[Editorial] Competition Raises the Bar
by The Milton Measure on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
In the 2004 blockbuster Meet the Fockers, after proudly displaying his son’s ninth place ribbons, participation awards, and “Best Nurse” trophy, Bernie Focker explains, “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about passion. We just wanted [our son] to love what he’s doing. Know what I mean, Jack?” To which the ex-CIA agent promptly responds, “Not really, Bernard. I think a competitive drive is the essential key that makes America the only remaining superpower in the world today.”
Most people would criticize Jack’s opinion, dismissing his ideal for success as both aggressive and antagonistic, particularly in regards to nurturing young children — after all, our parents’ generation strived to raise confidence in children by lessening competition and promoting self-esteem. However, these attempts have been overshadowed in recent years as a college education has become more easily accessible and nearly imperative to excel in the work force. As a consequence of colleges’ popularity and thus their decreasing acceptance rates, the already competitive atmosphere in high schools has amplified enormously.
Milton Academy is no exception — the drive to excel not only in school but also above fellow classmates has become an inherent part of many students’ academic and extracurricular lives. Members of our community and of other preparatory schools point to this particular aspect of institutions as a cause for internal conflict and stress. While these apprehensions are absolutely valid, we find that this competitive spirit is a large component of what makes Milton so successful, what helps our school produce such driven individuals, and what creates an environment that accurately mimics the “real world” beyond high school.
It is easy to claim that stress, frustration, and a cutthroat environment — all often products of competition — make an entire establishment flawed to its core. It is even easier to call this trend a relic of an older time, one in which teachers could rap students on the knuckles for stepping out of line. However, if one examines the true value of competition in our current educational system, particularly Milton’s, he must be willing to look past some of its kinks and recognize the benefits. Without a reasonable sense of competition, many students would lose their drive to push themselves and improve; a varsity team is barely a club without the ever-present struggle for its next victory, the school newspapers would not be nearly as ambitious without constantly clashing against their counterparts. Take away opposing forces, and some of the productivity and innovation gained from our community’s proverbial rat race disappear.
Furthermore, competition does not end once a student receives his high school diploma. In both college and the work force, struggling to shine among one’s peers is frankly inherent. However, having the ability to manage this competition is not quite as inherent: this skill must be learned. To ignore this lesson, not to teach it, to deny that competition exists at Milton is just as egregious as not teaching Math or English, leaving just as large a hole in students’ overall curriculum.
Competition, like many positive aspects of a preparatory school, has its limits. Unhealthy competition, the kind that glorifies personal success over shared success, has a crushing effect on trust and collaboration. Although the “greater good” is often not easily defined at a preparatory school, as these years are focused more on the education and benefit of the individual, a drastic change takes place beyond high school. Particularly, more often than not, individual achievement in and of itself does not create a comprehensively successful work place. Collaboration and the greater good will begin to overshadow competition, especially some of the forms of competition one experiences at Milton.
Milton teachers can help us break out of our unhealthy habits by offering more collaborative assignments, a challenge we practice infrequently here but one that we will undoubtedly tackle once we leave the Milton community. Ultimately, as students, we do not want to simply abandon our competitive spirit as we strive to reach our goals as individuals and as an institution. We must, however, constantly remind ourselves to compete with our peers only if the competition is mutually beneficial. The next time you are tempted to ask someone for his test grade to see if you performed better, the next time you get frustrated at a classmate for receiving a position you thought you deserved, ask yourself if you are practicing the healthy competition that makes Milton students so successful or if you are practicing the unhealthy competition that promotes individualism and stifles teamwork.
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