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COMPETITION

1/20/01

    Competition! Our schools must be able to compete with the best the world has to offer. Our students must be trained to compete in the emerging world economy. Their competitive juices must be trained to flow on athletic fields, mathematics contests and quiz bowls. Our state education department puts out a report card on each of the state’s schools which measures them compared to others in similar communities. Within our district, parents sit in the local diner and debate why the Parkway School’s ELA results are higher than those at the Old Bethpage School. Win, win, win. Join our school district’s research program and learn "how to excel in science competitions" (the name of the text for the course). Competitive zeal has so permeated our schools that we even have a class in how to win creative writing contests, a course dubbed "Writing for Dollars" by some of the wags on our English staff. Like famed Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardy, we teach that winning isn’t important; winning is everything. Is that a belief that our schools ought to be promoting?

    To speak against competition in America is to run the risk of profaning the sacred. Yet, while there is surely a responsibility to teach the young to compete, there is just as surely a corresponding obligation to instill in them notions of citizenship, thoughts of their connection to and dependence upon others and the debt we have to a society without which we are nothing. Why don’t school districts like ours hire teachers charged with the responsibility of facilitating the incorporation of citizenship education into the district’s curriculum, K-12? Why aren’t we prepared to teach young people to seek the supreme pleasure that comes from subordinating one’s self in the interest of the common good? Why isn’t helping others taught to be of at least equal value to winning,which almost always means that someone loses?

    A society whose schools do not inculcate what it means to be a good citizen is a society that has no right to wonder why less than fifty percent of its eligible voters bother to go to the polls on election day. Neither does it have to wonder why millions of its citizens have no health insurance or why so many of its children begin school with minds and bodies stunted by malnutrition. No one seems to be competing to solve these problems.

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