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Alfie Kohn - Education and Competition

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Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary. My name is Jack Bailey, I am the principal at Sir Winston Churchill. We're really pleased to co-host with the Zeitgeist Society Organization to bring in Alfie Kohn this evening. We recognize you're relinquishing that very precious Sunday night of a weekend, but we know that you will not be disappointed. So on behalf of Sir Winston Churchill and the Zeitgeist Society we welcome you, and...I'm...Sorry? Movement! I'm sorry, I keep saying the society! I'd like to turn it over to Rachel Yapp who will introduce Alfie Kohn. Hi everyone. My name is Rachel Yapp. I'm a coordinator of the Zeitgeist Vancouver team which is one of many local chapters of the global Zeitgeist Movement, which operates in over fifty countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Tonight we have two speakers: Matt Berkowitz and, of course, Alfie Kohn. Since joining The Zeitgeist Movement in 2009, Matt's become the main media spokesperson and lecturer, and has appeared on local radio stations such as CFOX 99.3, CKNW and CBC and has also appeared on national television stations such as CTV. Matt has written several newspaper articles and given many lectures about subject matters and issues pertaining to The Zeitgeist Movement spanning from economics to sociology. Alfie Kohn is a lecturer and author of twelve books ranging in subject matter from human behaviour to education and parenting. Alfie lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations. Alfie's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated and he has been described by Time magazine as perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades and test scores. We want to extend a big thank you to Churchill Secondary and Principal Jack Bailey for their cooperation in hosting this event with us. And of course a big thank you to Alfie Kohn for making this all possible. So the agenda for tonight is as follows: Matt will give a brief talk about The Zeitgeist Movement and why we wanted to partner up with Alfie for this event, and then Alfie will follow with tonight's main talk about education and competition, and then Matt will come back on to briefly wrap things up. This will all be followed by a brief Q&A session. After Matt's final talk we will get the audience members who want to ask questions to either Matt or Alfie to line up to... over the left of the stage. To the right of the stage. Our time is limited for the Q&A so we ask that you be brief and get right to the point. So, without further ado please welcome Matthew Berkowitz. (Applause) Hi everyone, thank you very much again for coming out. You're interest is what has made this event possible. The Zeitgeist Movement works actively to engage the public in raising awareness of the fact that our current methods of social interaction are unsustainable and cannot be resolved from within this system. 'Zeitgeist' is a German word that means spirit of the times, or a general reflection of the current culture. And 'Movement', of course, refers to change. Thus, The Zeitgeist Movement advocates for a shift in the dominant culture by means of a new socio-economic system that is actually defined by sustainable practices both in our behavior and values. In order to truly solve any problems, we need to understand what's causing it from the most underlying root cause. In a world where half the global population lives on less than $2.50 a day, where over one billion are living in extreme poverty, where the environment we rely on to survive is being polluted and destroyed, where consumption rates are at completely unsustainable levels and increasing, and where mental and physical health disorders are at an all time high, it is obvious something is wrong. Yet, while most people seem to recognize these problems on some level, it is not very well examined by our culture what is actually creating and reinforcing these social practices. As tempting as it is to blame corrupt corporations, incompetent politicians, or an elite group, the really relevant issue is the socioeconomic system that we live under and which generates our behavior and values. When the motivating force of a society is the pursuit of wealth, property, and power, where human and environmental wellbeing are secondary, is it any wonder that such problems exist? The Zeitgeist Movement poses such social problems as being technical in nature, rather than political or economic. In other words, it should be recognized that we can easily provide enough nutritious food for the entire world's population many times over, we can power the world with clean renewable energies today without having to rely on more polluting forms, and we can raise the standard of living of everyone to beyond what even the most fortunate today enjoy. We can do all this on a technical level, so why aren't we doing this? It doesn't matter how many laws are created, or how much business is regulated, the underlying economic motives are still there. With the ruling principle of rationale being that of seeking one's own narrow self interest usually at the expense of social and environmental costs. If we truly understand the implications of this, we may realize that patching over the problems that are generated from our socioeconomic system cannot be resolved from within our current system. A new approach is needed. We need to think outside the box rather than within presupposed notions of social affairs. In other words, we need to overhaul our economic model and, thus, our social values that are spawned from it. This is what The Zeitgeist Movement promotes and I'll expand a bit more after Alfie's talk. I first discovered Alfie Kohn after becoming involved in The Zeitgeist Movement in early 2009. Since The Movement criticizes our current economic model that is based on competition, I wanted to research this topic more. So, I typed the word "competition" into an search and mostly what I got were business books about how to be more competitive or how to improve your company's business strategy. Amidst all of those was Alfie's first book he wrote in 1986 called, 'No Contest; The Case Against Competition.' Needless to say, I bought it right away and became enamored with all the evidence describing the perils of one of our society's most dangerous promoted values and behaviours: competition. Though Alfie has moved on to become an expert in many other fields regarding human behavior, the education system, and parenting, I feel this first book laid out some very important foundations that have implications on every one of us, including some of our most deep convictions and beliefs about how a healthy society would be structured. I remember watching an old interview with Alfie in the late 1980's where he discusses his research and book on competition. One thing that stood out to me was a question regarding social reform. The interviewer pointed out how the implications of coming to terms with the research on competition would require an overhaul in our economic system, which is predicated on competition. Alfie admitted he did not necessarily have an answer for this and I thought "Ah hah! This is exactly the question The Zeitgeist Movement seeks to answer!" I went on to read most of his other books. Another one of which is called 'Punished by Rewards' which looks at the science of motivation and incentive, another valuable work, which is something that comes up in our advocacy work all the time. One thing I appreciate most about his books is his ability to get to the heart of the problems, identifying the root causes of many of these educational problems; problems of human behaviour, problems of traditional parenting, and so forth. This mirrors the approach of The Zeitgeist Movement in the sense that we seek to correct our broader social problems from their core cause; their root cause, identifying the competition-based money-driven economic model that pervades all of us in our daily lives. Since discovering his work, I thought about the possibility of organizing a collaborative event with Aflie and now the time has finally