garcia et al, as it frames competition as originating from social comparison, specifically within the family.
This one example of Nelson and Dawson’s use of Freud demonstrates that education is a subject which can be examined from many rich, historical perspectives, which pertain to many subjects. Psychology is one of these subjects, but, as I mentioned and as I particularly enjoyed, Nelson and Dawson also return repeatedly to the philosophy of competition with Nietzsche, and use the great philosopher to comment on whether education must be competitive. They also integrate literature and the arts when they quote Petrarch and discuss the Renaissance art schools, which were competitive educational environments with varying degrees of success depending on the desired end of artist’s education.
Having examined the history of competition in education from the perspective of so many different fields, Nelson and Dawson conclude that competition is much less necessary to the field of education than is normally thought, and in fact, is distracting from the spirit of curiosity which motivates education. Because competition distracts from curiosity, it destroys the integrity of education. In ultimately taking this position, their perspective diverges from Frued’s, as they see curiosity as something which is not intrinsically linked to competition, and is in fact opposed to it. This also leads them to disagree with Garcia et al, as Nelson and Dawson do not see competition as fundamental to human nature, but instead conclude that rampant competition stifles important traits such as wonder an enthusiasm. This negative assessment of competition is a fairly normal conclusion for the writers we are reading in this course, and it is hard to argue with them after they guide one through history so thoroughly.