disrupting competition

Disrupting Competition

I am often asked, “What do you like about MECS?” For me, my response is centred around how we as a school and a community have a core focus on ‘Transformation’. One phrase that has stood out to me as a staff member is, “we can’t teach for transformation, without ourselves teaching from transformation” – this highlights the importance of the teachers and staff embracing this life long journey of being transformed by Christ, and teaching from the position of ourselves being transformed.

One aspect that I am noticing personal transformation in is my views on competition. As someone who has always played sport, and who loves so many forms of sport – competition is a necessary ingredient that can bond a team, provide motivation, and reward effort effectively. Whilst holding onto these, I am also slowly questioning some of the fundamental ‘whats and whys?’ underneath competition.

For example; during the first half of this school term, we have hosted both our Junior and Secondary Tribal Athletics Carnivals, as well as our Secondary Tribal Cross Country. Tribe verses Tribe, friend verses friend, running, jumping and throwing in the pursuit of… A coloured ribbon? Affirmation? Honour? The respect of their peers? The approval of a parent? Doing their personal best? The dopamine rush of winning? Feeling of contributing to their tribes overall score? What are we trying to achieve, and why?

These were strange thoughts for me to notice myself having. I love our Tribal Carnivals and I believe that MECS does them so well.

Competition though, seems to be so deeply ingrained in our culture and society, I believe we would do well to pause and ask ‘why do we compete?’ Do we compete, purely because we always have? Or is it because, ‘everyone else does it’?

Stepping out of sporting analogies and into our everyday life, I wonder how often we engage in competition without realising it? Potentially quite a lot, though it may depend on your definition of what competition looks like. Job security, upward mobility, accomplishments and accolades, the size and cost of the things we own, the drive for our children to have better experiences than we did, the list could go on – these things all spark our competitive urges.

In a world where competition is a fact of life and one’s success often means another’s failure, what place does competition have in our school? Only 10 people can make the basketball team, only 3 students can be on the SRC, standardised assessments such as NAPLAN and VCAA exams measure comparative ability on a curve or on a percentile rank, and by definition half of the students in any one room are below average. Competition is inevitable, but what does the explicit or subtle presence of competition in a classroom teach our young people about what is important and valuable? Do any of these things align with a Christian worldview?

Competition appears to focus efforts inwards on personal gains, and sometimes at the expense of the gains and growth of others. It can breed a shallow sense of superiority for the few who do well in class, athletics or music. Shallow, because our children quickly learn that their sense of self-worth is based on how they perform. Competition more often creates a deep sense of inferiority, and in my experience I see more and more a readiness to give up rather than compete. That doesn’t sound anything like the deep hope of transformation we have for our children.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about many parts making up one body in Christ, verses 22 to 26 read, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

Meditating on Paul’s words, I wonder if valuing community is an antidote to competition? What would actively and intentionally making visible the value we place on good community look like in classroom practice or the rhythms of home life? Could it be a counter-cultural element to the broader narrative we find ourselves in? Would it fill the space that competition seems to naturally occupy?

In one of my classes I am intentionally making collaboration visible, necessary and explicit. I am actively speaking into the environment the idea that helping each other do well, means that we all do our best – it’s proving to be a challenging paradigm to break. For example, it is a shift from; being a parent cheering on your own child as they play a team sport, to cheering on the success and development of their teammates as well, knowing that it results in everyone, including your own child, doing their best.

As parents how often have you taken an interest in the learning, development and success of your child’s friends or classmates? Should you? What would that look like practically? What would be tricky about that? Would it add any value?

I wonder what opportunities we might find in our own homes and lives to highlight the value of community and support for others, as a deliberate counter to our naturally competitive society?

Tim Eddy – Secondary Teacher & Year 9 Coordinator

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