come. Tonight, the focus is on understanding how our competition based economic system pervades our educational institutions and their immense implications on our children, and society as a whole. One of the concepts we promote in our movement is that of "systems thinking", that is, understanding the issues in a holistic context. From The Zeitgeist Movement's Orientation Guide, "Realizing and striving to think in the context of interconnected systems is critical for intellectual development. Thus, creating an educational imperative for people to also learn more as generalists rather than as rigid specialists, which is the current pattern due to the structure of our traditional labor roles." Sadly, our education system today has been shaped and structured not to create well rounded understandings of the world, but rather directs focus to isolated and narrow specialties which reduces integrative system's thinking. I think it will be made clear by Alfie that the educational problems we face today, at least from my perspective, are rooted in the monetary and market system. And while we can make corrections to them on a surface level, to really resolve them requires a more profound change. With that said, I'm going to turn it over to Alfie to share his wisdom. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Alfie Kohn. (Applause) May I continue? [Audience member] Yes. Yes? You're ready? Excellent! I was told there might be a gap there. I'm delighted to see you. Thanks for coming out. Thanks so much to Matt for doing a lot of hard work to make this happen and to you for giving up your Sunday evening. If I seem a little punch drunk this evening it's because it's 10:15 pm my body time, and I've spent the entire day traveling across this great continent of ours. And not just traveling, but traveling on Air Canada. [Audience laughs] Where one can enjoy snippiness in two languages! [Audience laughs] I'd like to get a sense though before I continue of who you are because that will be of interest in how I shape my remarks this evening. How many of you are here primarily because of your affiliation with, or involvement in, The Zeitgeist Movement? Great. Welcome to the five of you. [Audience laughs] Thank you. How many of you are here primarily as teachers? Ah ha! How many of you would say, and I know many of you also have children, but how many of you are not educators but here primarily as parents? How many of you are here in some other capacity as citizens or managers or people who wear other hats, or as kids, for example, or something of the kind? OK, of those of you who are educators, how many work primarily with children let's say age 12 and under? How many of you are middle school teachers or administrators? High School? University? Other? How many of you have not yet raised your hand and are now festering with resentment over the fact that I haven't singled you out? How many of you wandered into this auditorium by mistake? [Audience laughs] Now too embarrassed to admit this. Well for whatever reason your here, I'm delighted you are. Since so many of you are teachers, and teachers who would come to an event like this, I assume you know that real learning doesn't come by listening. That's why in the best classrooms, kids are doing most of the talking and teachers are expert listeners. The kids are primarily spending their time learning with, and from one another, and making active sense of ideas. How odd then that our professional development opportunities for teachers should so often reflect the worst kind of pedagogy where somebody basically lectures at you as if you are empty receptacles into which knowledge is poured. We know that's not true of kids. Why would it be true of adults? So I like to begin on almost any topic I speak about by describing a piece of research whose findings may be surprising to some people, and then asking people to reflect on why the results might have come out the way they did. Tonight's study comes from a psychologist named Teresa Amabile who's, like me, in the Boston area. The first study I have in mind was done with seven to eleven year olds at birthday parties. It involved collages. Remember collages? (For those of you who teach older students.) The kids were all given a bunch of materials to work with and asked to create a silly collage. Half of them were just told to have fun and do it. The other half were told, "this is a contest to see who can do the best collage and we will have a prize for the best collage doer". All the kids did collages and they were all collected, mixed up, and distributed to a panel of professional artists to evaluate. The artists didn't know which kids were in which groups. I don't even think they knew anything about the groups or the design of the experiment, and they evaluated the collage quality based on several different criteria. The results were quite striking. The kids who were told that this was a contest and the point was to be the creator of the best collage did collages that ended up being rated as far less creative, less spontaneous, less original, less complex, less varied. A few years later, Professor Amabile who by then had moved on for reasons known only to her to the Harvard Business school to teach, decided to do a study with business people - otherwise she'd probably be booted out of that institution. And she did not dare to have the business people do collages, but she used other kinds of creativity tests that involved figuring out how to solve problems that were not immediately evident. Again, she divided the business people into two groups: those who were simply told to try to figure this out, and others who were told that this was a contest; a competition to see who could be most successful at solving the problem creatively. Despite the fact that the tasks were very different, that we were talking now about adults and not children, the results came out exactly the same way. Competition killed creativity. There's a great deal of other research that supports these two studies, but that's enough for our purposes this evening. Here's my question: Why? Why would it be the case that, both for children and adults, setting people against each other to try to be the best would undermine the quality of performance at least on creative tasks? I ask this not because I am fishing for the right answer. Where these kind of questions are concerned there isn't really a right answer. My purpose, plainly, is to engage you in informed speculation to try to construct meaning around the question. Would you do me a favor and turn to one other person near you whom you don't know? Maybe that's someone in the row in front of you or behind you. Feel free to stand up or just swivel. Find one person, take a second to introduce yourselves, and then take, let's say, a minute and a half to see if the two of you can come up with a hypothesis. Why did the kids and the adults who were thinking in terms of winning end up being less creative? Say hello. (Audience talks amongst themselves) Alright, may I invite you back. I'm going to invite you in a few minutes to volunteer your reflections, should you choose to. So, keep in mind any hypothesis you might have come to. I want to take a step back though and look at the bigger picture here, before I put the experiments in a larger context. The larger context is simply this: for any given task, building a house, teaching a class, writing a book. Whatever it is we're doing, cooking a meal, there's basically three ways to do it. You can do it with other people, or apart from other people, or against other people. If you do it with other people in the purest sense you're cooperating with them. The purest form of cooperation says that I can succeed only if you succeed too. Our fates are linked. We sink or swim together. In a sense that is descriptively accurate of our entire world. But it is not always true of individual tasks that we perform. The second possibility is a kind of individualistic model. Where I do this totally removed from your doing it. So your success - should you also be teaching a class, building a house, cooking a meal, writing a book, is unrelated to mine. Your success and my success have no connection to one another. And the