Do We Prepare Students for a Competitive or a Collaborative World?

So I tweeted the following about a week ago:

“I’m tired of hearing we need to prepare students for a competitive workforce, we need to prepare them for a collaborative one.”

Jon Becker immediately replied:

Which I thought was brillant, but then I was challenged with the following from Daylynn (Read from bottom tweet up).

First, I truly value the pushback because she is making me think hard about what I wrote.  Frankly, however, I’m still quite torn about all of this.  It bothers me to think that we are in the business of preparing students to compete against the Chinese.

Competition in education can be fun, motivating and invoke passion on a small scale, but I can’t help but wonder whether it is good on the large scale. Let’ look at two other sports as examples. Major League Baseball (MLB) does not have revenue sharing (other than a luxury tax) so each team is responsible for generating its own revenue. This leaves teams in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Toronto at a considerable disadvantage to the New Yorks, Bostons and Philadelphias of the world. We know today, that New York, Boston and Philly will be competitive and yes, we may have a Tampa Bay-like team make a run with a bunch of young, inexpensive players, but they can’t sustain ability to stay competitive for a long time. The National Football League (NFL) has full revenue sharing however, which, along with a bottom and top salary cap, has created a much more sustainable, competitive model. This was based on a decision Wellington Mara, long time owner of the NY Giants made to share revenue with all teams in the league. This allows teams from Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and New Orleans to compete with the New York, Boston and Chicago teams. Because the NFL established a structure in which all teams benefit from the success of one, they league is much healthier. In MLB, however, the success of Boston or New York has no impact on the Minnesota Twins.

Yet, the one thing they have in common is that both are structured around competition, the games that their teams play. Yet, the competition is healthier and the teams are financially healthier in the NFL because of their willingness to collaborate with all other teams.

If it wasn’t for the collaborative umbrella under which the competitions take place, the Green Bay Packers would not be owned by the citizens of Green Bay. (How does the L.A. Packers sound?)

So, I’m wondering… if our schools created a culture of collaboration with small scale competitions still taking place (within classrooms for example), would more students benefit, much like all the teams in the NFL do? There would be no place in this culture for class rank, leveling, or tracking. Instead I envision teamwork, mentors, and communities of practice forming to help raise the level of all students.  I could even see “special education” being nothing other than a recognition that all students are “atypical” learners and that their academic well-being is the responsibility of the entire school community.

While I’m still developing my thoughts here, I can say that they are coming from a real visceral place deep within me, one that sees no place for cultures of competition in our schools.

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3 Responses to Do We Prepare Students for a Competitive or a Collaborative World?

  1. Cathy Toll says:

    1. Perhaps there is confusion between competing and competitiveness. Competitiveness means that one can be strong among one’s peers and function successfully. It doesn’t mean one has to compete.
    2. There is a big difference between being competitive as a five, eight, or twelve year old, and being competitive as the United States. Even if we want economic competitiveness as a country, we don’t need to create competition for children in classrooms.
    3. There are also different kinds of competition. Competition for fun, in a game, where everyone has agreed to participate, can be great. Competition for test scores, which are meaningless to children, is not such a good idea.
    4. When one looks at the environmental and economic crises that the world is facing today, collaboration even at the gloabal level is going to be essential for our survival.
    5. The essential thing to remember about professional sports teams is that, first of all, they are TEAMS. They must colaborate as teams before they can compete, in the game, where they are all choosing to participate, for millions of dollars.
    6. As a Cheesehead, I am so glad you used the Packers as an example!

  2. I agree with the premise that we need to focus on collaboration and push competition to the back burner. I think that is what I love most about Twitter and the tremendous sharing that goes on among educators. No one is worried about their school being the best, but instead the focus is on sharing best practice openly so that all students and teachers can benefit.

    Can we carry this mentality over to schools and the way students interact with one another? The sense of community far outweighs the needs of the individual. I agree with you. We need to spend some time on this one.

  3. This post and the corresponding discussion on Twitter has me thinking about my understanding of the terms compete and competitiveness. For me, they imply that at the end of the day there will be a winner and a loser. I use the term a lot (i.e. ‘can our students compete,’ ‘will you be competitive when you get to college?’) but when I use it that way I’m thinking something a little different than winner and loser. What I’m really concerned about is whether or not my students will have the skills, habits and knowledge to give them the same advantages as other prepared students. I think we are in the business of preparing our students to be productive members of society which will include collaborative tasks on personal and professional levels. I’m not yet sure which word I want to use in place of compete, but I think I need to find one.

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