All-consuming competition

In the classroom or lecture hall, competition among students touches every part of the educational experience. We compete for the best marks, the most attention and the most recognition. Outside of the classroom, in our every-day lives as students, we compete for friends, course selection, study space, government funding and hope to be the one telling the coolest stories.

So, naturally we get exhausted of the competitive nature of our every-day lives. If we can’t escape it in the educational system, there really is no safe haven.

Besides, perhaps, government funding where we all lie to make ourselves poor, homeless orphans, competition is not inherent to the system. It is a part of human nature that we have introduced into the system as an external factor.

However, at some point along the line, it has become institutionalized. Now it is perceived as the norm. Competition is treated as a healthy motivator, as preparation for the real-world. I think at this point I can say with confidence that I’ve had a few glimpses of the real world and nothing we compete for around here is going to prepare us for it. Not that it’s scary or impossible – just different.

Let’s move past the notion that competing in kindergarten all the way through our undergrad is healthy, much less a preparative tool. Nobody outside of your own head cares about that time you got the highest mark on a paper or beat your former BFF on a quiz. These moments are good for confidence, but that’s about it.

Like all things constructed, we have the power to change the competitive atmosphere, much like we had the power to create it. Friendly competition for marks or test scores between roommates is fine and probably even a good motivator for success – if success by measure of marks is important to you. Somehow though, we have lost sight of the fact that we are competing for nothing and hurting ourselves while doing so.

Educators have realized we love being treated like zoo animals, doing tricks for treats. They encourage us to be the best and the smartest and get the highest marks all the while being nice and compassionate. The two streams of thought really can’t co-exist.

We will travel across the planet to help children in need build schools and further their education, but we shy away from study groups, comparing notes, and sharing knowledge, because we have this twisted notion that it will put us at a disadvantage. Well you better not build any schools overseas because those students could one day take your job. Sounds a tad insane, right?

I’ve got two secrets for you – your knowledge is available in the library and on the internet so don’t fret over sharing, and do humanity a favour and support the evolution of our species by making other people more knowledgeable.

There is no prize for beating everyone else even though we are wired to think there is. Yes, students need high marks to get good jobs or go to grad school or die happy or whatever but that is on the individual. We could all do better, academically, socially and otherwise if we worked as a collective rather than the cold-hearted, high-achieving, resume-building sociopaths the system has turned us into.

Study groups and editable online documents are a start but are just a microcosm of what could be. For instance, what is the harm in sharing lecture notes? I know, “I sat in lecture all semester on no sleep and this guy thinks he can just ask for them after slacking off? I don’t think so!” This prevailing notion in society that we all have to suffer lacks logic, at least to me. If I share lecture notes with someone what is it exactly I lose?

It’s like driving to a cottage and hitting traffic, but instead of letting your friend know, you make them drive through the same route just on principle because you want to get there first. Getting to the cottage first is about as arbitrary as keeping your lecture notes to yourself.

Sure, they won’t get to take in the sights (or learn how to take good notes) but that is on them. Sure, you worked hard and were dedicated and deserve to do well, but working together with someone won’t make that any less possible.

Maybe lazy people just piss you off, which is perfectly understandable. But if we all worked together to achieve greatness in the education system, not just in marks but in general decency as well, I would like to think it would carry over to our social lives and futures more generally. There is something to be said for being successful, but doing it the right way.

Jobs are not going to penalize you for getting high marks along with other students. Law school is not going to reject you because too many students in your graduating class did well or you helped out some hopeless slob one time with some lecture notes. Good grades are a small part of what makes you successful.

Knowledge is for everyone and no indicator of intelligence (unless you know nothing which wouldn’t be very smart). We all need help along the way but someone’s got to be willing to give it. And we can compete in the real world when we are in the real world but until then let’s just worry about getting there.

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