third possibility is that our fates are negatively linked, so that I can succeed only if you fail and vice versa. The question I asked a long time ago was why it is that so many of the tasks we perform in our culture at home, at school, at work, and at play are set up not necessarily, but artificially, in such a way where most of us can succeed only at the price of other people's failure? And, I wrote a book in my 20's about competition in all areas of human life and I drew from many different disciplines: psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, education, economics and so on to try to make sense of this basic notion that we're set against each other. To figure out why that is and whether it's necessary or desirable. I have since moved on, as Matt said, to a number of other questions and issues in education and beyond. Now that I'm in my "not" 20's and yet find myself over and over again calling back this issue and bumping up against it. So, for example, if I'm writing about the equivalent of FSA's and standardized tests in general, I find myself wondering why there would be a province wide standardized exam? What is the need for standardization? Why not just learn how well kids are faring in school, and how well teachers are doing, by looking at authentic projects and assignments over time in a real classroom setting to qualitatively assess who needs help with what, and how well we're doing? The answer, when you ask the question this bluntly, rises to the surface pretty quickly. The only reason you would need a standardized test, that is having everybody in a huge area answer the same questions under the same conditions as if your real question was not how are children learning, but who's beating whom? You only need a standardized test if you're more interested in victory than in excellence! Is Kelowna doing better than Vancouver? Is BC doing better than Alberta? Is Canada doing better than Finland or the US? Is my town or district outperforming yours? Only when your goal is to sort people into winners and losers do you need this form of assessment. Otherwise, you'd be doing authentic assessments where people are not always doing the same thing. And there are many other examples Where we find - I find myself being pulled back to the same question of what i long ago called, "Mutually Exclusive Goal Attainment". "M.E.G.A" was the acronym that failed to catch on - inexplicably. MEGA means I succeed only if you fail. In fact there's a stronger version of it I succeed only if i make you fail. See the difference? If we go bowling we take turns. I do something then you do something, then I do something, then you do something. We don't actively interfere with each other's play. It's considered bad form in bowling to throw yourself across the lane to block the other person's ball. Not to mention injurious. But if we play a game like tennis, Then things are different, because a good shot in tennis, by definition, is a shot that the other person can't get to in time and return properly, so my goal at each instant of play is to make you fail - as in war. We are actively involved in this. To say, as some sort of liberal, enlightened folks would, "Go ahead and play tennis but try to make the other person lose, it's just about your personal best". That's nonsense, of course. Because, if you play the game where you are not trying to make the other person fail, it would not be tennis. It would be, perhaps, another game with two rackets, a ball, and a net and perhaps it ought to be. But the point is that if the game, and I use the word "game" literally here, but it could be used figuratively in other encounters and activities. If the rules of the game demand that we work at cross purposes, then changing our attitudes about the activity is not sufficient. We must change the structure of the activity itself. The same thing is true of kids in school. If they find that they are in a race to beat everyone else "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" In a game devised by the teacher called, "who can be the first with the right answer to be recognized by me" then the structure of the classroom sets kids against one another. Not because the kids are neurotic, or malicious, or sadistic - necessarily, but because the rules of the game demand that they view everyone else as obstacles to their own success. If there are awards assemblies - whatever we call them, where there's a trophy, a plaque, a certificate some form of recognition, and we have decided in advance that not everybody can get it. Then the message is clear. Everybody else around you is there to be beaten. If we have Spelling Bees, Geography Bees, or whatever, but you don't call them that here, do you? The first game I ever learned as a child featured "n" children scrambling for "n minus one" chairs when the music stopped. That point, when I was a kid, something called a "needle" was lifted from something called a "record", (ask your parents about it kids) which made the music stop, and everyone rushed to a seat and, by design, not everybody could get one, so one kid was "OUT!" Put the music back on, do it again, "OUT!" Remove another chair, "OUT!" Again, "OUT!" "OUT!" "OUT!" Until you have one kid sitting there, triumphant, smug, the winner and everybody else excluded from play. Unhappy. Losers. That's how you learn to have fun in North America! It is a prototype of artificial scarcity. Along comes Terry Orlick in Ontario, Ottawa, I believe, years ago who said, "why don't we change things up a little bit?" Keep the structure in tact, so you remove one chair each round, but change the objective, so the point is for everybody to stay seated somehow to fit all the butts on a diminishing number of chairs. (audience laughs) So at the end, they're figuring out how to hold on to each other, and step on each other and hold, and everybody play to the end, and everybody has a terrific time. I did it with both my kids at their birthday parties I got photos sent to me from other people who've done it too and said, "My god! Why would we ever have a competitive birthday party?" "What have we been thinking? Why would we spoil the occasion by teaching children your job is to beat everybody else?" You don't know how much fun competitive games aren't, until you've had the chance to experience what it means to play cooperative games where you still have strategy, exercise, fresh air (not necessarily from musical chairs) but without having to turn kids into winners and losers. There are two acceptable positions in the US and Canada about competition. The first is unqualified endorsement. "Competition's what's made this land great! Competition motivates people to do their best, Competition builds character and we need to start it small. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there so you might as well make it a doggie-eat-doggie world with little children too. And if you don't like competition, then there's something wrong with you, because you're scared of it and can't handle it. That's position number one. Position number two is qualified endorsement. which says, "maybe we've gotten carried away with too much competition" We do it too intensely, we do it with children who are too young, But, if we don't get carried away, if we keep things in perspective, we do it appropriately, then some competition is useful, productive and so on. Those are the only two respectable positions to have on this topic. And that continues to be the case now but when i began researching this topic a very long time ago, I failed to find any evidence to support the idea that competition is ever the optimal arrangement for kids especially, but even for adults at work, at home, at school, at play. Why would we need to set things up so that I can succeed only if other people fail? When does that ever produce optimal results compared to pursuing tasks independently, or cooperatively? And so I ended up with a position that was strikingly heretical and it's one that after having spent another few decades reading research and reflecting, and becoming a parent, and watching people around me and being challenged by folks who didn't agree with me, I still find myself holding to that "healthy competition" is