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Competition: Why It's Not Healthy
As a teacher I was guilty of it too until it began to dawn on me how damaging it can be to children. As teachers we should never be dividing the classroom or school by grading, tracking, special grouping, and competition. We should rather be uniting them to stand together as one, to help each other, to see the strengths of others so that each and every child knows his worth. That is not to say that children shouldn't learn areas where they can improve or make progress, but shouldn't it be done in the most constructive way possible?
Our culture teaches children that everybody can reach their dreams when clearly this is not as cut and dry as it may seem given how they are taught, separated, and divided from their earliest years. Our entire economic structure is steeped in competition, which means that, in fact, not everyone can win.
What's more, those that are more apt to win (those whose parents/families have more resources and a better education) have the deck unfairly stacked in their own favor. How can a youth who belongs to an uneducated family in poverty compete against someone from an upper middle class family who is well educated? Yet children of these varying backgrounds meet everyday at school and in the classroom, and through grades and academic/social competitions they are reminded of their place in life.
How to Make Your Classroom Different
So, I think as teachers we need to make the heart of the school day echo unity rather than division. It's not enough to say "Well, that's the way the world is and we have to prepare them for it." I think we need to be giving them more to think about than the status quo. Everyone Wins, a book by Josette and Sambhava Luvmour is a resource I use in my Summer Arts and Education program as well as in the classroom to build unity and cooperation. It's a great book that lists dozens of activities that reach a range of physical and social levels, and each was designed so that children can play exciting games that have them working as a team to complete a goal or challenge.
Hop as One has the children lift a leg for someone behind to hold, and in a nice long line the children try to hop through and obstacle course together. My K-5 students worked on this for twenty minutes, figuring out how to move the line while hopping together and make it through various obstacles.
Toby the Terrific Turtle gives a leader a chance to guide the rest of the group that is blindfolded under a blanket through an obstacle. Did you ever try as a group to flip a ball off a sheet and have the other group catch it in their sheet? Blanket Vollyeball suggests you try. The kids enjoyed also making letters and shapes together using jumpropes, as well as the high energy games like Giants, Wizards, Elves and Snowblind.
There are many resources, and author Terry Orlick comes to mind, that offer a variety of games which build community, trust, respect, and teamwork and I think every teacher should begin a collection, and perhaps even begin to approach their physical education department with ideas. Start with Everyone Wins and everyone will.
I observed back to back games purposely to note the differences in student participation. One was a game from Everyone Wins and another a competitive game of Capture the Flag. In Capture the Flag children argued about who was tagged and who wasn't. One child was hurt and had to sit on the bench until he finished crying, three others were afraid to participate, some complained about the winning team cheating, and others who did win bragged about it to the opposite team. These are all hallmarks of competitive games, while as these issues cease to exist with cooperative games. In the cooperative game all I observed were children laughing, helping, and falling or succeeding together only to learn the joys of working together instead of against each other.