Kids compete if parents can pay

When schools try to minimize competition, middle- and upper-middle-class parents seek pay-for-play opportunities for their children, writes Hilary Levey, a Harvard health policy scholar, on Education Next. Competition is less common only for children whose parents can’t afford the participation fees.

Not only is there growing inequal­ity associated with afterschool com­petition, but increasingly younger and younger students are diving into com­petitive tournaments on sports fields, in dance and music studios, and in other venues, such as academic bees. . . . Formal competition, tryouts, and practices are part of the everyday grind, as ever-increasing numbers of American children are being raised to play to win both inside and outside of the classroom.

We don’t know if early competition is good or bad for children, Levey writes.

Competition doesn’t enhance performance; it encourages cheating, concludes a British study. Poor performers make the most creative cheaters. Via Core Knowledge Blog.

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  1. SuperSub says:

    Hmmm… regarding the Levey piece…
    I remember playing kickball, dodgeball, baseball, football, etc. back in elementary school, and it was just as competitive if not organized as many of the paid sports today. Even the organized practices today can be compared to the one-on-one coaching I received while playing with my father.

    As for the British study (well, actually Spanish…it was done at a university in Barcelona), there are a lot of possible problems with it… I am only going off of the blog entries on the article. First off, the sample size is ridiculously small and likely homogenous, preventing any valid conclusion from being reached. Second, the researchers literally gave the participants the tools to ‘cheat’, told them how to do it, and then failed to assign any consequences to it. In other words, the actions the researchers defined as ‘cheating’ actually are not in any way related to what the real world considers to be cheating.

    I am curious about the apparent contradiction between their results that showed that women cheated more than men and their conclusion that there was no difference in cheating between the sexes.

  2. Cranberry says:

    “We don’t know if early competition is good or bad for children, Levey writes.”

    It’s important to keep this in mind, before starting to worry about a “competition gap.”

    I think competition can be a great tool in the classroom, when used carefully. I think it is terrible to try to ban all sorts of competition, out of a fear that some children will never win anything.

    The middle class in this country loves competition. If you refuse to allow kids to compete in the classroom, the middle class parents seek out-of-school competitions. Banning competition from the classroom doesn’t put lower-class and middle-class kids on an even footing. I could argue that banning competition in the classroom (bcic?) forfeits an opportunity to teach kids from lower SES families a chance to learn how to compete. Focus–train–compete–lose–refine focus–train–(maybe) win. We’re very willing to allow students to do this on the sports field. I’ve heard sports praised as a venue to learn to plan and compete. Why not in the classroom?

    As a side note, I personally doubt that all the middle class kids who spend time at expensive extracurricular competitions reap huge benefits from it. Contest organizers must award _someone_ prizes, after all. Those who are truly gifted at ballet, or piano, or memorizing, or pie-eating, will get a chance to show off, and will be encouraged to train harder. The kids who will never win in their chosen field (a kid who loathes chess at a chess match, for example) would probably be better off taking a walk or reading a book.


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