a contradiction in terms, and the optimal amount of competition in any environment especially one involving children, is none. I don't expect that many of you necessarily hold to that, but I would invite you to defend your view if you believe I have gone too far and my position is too radical. I would challenge you to say "here is a situation where we must set children against eachother so the point is to defeat their peers because, unless we do that, we will be sacrificing something from our long term legitimate objectives for those kids". Under what circumstances would this ever be needed? Now, when I started talking about this, it was then as it is now a hard sell I was on, what was then, the biggest talk show in America back in the 80's called the Phil Donahue Show, this is pre-Oprah this was the big show. When I was booked on the show, my publicist was having orgasms, it was [audience laughs] I was asked such questions on the show as, "well if you're against competition, isn't that just because you're a loser? I invite you to think of how you would answer that question in eight seconds on national television. [Audience laughs] I'll give you a hint, there is no correct answer. But as i began, systematically, to think about the ideas here, I found myself coming up against more and more examples of people who say, "well we need a middle-of-the-road position, we need a balance, you know, no, not too much competition, but not none at all And I realized something that takes me about ten seconds to say, but took me many years to figure out, not everything that's bad when done to excess is OK in moderation. Some things are bad because of what they are not just because of how we're doing them or over doing them - as the case may be but you know we're challenged in a way, we're discouraged from asking that question. One of my favorite quotations that refers to not just competition, but other stuff, comes from the great linguist, and political activist, Noam Chomsky, who said the following, "the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but to allow very lively debate within that spectrum even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on while all the time the pre-suppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of debate. I think of that Chomsky quote with virtually every topic that I have written and spoken about. I wrote a book a few years ago about homework. You realize no research has ever found any benefit to homework of any kind for kids who are not in high school yet. Even in high school, the more research that comes in the less reason there is to believe that we need to make children work what amounts to a second shift after having spent all day in school. No research has ever found the benefit no 12 year old should be forced to do a school assignment at home let alone a 6 year old - which is beyond the pale. If we're continuing to assign it, it must be because we think they ought to have to do more assignments, not because any data suggest that it's useful. And yet, the question is almost always framed just in terms of how much with parents saying, "she's in tears it's been a couple of hours, and she's only 10". And the idea of a bold challenge to the status quo is to have a little less homework - to cap the number of minutes the more you argue over how much homework, the less likely you are to step back and ask, why do we need to make kids do more school work at home, and why do teachers get to decide what happens during family time in the first place? The same thing is true for any number of different topics. On grades, for example, or marks, the letter or number grades the research very clearly indicates that when students are given grades in school, three things tend to happen. First, they become less excited about, and interested in, learning. To the best of my knowledge, every study that has ever been done on the effects of grading on motivation to learn, has found a negative effect. Second, when kids are given grades, they tend to pick the easiest possible task if given a choice. Not because they're lazy, but because they're rational. Dur! Of course I picked the shortest book. You told me that the point in here is to try and get an A, a 6, an exceeds expectations, a 100, whatever the metric is. So, of course, the easier the thing I'm doing, the better the chance I have for reaching your goal, which is not intellectual risk taking. It's the opposite, it's risk avoidance. But then you blame me for not being motivated, or having enough grit or something. Its all me as opposed to looking at the structure, and the way it predictably elicits corner-cutting behaviour because the goal is not to learn - learning pulls them this direction, getting a good grade pulls them that direction that's why the best teachers I know never put a grade on an assignment they give, even if they're forced to turn one in at the end of the term. And the third effect with grades, according to the research, is that kids who are trying to work for a high grade in school tend to forget what they were taught faster, and to think in a more superficial fashion. Less depth than the students given the identical tasks But in a grade free environment. Alright, so that's what the research shows about grades, and yet the only discussion educators are given in most of their pro D days, and in most articles in the journals are how to grade? Should it be standard based grading which is the latest fad? I didn't really understand the expression, "putting lipstick on a pig" until I started reading about standards based grading. [Audience laughs] Or should we put the grades online which pushes them into their kids faces, and their parents, making them more salient and destructive? Should we grade for effort or not? Should we include zeros or not? As opposed to taking a step back and asking, why would we be talking about how to grade when all the research, all our real-life experience, if we're open to it in actual classrooms, argues strenuously for the abolition of grades and more authentic forms of reporting that are not reduced to letters and numbers? With homework, and with grades, we find ourselves thinking of this basic Chomsky principle again. We're not encouraged to ask the radical questions and I use "radical" in the original Latin sense of the word. "Radical" comes from the Latin meaning, "root". We're asking the root questions, which I take it is what The Zeitgeist Movement is about. Not operating within the ideological confines of this status quo, but having some perspective and saying, are we questioning the right things? Now in the case of competition, much of the discussion is pre-emptied by the belief that there's nothing we can do about it anyway because competition is just "human nature". So that's the first belief I undertook to debunk. Before I wrote my book on this topic, I had heard this claim made so many times at dinner parties, and in magazine articles - we're just born competitive that I assumed there must be a significant database supporting this belief. I started the research on this more than thirty years ago. I started when I was nine. [Audience laughs] And I have yet to find a shred of evidence to support that belief. In fact, there's is considerable evidence to challenge it. From evolutionary biology, from cross-cultural anthropology, experience of other cultures, and from elementary and early childhood education. I'll summarize it all in a sentence. We compete because we're raised that way, not because we're born that way. It's very convenient for us to say, hey it doesn't matter, I have no responsibility for changing our practices because it's innate. But, innate necessarily so. There is no support for that. What we find instead is that kids are carefully taught. The anthropologist, Jules Henry, turned his keen anthropologist eye to our culture many years ago brings us inside an elementary class as follows, Boris had trouble reducing twelve sixteenths to the lowest terms and could only get as far as six eighths. His teacher asked him quietly if that was as far as he could reduce it. She suggested he think - very helpful isn't it? [Audience laughs] Much heaving up and down and waving of hands by the other