Reason to Homeschool #10 – Destructiveness of Competition and Fake Goals

My 10th reason for homeschooling is due to the competitive nature of school.  I don’t want my daughter competing for grades, competing for the teacher’s attention or competing for popularity.  It all detracts from the process of learning, and creates end-goals that have nothing to do with learning.

Competition means that a person can succeed only if others fail.  Many people believe that some amount of competition is good – they believe that there’s a time and place for competition, and they call those instances “healthy competition”.  Many of us were raised to believe that competitive environments help us to do our best work.  These things may or may not be true…I don’t want to get into a broad discussion on the good/evil of competition, but one thing that has been proven over and over, is that competition in educational settings is destructive.

In 65 studies done between 1924 and 1980, all found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively. And, the more complex the learning task, the worse children performed, in a competitive environment. In addition to performing poorly when trying to learn in a competitive environment, creativity also suffers.  There have been multiple studies on creativity over the years whereby some children were rewarded for drawing/painting/writing and others weren’t.  In all cases, once rewards were introduced (i.e. competition for awards), children’s creativity went down – they produced results that were less complex, less varied, and less spontaneous. And, they were less interested in the task itself, which was previously an enjoyable task.

Every aspect of traditional schooling is based on competition, despite decades of studies proving that learning is decreased in these environments. Competition often makes children anxious and it interferes with concentration.  Competition teaches children not to share their talents and resources with others and to hoard them – they come to view other children as obstacles to their own success.  Competition distracts children from the real goal, which is to learn, and instead, has them focusing on “winning”.  When a student is focused on earning that gold star or that A, she becomes less interested in how she achieves her goal – it’s only important that she does.  Of course, when what is learned is less important that the reward, this leads to cheating.

Additional studies have proven that educational competition creates children who are less generous, less empathetic, and have difficulty taking the perspective of others.  Their self-worth is dependent on external sources of evaluation, and they feel they are defined by what they’ve achieved and are only valued if they “do well”.

Traditional schools seem uninterested in children’s learning.  Their focus is on teaching children how to compete with each other, and to groom children to value the reward instead of the process. And, they have succeed.  Children have learned what schools have been teaching – they know how to copy homework from the “smart” kids and they know how to cheat.  In 2009, 60% of middle school students, and 75% of college students, said they cheat regularly. Of course, many students who claimed they don’t cheat, actually do cheat but didn’t want to admit it, so we can assume those numbers to be much higher than reported.  The number one reason they cheat is reported to be the stress and pressure to get good grades. The goal is to get good grades and students are doing what is necessary to reach the goal.  If traditional schools continue to do their job this well, we should expect to see nearly 100% of students saying they’ve successfully learned how to cheat.

By homeschooling my child, I’m able to put the value where it belongs…on what is learned… on the process of learning…on the value of collaborative learning, and cooperative learning…on the value of acquiring knowledge…on the value of knowing how to learn.  I’m able to stress the importance of imagination, innovation, and creativity without wrapping it all up in competition and fake, distracting goals, in the form of gold stars and As.

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