Over Easter vacation a few weeks ago, something happened that I can’t get out of my mind. My wife’s family conducted the annual egg hunt for all of the children, ranging in ages from seven to seventeen. The plastic eggs were hidden all over the yard, some filled with candy and others filled with various amounts of money. The kids scrambled all over the yard, screaming with delight as their baskets were filling to the brim. When the hunt was over, they all came inside and emptied their eggs onto the floor, looking over the newly found loot.
Grandma had an idea in her head about how this was going to go down. She had a vision of all of the kids emptying their money into one big pile, and in the end, dividing it out equally among all of the children. It was a good thought, and one that expressed the idea of cooperation. I have to give her credit, because she believes in a world where everyone gets along and we all help each other. Boy, was she ever wrong.
When she announced her idea, the looks on the children’s faces turned from elation at finding their new treasures, to fear at having to give up what was clearly theirs and theirs alone. In fact, I witnessed one of the younger children pocket some of the money he found, not willing to give up all of his stash. He figured there was no way the pool of money would surpass what he was already in possession of, and therefore sharing was not going to be an option. Grandma’s vision of cooperation quickly turned to one of competition. They had an inner desire to have more and be better than everyone else around them, so no one agreed to the combining of the money. What most of them didn’t realize, especially the young boy who hid his money, was that if he would have put his money in the pile with everyone else’s, he would have actually ended up with more.
This got me thinking about how things run in our education system. It’s a system based on competition. We like our schools to be the very best, and with that mindset, unfortunately, comes the need for a rank/order system so we can prove that indeed, some schools are the best. And what about those schools that rank lower on the list? Clearly they aren’t doing their jobs. Something must be done about it, and many times what we feel are desperate times should result in desperate measures. There are stories and rumors of school principals being fired, teachers being let go, parents pulling their kids out of one school and placing them in another. But is this really the best way to go?
The idea of competition implies there is a winner and a loser. If a “winning” school wants to keep that distinction, they will need to keep their innovative ideas and teaching strategies to themselves, like the young boy hoarding his money. That’s the only way to stay on top. If those schools, or any schools for that matter, share their ideas with others, then what’s to become of that? In a nutshell, we would all learn more, have more, become greater. And what of the ranking systems? I believe they would become null and void.
Is that what we really want? To ALL be great together? To have a nation filled with schools that are all working together for the greater good of students everywhere? I think the way you answer that question defines who we are as a nation, as an educator, and at it’s very core, as a person.