children all frantic to correct him Boris pretty unhappy. Probably mentally paralyzed. She then turns to the class and says, "Well who can tell Boris what the number is?" A forest of hands appears and the teacher calls Peggy who says that four may be divided into the numerator and the denominator. Thus, Boris's failure has made it possible for Peggy to succeed His depression is the price of her exhilaration. His misery, the occasion for her rejoicing. To a Zuni, Hopi or Dakota Indian, Peggy's performance would seem cruel beyond belief. But it is the standard condition of our elementary schools. I made three central arguments in my book after trying to lay to rest that we have no choice about being competitive The first was competition's effect on our psychological health and self esteem. My bumper sticker summary of the research the following: competition is to self esteem, as sugar is to teeth. The meaningful distinction is not between kids who win and kids who lose, in terms of psychological health. Meaningful distinction is between kids who have to compete and those who are blessedly free from having to compete. Competition teaches that I'm only as good as my last victory. That my sense of competence, and thus my confidence, is contingent on my having defeated other people. When you lose it feels lousy. But even when you win, it is a shot of adrenaline that doesn't last long and you fall back to Earth, and then need more and more victories to try to recover that initial euphoria. Not unlike developing a tolerance to a drug. Competition, regardless of the results in any given encounter, encourages us to doubt ourselves and to believe that we are never ultimately successful and must always try to beat other people. To try to feel better about ourselves by winning a prize, is like trying to slake a thirst by drinking salt water. It's not just unhelpful, it makes the problem worse so the more you compete, the more you need to compete. The second issue I looked at was the effect of competition on our relationship among other people. And competition, again to summarize it succinctly, teaches children that other people are potential obstacles to your success. They are not potential friends and allies and helpers, they are potential rivals whom you must best in order to succeed. And the destructive consequences, and here's really the remarkable fact, the more we see the predictable effects of competition on human relationships, the aggression, the cheating, the self-destructive behaviour especially in sports The envy of winners - which is not a healthy emotion. The contempt for losers. The reserve and distance we find ourselves in; holding people at arms length because even if you're not my rival today, you might be tomorrow. All of those things happen again and again and whenever they'd flare up into truly ugly behavior, we blame the individuals who were forced to compete. For not knowing how to compete properly, for not having been taught sportsmanship. You don't need the concept of sportsmanship when kids are playing cooperative games I don't just mean it's not necessary, I mean it has no meaning. It's like the concept that you don't have theft in a culture where there's no personal property where everything is shared, the concept has no meaning. It's like in Boston, where I live, the concept of jaywalking has no meaning because there is no norm that says you're supposed to cross only at the intersections. A lot of concepts that we talk about are contingent on some other thing that we've accepted whether we realize we've accepted it or not. The concept of blasphemy has no meaning if you don't believe in God. The concept of leisure has no meaning unless work is alienating. And so, with competition, the idea of sportsmanship is not merely unnecessary, but without meaning. Except in cases where people have been told you have to defeat him/her or, we as a group have to cooperate just for the purpose of defeating another group of people who are cooperating. Which is as close as we get to cooperation in our culture for the most part. Let's all work together so we can beat the hell out of them. Sports teams, in companies, even whole countries and yet it turns out we're moving in the wrong direction if we think that kind of cooperation will suffice. The research is very clear. Kids who have been led to compete against others are less trusting - again, dur. Why would I trust other people when I keep finding myself in activities where their success comes at the price of my failure? If I'd been raised on a diet of hockey and spelling bees, and which row is quietest and can go to lunch fastest and who's going to get the prize for the best essay. Of course I don't trust anyone. It's not because there's something wrong with me, it's because adults keep making me try to beat my friends. The problem is with the structure that sets kids against each other. When is that ever likely to be beneficial, psychologically or interpersonally? Not that I can find. I'm in a situation where I don't trust. the research also finds when people are led to compete, they're less able to understand how the world looks from someone else's point of view, which psychologists call, "perspective taking". They're less likely to help people in need and they're less likely to communicate accurately. Again, this is not because of personality differences between kids, this is because of structural differences in terms of whether they've been put in a competitive situation. One study found that you could tell how ungenerous a child was just by how competitive the child's father was. You didn't even have to make the kid compete, just living with somebody who's competitive was enough to make the child selfish. They didn't look at moms but I suspect they would have found the same thing if they had. It's amazing the number of people, by the way, say but I'm a really competitive person not realizing how much they're admitting to us about what's amiss, psychologically speaking. People who would never say, you know I have a serious problem with alcohol. But by saying I'm a really competitive person, they're saying not I'm a person who likes to succeed, I'm all in favour of excellence. Not I'm really motivated. They're saying, I'm not satisfied until I have defeated other people. That's a sign that something is terribly wrong psychologically But we live in a society that valorizes it instead of sending such people for treatment. [Audience laughs] So that our mass entertainment culture I mean you can't turn on a reality TV show without learning the message again and again and again, but the only way to cook to design dresses, to whatever, is to try to make other people fail. The lesson being taught over and over again, not just with sports is that it is necessary to win that other people are not to be worked with, but to be worked against. By the way, if competition were just part of human nature, would it really be necessary to do this continual socialization to train children in this way? Or are we trying to do so without making it plain that that's our goal? So I looked at the effect on psychological health, and I looked at the effect on our relationship, and then I looked at one more question and this was the one that caught me by surprise. The idea that competition motivates us to do our best. Maybe it isn't so good for how we feel about ourselves, but damn it when we're trying to win, we're much more likely to achieve great things. If we weren't competing, wouldn't we all just stagnate in a pool of mediocrity? I frankly, when I started this process of looking into this, I was already convinced before I looked at a single study that competition wasn't so great psychologically, but but I assumed it had a motivational effect, so we might have to be prepared to sacrifice some achievement, at least in some arenas in order to have happier, healthier people I was wrong. Dead wrong. The Amabile studies on collage and creativity is just the tip of a very large iceberg I can't even use that analogy anymore in this age of global climate change. They're shrinking, but the study pool is not shrinking, it's growing. The study on (now here's my bumper sticker; here's my summary on this) Competition, not