Date: Nov 7, 1995 12:54 PM
Author: Lou Talman
Subject: On Competition

Murphy Waggoner wrote:

> These students are only in competition if the instructor

> leads them to believe they are.

Carlton Severance wrote:

> A competetive mindset is certainly not sometin that I

> cultivate--but a number of students arrive with it,

> having had it fully reinforced by other instructors

> and/or the realities of med school admissions policies,
> etc. What I'm saying is that this sort of student is


> hard to bring into CL activities, not that they shouldn't

> or can't be.

Eileen Abrahamson wrote:

> As far as the parents of the 'brightest' were concerned

> their students were in competition with these other

> students and should not be attempting to help them in any

> way. They(the bright students) should be taking every
> opportunity to prove their superiority.


I am continually amazed at the beating our natural competitive instinct (just
as natural, I maintain, as our collaborative instinct) takes in this forum.


Why on earth should students not believe that they are in competition? Some
of them will inevitably do better than others, and so they *are* in
competition. We should acknowledge the fact and teach them to deal with
it--not to deny it.


I am troubled, moreover, by the underlying thread of suggestion that the
purpose of CL is to harness the abilities of better students to improve the
performance of the weaker ones. It seems to me unethical (at best) for a
teacher to place, even implicitly, the burden of responsibility for weaker
students' learning on the shoulders of other students. It is, as we all know,
sufficiently burdensome for us as mature adults and scholars. Moreover, in
asking them to shoulder such a burden, we unnecessarily restrict the horizons
of our best.

While I think that the parents of the bright students, mentioned by Eileen,
may have misplaced some healthy values, I nevertheless pose the following
question: Do we not owe our brightest students the experience of challenging
themselves at their capacities to make of themselves what they can--just as we
challenge our weaker students?


Moreover, if our committment to diversity of learning styles is to be anything
more than self-serving lip service, ought we not to serve the needs of those
who learn best in a competitive environment?

I would like to suggest that it is just as silly to try to exclude, deny,
prohibit, or ignore competition as it would be to try to exclude, deny,
prohibit, or ignore collaboration.

--Lou Talman