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Teaching Kids to Compete or Collaborate

Teaching Kids Compete or Collaborate, which truly births excellence?

What type of competition is best for kids?My kids go to a Montessori school. Our decision to go this route was influenced by myriad reasons. However, the thing I like best is how the classrooms are blended when it comes to the children’s ages. The ages range by about a 3 year span from youngest to oldest. This type of age blending occurs until the fourth grade. During all their matriculation the children are encouraged to collaborate when it comes to learning and executing their lessons. In fact, a large part of the method is based on modeling. The children who master a concept are encouraged to help others. To me this coaches a child in the idea that mastery is not the reward; teaching being a teacher is the reward. For me this environment is a fertile breeding ground of learning, cooperation and collaboration. This is how tasks and solutions should be approached in life and work.

Full disclosure, I’m one of those parents who believes that testing serves no purpose in education. I’m fully opposed to homework exceeding / replacing school work and stand appalled at how much learning has shifted from the teacher to the parents in our current school system. An average of 4 hours of daily homework? Really? Sure parents should be fully involved in a child’s education. Certainly providing a well-rounded, broad reaching  and engaging education is paramount.  I just don’t think that more than 1 hour of homework is a valid way to sustain our educational goals as a society. What is happening in the classroom? I’ll tell you – everyone is preparing for tests. The children are being tested, the teachers are being tested and the administration is being tested. Even the schools themselves can only hope to be funded if they pass the tests placed on them by arbitrary and politically driven standards.


Competition is a highly valued tool in modern education. The roots of the learning tree are feeding from the illusory ground of competition and individual excellence.

Before I begin (ranting?)let me say that most of the teachers I know are tremendous advocates for children. They are smart, dedicated and into teaching. My issue is not with teachers.

Really, it is the testing that I have an enormous issue with. Does a spelling test really help mediocre spellers to spell better? I will argue that spelling tests simply serve to stroke the ego of already good spellers, thus giving school systems a student to point at and say “see I’m doing my job”. It seems that what we teach our children to learn when we test them is that collaboration, when most needed, is called cheating. The entire educational system is built to punish cheating. We completely obliterate collaboration and replace all the value of working together with a need to excel as an individual. In fact, all of a child’s self-esteem is wrapped up in doing well on tests. Thus we drive a wedge in the concept of collaborating with others. The people who are the top of the class, the crème de la crème, are more highly valued than the group who works well together and gets things done. This of course is not real life — in life what we need is more cooperation; more working together skills.

Some argue that team sports are the way that we teach children teamwork. Perhaps in theory. There are many merits in team sports but to say that being involved in a team sport where, once again, an individual performance is highlighted just like the good tester is highlighted – will balance out the ferocity in which collaboration is bludgeoned in the classroom sets and unrealistic goal for team sports ability to strike balance. There are other points to discuss on this matter but for now invite you to share ideas on this; What do you think about fueling competition in kids, does it work?


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