only isn't necessary for excellence, typically it's absence is necessary for excellence. I was stunned to find this. At best it provides no advantage even in most physical tasks. Maybe if I took all of you and said, I'm going to make you like envelopes. See how many envelopes you can lick in the next ten minutes. Half of you, here lick these envelopes, the other half, this is a contest to see who can lick the most envelopes in ten minutes. You get a big prize if you lick the most. Alright, I'm prepared to believe the second group would lick more envelopes, but even there it's not clear cut, and by the way, what's the educational equivalent of licking envelopes? It's working on apostrophes It's learning to borrow from the tens place decontextualize skills, cramming forgettable facts, into short-term memory for a test. You need to use artificial inducements like competition to make kids do stuff when the teaching is so unengaging, so traditional, that quite kids understandably, have been given no reason to want to learn this stuff. That's why, it turns out, this is my observation, I don't have hard evidence on this that the kind of teachers who would never have a contest in the class where they set kids against each other, also tend to be the kind of teachers who's classrooms are really about intellectual discovery and understanding ideas from the inside out. The teachers who are setting kids in quizzes, like quiz bowls, and who's got the best marks on the paper, and we have a prize for who turned in the most library books earliest, who are constantly using these kind of doggie biscuits to motivate kids especially competitions, tend to be the teachers who's curriculum and pedagogy are the least engaging and those where the kids had least to say about what's going on. You show me a teacher who's using competition a lot to motivate kids, and I'll show you a teacher who's kids have probably been excluded from most of the decision making about what they're learning and how, and when, and why. So there's all this evidence showing with adults as well as kids, that competition often holds us back from doing our... You might find this radical - this may make you very angry, but I challenge you to find evidence to contradict the studies that I keep correcting showing that if I took all of you and gave you some task to perform, it's very likely that those of you trying to be number one would end up doing a poorer job. So let's come back to the collage. Why might this be true? Why did the kids at birthday parties who were told there was a prize for best collage end up doing less creative collages? Why did the adult business people end up being less successful on average? With trying to work out creative solutions to other problems, when they were told it's about winning. What did you come up with when I asked you a while ago to talk with somebody? Can you summarize it in one sentence, a solution, somebody here [Audience member] I have to say, is this a contest? - It is not. Absolutely. [Audience laughs] But thank you for asking. I would say that the group who did a poor job their focus was reward. That's the reason why it undermined creativity and problem solving. It undermined problem solving and creativity because the status of winning served as a reward. OK which is a great way of setting the questions back a bit and asking why would a reward undermine creativity? But at least now you've helped us to frame the question in a little more of a sophisticated fashion. Thank you. Why else? [Audience member] I think they are less inclined to take risks. - They don't want to take risks. The more focussed you are on getting the prize, the less likely you are to think outside the box; to think in more unexpected ways - to play with possibilities. Because you don't want to do anything to jeopardize your status of getting the reward or the award. You know what the difference is, right, between a reward and an award? An award is a reward that everybody can't get. so it adds the arsenic of competition to the strychnine of rewards or extrinsic motivators. OK, less risk taking. What else? What else might be going on? What did you come up with? Why else? Yes, in back. We were thinking maybe the potential of trying to live up to somebody else's expectations as opposed to your own. So there may be something about living up to others evaluation or expectation that gets in the way; gums up the works and prevents me from being as creative as I would otherwise be. OK. Thank you. Somebody else? Yes. So probably in the other group is what you'd find is they're probably more willing more collaborative, or share stuff, or perhaps they help each other out. I'm looking at some of your teddy bears. Here's a teddy bear. Here, pass it on. But if it was competitive, you might not do that. You wouldn't do that. So the premise here is that for many tasks, what conduces to excellence is collaboration. As two of the leading researchers in this field put it, David and Roger Johnson who are brothers, who cooperate in the study of cooperation at the University of Minnesota, they put it this way, All of us are smarter than any of us. The most expert - a well functioning group is often (not always) but often able to produce better results than the most expert member of the group could do on his or her own. Now, what happens with kids in a typical elementary school do, what research shows, is the most effective way of learning - learning from one another. We have another word for that. We call it cheating. Interestingly, when we use the word "cooperate" in most elementary schools, we use it to mean "obedience". I want you all to cooperate, boys and girls, which means do exactly what I tell you. It's a euphemism for mindless obedience, not real cooperation. So if you're right, that cooperation turns out to lead to excellence, even if the rules allow me to share what I've figured out with you, and you to share with me, why the hell would we, if we were rational, do that if my success comes at the price of your failure? So the most effective means to producing or creating is ruled out in a competitive environment. Add that to the external evaluation explanation, add that to the reward explanation, add that to the focus not on creativity, but avoiding risk taking explanation and we could come up with others as well. I'm not necessarily supporting one of these over the others and I have a *** of them. One obvious one is anxiety I'm under stress if I'm told I have to be the best, and stress and anxiety tend to get in the way of thinking well, and performing well. So whatever the reason is, though, we have all this good research suggesting that just as competition isn't good for our mental health, and just as it isn't good for our relationships, it isn't even good for achievement at school, and elsewhere. So then the question becomes, "how do we move beyond it and how do we deal with particular, I'm not going to talk about the playing field but just the classroom, what does it mean to have cooperative learning as the default? My view is that in most classrooms most of the time, it should be in pairs, or small groups figuring out questions that matter - not just memorizing facts more efficiently. but understanding ideas together in a way that really makes sense to try to build a caring community. There is one challenge I get a lot, and I'm going to close with this and then, by the way, I'm going to take questions for a while and I would point out that in case you came here tonight because you happen to know of other stuff I've written on other topics, I'm happy to respond to questions about anything you want; it doesn't have to be about competition. But there is one challenge that I hear constantly. It goes like this: Well that all sounds nice in theory, whenever people say that, I grow suspicious - most of these people don't even like the theory. [Audience laughs] But in the real world, it's Utopian, it's idealistic, it's unrealistic, and so on. These are challenges that people in The Zeitgeist Movement are well acquianted with as well and I basically came up with half a dozen responses to this "we got to make kids compete because that's what they're going to have to do in the