When it comes to the Olympic Games, everyone seems to understand that
competition produces the winners and the record-breakers. It's unlikely
that the athletes could reach such heights of achievement and endurance
if they were not competing against other athletes who are closely
matched in skills and putting forth their very best.
Some people, however, are at war against the whole concept of
competition. They think it is undemocratic, unfair, and elitist. It's a
sign of the times that, in Cecil County, Maryland, basketball is now
played by some very unusual rules.
If one basketball team is ten points ahead of the other, additional
baskets don't count until the underdog team catches up. No record is
kept of who scores how many baskets, so no player can ever be recognized
as the star of the team.
This system should be called Outcome-Based Basketball because it's
just like the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) that has spread through our
public schools like a contagious disease. OBE is sometimes called
OBE's advocates mouth the mantra "self-esteem." Since the
lack of self-esteem is postulated to be the cause of all social ills
(crime, illegal drugs, teenage pregnancies, AIDS, and low SAT scores),
OBE's primary goal is to inculcate self-esteem.
There is no evidence that lack of self-esteem causes those problems,
nor is there any evidence that having self-esteem causes students to
score better in academic subjects. At best, teaching self-esteem is a
waste of precious classroom time and, at worst, it's teaching the wrong
lesson that it's okay to feel good about doing poorly in school.
Self-esteem should be the reward that comes from achievement and hard
work. It should be earned. But lack of evidence doesn't slow down the
self-esteem peddlers because this mantra advances their goal of
eliminating all competition from the school experience.
Outcome-Based Education has been properly labelled a dumbing-down of
public school education. But it's even worse than reducing the amount of
knowledge covered and failing to teach essential skills such as reading.
The combination of OBE and self-esteem eliminates competition as a
learning mechanism. This destroys the students' incentive to be the best
they can be, and it destroys the school's accountability because parents
have no way to measure what their children are doing.
In an OBE school, the traditional A, B, C, D and F are replaced by
letters that are meaningless in terms of specific academic achievement,
such as S for Satisfactory (sometimes it just means Sometimes) or G for
Growth. William Glasser's 1969 book Schools Without Failure led the
charge against traditional grades.
Glasser also argued that giving homework is unfair and elitist
because A and B students usually do their homework, whereas poor
students don't, thus widening the gap between those who succeed and
those who fail in school. He even opposed objective tests because they
require students to give correct answers, in contrast to tests that ask
questions for which there are no right answers. The anti-competition
movement is galloping across America. Schools are getting rid of their
honor roll, honors courses, class rankings, academic prizes, and even
valedictorians. Spelling bees are out. If fact, even correct spelling is
out; it's replaced by inventive spelling (so students can spell words
any way they want).
Ability grouping, or tracking, is forbidden as elitist, undemocratic,
or even racist. Pity the poor teacher who has to present a single course
of study to eighth graders whose reading ability ranges from the second
to the twelfth grades. This problem is getting worse with the
mainstreaming of the learning disabled.
OBE does not allow any student to progress faster or farther than the
slowest child in the class. This system conceals the fact that some
children aren't learning much of anything.
What is the teacher to do with the faster learners after they
complete the assigned material? They are required to do peer tutoring
(trying to tutor the slower pupils) or "horizontal
enrichment." The former is a frustration for all students, and the
latter is busywork.
Cooperative Learning, in which students receive a group grade, is
another means of concealing who does the assignment accurately and who
goofs off. The brighter students soon learn that their effort is not
rewarded, and the slower students learn that there's no reason to try
because someone will give them the answers.
The testing system has been corrupted. Not only do all students score
"above average" (a marvel of statistical fakery), but many
tests are peppered with questions that ask for non-objective responses
about feelings, attitudes or predictions, or which have a built-in bias
toward Political Correctness.
The response to the dramatic decline in SAT scores over the last two
decades has resulted, not in toughening the curriculum, but in raising
every student's score 100 points, so now students get perfect scores
even if they have some wrong answers. This is one more way of concealing
the distinction between average and above-average students.
Competition needs to be restored if schools are to prepare students
for life. Children should learn early that life is competition, and the
rewards go to those who work hard, persevere and achieve.•