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In Praise of Academic Competition

November 29, 2007

Hopefully someday soon I’ll find the time to write more actual blog posts, but in the meantime, I hope you’ve been enjoying the pointers I’ve been posting.

Today’s pointer is to a Wall Street Journal article entitled In Praise of ‘Thought Competition’ I don’t know how long the article will remain freely available, but it talks about the trend of schools avoiding academic competitions for fear of injuring the self-esteem of the losers, and the negative impacts such a decision may have on students whose strengths fall in academic areas (as opposed to, say, sports or music, where competitive opportunities abound).

For decades now, psychology and pedagogy researchers have been debating the impact of competition on young people’s self-esteem, with those wary of thought competition taking the lead. Most New York parents of public or private school students have felt the awkward reverberations of this trend — which avoids naming winners — when Johnny takes home a certificate for “participation” in the school’s science fair. (Do you hang that one up on the wall?)

But some, and ironically those who attend some of the most desirable schools in the region, feel the reverberations in deeper, more painful ways. “Two years after my son left a school that prohibited him from entering a national math competition,” says one mother, “he still writes angry essays about why the jocks in his former school were allowed to compete throughout the city while he wasn’t allowed to win the same honors for his gifts.” Sam, her son, felt uncool in the eyes of his peers, and undervalued (and sometimes even resented) by the administration.

 I encourage you to click on the link above and read the whole article.

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