real world." So here they are, if one of these ever proves applicable, and useful, steal it; it's yours. First, they get more than enough experience with competition without our adding more. You can't play a video game, or it's damned hard to turn on TV to find some sort of after-school activity in the community, without coming across one example after another of competition. It's the truly cooperative activities that are in scarce supply. So, we as educators in particular, but also as parents, have an obligation to introduce kids to non-competitive activities given how much they already receive of this. Surely we have reached the point, even if you thought competition was useful, of diminishing returns. Second response, "I agree that in a competitive society it is very helpful to help kids reflect on that aspect of society. I would teach children about competition just as I would teach them about substance abuse or reckless driving, so they learn to recognize it and think deeply about the premises. But when people say we need to teach kids about competition, what they are really suggesting we do is immerse them in competitive activities which is very, very different. We wouldn't have to do that to teach them about it Immersing them in it by making them compete is socializing them to uncritically accept competition as inevitable or desirable. That's very different to helping them think about what they're doing. Next, the benefits of failure are overrated. People who suggest that competing and losing is good for you because it leads you to pick yourself up and try harder next time, are apparently folks who don't spend that much time with real children and seem not to have good memories about their own childhoods. The research finds that failure, typically when experienced by kids, teaches kids that they don't have the competency to succeed, and then become less likely to succeed next time. I have a lot more to say about this in a new book that's coming out in the spring called, "The Myth of the Spoiled Child" which will make a fabulous gift next spring, but [Audience laughs] argument is that being unsuccessful which most people are in most competitive encounters, is rarely useful in helping people to become more successful at the activity let alone more excited about doing it. But the next step is, even if you disagree with that and think that failure can be useful, failure doesn't necessarily entail losing, which is failing in a public activity so that someone else can succeed. Just as winning and succeeding are two different things. So failing and losing are, I have never seen any evidence that the particular version of failing, known as losing in a competition, provides any advantage in terms of kids' ultimate development. And my last response is so often we fall back on what we could call, what I've called, the B.G.U.T.I explanation. B.G.U.T.I is a stupid ephemism, acronym Sorry, it's 11.20. It's an **acronism** for Better Get Used To It. You say there's no evidence that grades, or homework, or standardized tests are beneficial to young children? Well we've got to make them do it anyway because they're just going to get this stuff when they're older. People actually think like this. They're going to get this in high school, they better get prepped now. In other words, people are going to do unpleasant things to you later, so we have to prepare you by doing unpleasant things to you right now while you're still small. And that is basically the rationale for making little children compete. Yes it destroys self esteem. Yes it undermines relationships. Yes it gets in the way of excellence in many activities and yes it makes kids less excited about the activities themselves, but people are going to make you compete later, so start suffering now. People don't put it quite that way, but it's not that far from the actual rationale that people invoke. And you know what? I want to raise a generation of kids who don't confuse bad stuff like competition with the way the world works. Competition is not a necessary part of human life. Just like standardized tests, homework and grades aren't a necessary part of schooling. I want to raise kids so that if they get into an environment where they're set against other people and told you have to beat each other, they'll say, why the hell? Why would I do that? Things were much more successful when we were able to cooperate in the school like **** and with this amazing teacher I had. You're going to get the duct tape stuff working just right when we're done. Perfectly timed. I want to raise a generation of kids who look at competitive activities and say, "Yuck! We can do better than this". Not "that's what I'm used to;there's no other way. This is life". Realism Corrupts. Absolute realism corrupts realism absolutely. I'm not saying live in a Utopian fairyland that has no bearing on reality. Competition works better, bottom line, in the real world. Cooperation is not only more successful, it gives kids a taste of an alternative way of living and learning and loving that can help our kids improve this society improve their own lives, taking it beyond the war of all against all that we have subjected them to in the meantime. [Audience applause] Hi again everybody. I want to make a few broad points, and bring today's talk into the context of The Zeitgeist Movement's advocacy initiatives, and then we'll go right into the Q&A. As mentioned in my opening talk, the Zeitgeist Movement works to understand the root causes of our broader social problems. From our analysis, we find that the socioeconomic system we live under meaning the market system of monetary exchange, is unsustainable inherently. And, in fact, creates and reinforces circumstances that lead to our greatest social problems. In order to solve these problems, we require a new way of thinking. A way of thinking about society that is actually designed to meet human needs. That is designed to provide every human being in the world with a high quality of living, while protecting the integrity of the environment. Our home, and removing the basis of war, poverty, waste, and so forth. What I'm talking about has nothing in common with capitalism, socialism, communism, or any other "-ism", but rather a more scientific approach to economics. One who's reference is natural law and the Earth's resources, rather than the movement of money. We need to understand that the integrity of any society of any economic system is best measured by how closely aligned it's structure and functionality are to the governing laws of nature. Let me quickly address what could be considered the structural origins of the education system then. It needs to be understood that the structure of the education system which is predicated on competition, as Alfie so brilliantly dissects, is a mirror and outgrowth of the economic system. Whilst the focus of today's event is ultimately on the education system it cannot be fully understood what the root sources of it's problems are without understanding our socioeconomic system. One of the immutable components of that market system is competition From companies having to compete with each other for market share, to people having to compete with one another for labour, with students having to compete with one another for grades this competition is literally drilled into us from birth. It's so deeply conditioned into us that many of us think, as Alfie says, that it's part of an inevitable human nature. Rather than the narrow pursuit of one's own detached self interest, through the mechanism of competition that is dominant today, The Zeitgeist Movement advocates for a system that would be inherently cooperative in structure, and eliminates the basis for what most of what we call corrupt behaviour. In order to accomplish this, a new economic model is needed that takes into account the reality that everything on this planet depends upon everything else. When we realize that the Earth is one single, interconnected system, that human beings' dependance on maintaining, and the integrity of this planet, we realize all the divisions that separate humanity are illusory and need to be transcended. Thus, a systems approach that manages our earthly resources