Competitive nature of schooling can be detrimental to kids

I HAVE particularly vivid memories of the culture shock I experienced as a small boy moving from Tasmania to Queensland.

Not only was the weather different, and the houses all seemed to be perched on stumps, but the schooling system was very different.

Previously in school I was a very average student, maybe even a bit slow, but coming into a Queensland school I was regarded as a genius.

What was most striking was that the sporting culture was so strong in Queensland.

It seemed you were only important if you played sport… and won. Again, I was probably pretty average, but in Queensland I was quite pathetic at sports.

Yet I would hardly even try with academics and I was the head of the pack. That would have been great if academics was treated as having any real importance.

This is part of my story. I am not trying to share any universal truth with this.

This was also some four decades ago, except that this was my awakening to the phenomenon of the school-age competitive kid.

Thus we come to the next stage of development for children when their own natural instincts for learning and growth are reworked into somebody else's system. Somebody else's rules about how the world works.

In the world of education the term used is pedagogy, which roughly translates as the art and science of teaching.

However it does seem that so much of our pedagogy relies on competition and comparison.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparison is the royal road to misery.

The idea is that I am only any good if I am the winner. If I am not the winner, then I am not much good. I am the loser.

Any kid who believes that they are a loser will be automatically demotivated from wanting to learn anything new.

The process of learning can become painful, and usually something to be avoided.

Natural talents and beliefs that might work very well for the young school-aged child can be seen as being counter-productive in the overheated factory of a school environment.

For a lot of kids the move might go from "I made a mistake" to "I am a mistake".

Any kid who believes the latter will start to see the world through that view. And they are guaranteed to find endless evidence to back up that belief.

Of course, whether you come through this stage feeling like a winner, or as the walking wounded, this has an impact on how you think and believe as an adult, and the decisions that you then make.

A "winner" may see the schooling system as powerful and productive, and the best possible thing for our kids.

A "loser" will be frightened and suspicious and avoidant of the educational world. Sadly this means that the systems will just cycle around again for another generation.

I had once read a study which suggested that 50% of Australian parents had an almost morbid fear of setting foot inside a school.

Why? Because their own schooling experience had been so bad.

In my own career I have interviewed many hundreds of adults on this very topic, and have found that people's views are equally polarised between being a great experience, or a soul-destroying one.

Interestingly enough, everyone values school as being important, regardless of their experience.

For parents supporting kids of this age, tune in to how your kids deal with competition, and how this affects their identity.

Do they see themselves as winners, as losers, or as learners? And before you do, ask yourself what you believe you are.

It's a learning experience.

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