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Why So Competitive? Schools Putting Statistics above Skills

Updated on January 5, 2012

We don't often think of our schools as being competitive outside the realm of sports and scholastic achievement, but in some cases the competitiveness outweighs the more important lessons to be learned. Charity drives of any kind can become hostile, and there doesn't even have to be a reward involved. Furthermore, who has ever been part of a fire drill that went well? Does it really matter what records a district holds if it's at the expense of their students and their families? I don't think so.

Charity drives are supposed to embody the spirit of giving and caring about others less fortunate than ourselves. They are supposed to teach students to reflect on what they have in their lives and what they can afford to give to others. At the very worst, you would imagine that these drives are met with apathy or that a student less fortunate than his or her peers might get teased. Instead, however, it has often come down to fierce competition between home rooms, grade levels, or even schools that overthrows the true meaning of the activity and gives a whole new one to the phrase "give 'til it hurts." As someone who has been less than fortunate and has been in these competitive situations, I can say that parents who are struggling to make ends meet are reluctant or even recalcitrant to donate any items because there is little to spare. Sometimes students are required to bring in a certain quota of canned goods, while at other times they are pressured into it by their teachers or the administration. Book drives are also competitive - in the past I've given up almost my entire collection and my home room still didn't win. It didn't leave me feeling good about giving to charity - it made me feel rather empty inside.

Fire drills are another matter entirely. They are supposed to teach students what to do in the event of a fire, which is to walk calmly and quickly in an organized fashion to a safe, pre-assigned spot out on school property. However, no time seems quick enough for the school principal. Even if you follow all the rules, and not say a word while evacuations are taking place, school officials are never pleased. If they want these things to go faster, maybe they should teach the students how to walk faster or devise quicker escape routes. Perhaps they should consider the number of students enrolled and figure out how realistic it is or is not for that number of people to safely exit a building that may or may not be on fire. While they are of course concerned for the students' safety, administrators are more concerned with arbitrary records, and it certainly doesn't end here.

In addition to athletic records and academic test scores, there is one record I remember my high school principal was obsessed with, and that was to have a complete graduating class with no one left behind. Ah, the well-meaning folly of that No Child Left Behind edict from former President Bush. This does not take into consideration the number of monkey wrenches that can be thrown into a person's life that can prevent them from graduating on time. In college, the four-year plan was a goal seldom met due to finances, graduation requirements, and course offerings at a given time to say nothing of aptitude. A high school student may not have to worry about those things, but everyone, themselves included, have personal lives that can and do often interfere with life's plans. Speaking of plans, there is also the path that the guidance counselors try to lay out for us. In today's job market, shouldn't they be preparing students to survive in the real world, job or no job? When I graduated high school in 2005, they tried to get as many of us into college as possible, as if they were on commission to do so. Ironically, those deemed unfit for college were pushed toward career paths, and I think some of those people might be better off now.

In short, schools often lose sight of what they are trying to teach and focus too much on competition. They want their students to be at the top of everything from evacuation times to donated items to athletic records to test scores to graduation numbers and beyond. Is that really "winning?" How can it be when the only lesson students learn from it is that they have to do what the principal, guidance counselor, or teachers tell them to do? Failure bring supposed "victory" to these people only results in feelings of shame and inadequacy, which are unhealthy and detrimental to students' growth as functioning human beings. Teachers and administrators should do their students a favor and prepare them for the world that awaits them out there, the one we live in right now. Check that vanity of record-holding at the door and focus on what really matters in life.


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