in the most optimized fashion to maximize the efficiency, and thus sustainability, of these resources is absolutely necessary. What we advocate could be summarized into a single statement. That is, the application of the scientific method for social concern. Due to time, I of course cannot go into this in enough detail, but this is the basis of the train of thought we promote. We urge you all to check out the Zeitgeist documentary trilogy specifically the last two, on more specifically the third one, which explores these topics in much greater detail. You can these by donation at our table outside, or you can view them online for free, or they're all on Netflix. They're the most watched documentaries in internet history, the first one now having been watched over two million times. Furthermore, you can go online to where our advocacy initiatives and educational imperatives are laid out in much greater and with an extensive Q&A. Beyond that, you can find us, the Vancouver Chapter active frequently. We set up every few Saturdays at the Vancouver Art Gallery to engage the public, giving out information and DVDs and answering questions. On top of that, we hold occasional educational events like this one often collaborating with other organizations and speakers, and our main educational day is in mid-March called Zeitgeist Day, or ZDay **or ZDay**. And with that, I think we can move into the Q&A. Though Alfie will certainly be the recipient of most of the questions, I will be here to handle any questions that get directed towards me. So, without further adieu, please line up - No, stay where you are, we'll repeat so that everyone else can hear. My question is how did you determine that high school is the time when competition would be then integrated into their school systems? How did I determine that competition - that's not what I said, so I appreciate the opportunity to correct it. I made the distinction between high school and before high school for homework. Not for competition. Obviously I'm arguing that competition isn't optimal even for adults, I'm not suggesting that it's ever useful for teenagers, There's, in the case of homework, there's evidence that there's a modest correlation between standardized test scores and how much homework kids do if you believe test scores happen to be a meaningful marker of proficiency. which I, for one, do not. But even that correlation tends to vanish with multiple controls. Below high school, there's no case to be made for homework of any kind as far as I can tell. But I wasn't talking about competition. So if I wasn't clear I'll apologize. Thank you for that. Yes. How would you suggest that teachers apply this theory in a world where parents sometimes ask for more homework to be given to the children? - Well you want to talk about homework? - And where we are expected to give an evaluation sometimes every three weeks and at the end of term? - The evaluation is related to grades here, and not homework, right? - Yes, both. - By educating parents, and by asking parents what their long term goals are for their children. I work with parents all the time in Canada and the US, and I usually start by asking, what are your long term objectives for you kids? How would you like them to turn out? What would you like them to be like? And wherever I go, parents say, Can you guess? I want my kid to be happy, ethical, caring and compassionate, independent, life-long learner. I want them to be successful, problem solvers, creative and so on. And then I say, OK, let's start with your objectives. How does killing kids' excitement about learning by making them work a second shift with academic problems, help them to become lifelong learners, when most kids hate most homework? Even if they can manage to get it done successfully. How does it help them to succeed when most of the kids who do well at the homework didn't need it because they were already proficient, and those who were struggling can't do it on their own? In the case of grades, if you're telling me as a parent, I want to know how my kid's doing and the school says you're supposed to tell me every so often, I say absolutely right, but what does a letter or number grade tell you? All that tells you is what I happen to believe the grade was that I subjectively assigned for the assignment. I'm not suggesting we don't share information about kids, what they're doing and how they're doing I suggest we share more meaningful information that doesn't destroy kids interest in learning, preference for challenge, and depth of thinking. How do we do that? With qualitative comments in the form of a narrative or better yet, with a conference in which we sit down together and talk about kids. Once parents get a taste of that they say, "This gives me much more and better information than a report card would." Which is why some of the best districts are phasing out report cards but they need to do it in a way where parents don't feel blindsided but consulted. - I read your first book a long time ago so I'm not sure if you talked about the ideas of Peter Kropotkin that mutual aid and cooperation are more important in evolutionary survival than competition. Could you comment on that? I did quote from Peter Kropotkin and his book "Mutual Aid" where he talked about the world beyond humans. But Kropotkin wrote a hundred or more years ago and it happens that there's been quite a collection of work by biologists since then that have argued that cooperation within and among species actually does tend to be the rule rather than the exception. And even when there isn't active cooperation there tends to be an avoidance of competition. If you think about it, dominance hierarchies pecking orders exist in many species so that each individual in the species has a sense of what his or her place is and they don't have to keep competing with more people losing. Migration is about avoiding competition. "There's not enough food for all of us here some of us will go over there, so we don't have to compete!" The idea that nature is red in tooth and claw is a very outdated view. And I often ask people to think about that notion of how we tend to impute the Darwin's notion of Natural Selection when it's not in fact the Darwinian notion at all. Well its actually, what the phrase? (Audience says something inaudible) Thankyou! The phrase "Survival of the Fittest" was never uttered by Darwin as far as I can tell. It was uttered by Herbert Spencer an ultra right wing social theorist who corrupted Darwin's thinking to justify withholding aid from the neediest people. Darwin said: Natural Selection means that whoever is best able to adapt to a changing environment is more likely to be around to reproduce. He doesn't specify the method of adaptation, which often involves cooperation more than competition. Yes? I'm thinking of some recent works on introversion, specifically Susan Cain's "Quiet", and I'm wondering if you can speak to ways that educators can design proper learning so it doesn't punish introverts and just reward extroverts? How do we design cooperative learning so it doesn't punish introverts and reward extroverts? I would argue that cooperative learning is already a large step forward for helping introverted kids compared to a whole class discussion where introverted kids are even less likely to want to speak up. The Johnson brothers like to say, "Nobody gets left out of a pair!" So kids who feel more reticent are more likely to speak up to one kid than they are with everyone and not to be excluded. Now if we find that some kids even there are being left out they're certainly not going to do any better in a competitive environment or a whole class discussion. But if we find that they're still not speaking up than we have to decide as teachers is this really a problem or are we assuming that a certain amount of production of information and speaking is necessary. Maybe it's the case that some kids who rarely speak are in fact learning quite a bit and thinking even when they contribute very sparingly. So, it's our criteria for success and learning that's the problem, not just the structure of the classroom organization. Just like there's some elementary school teacher, "Boys and girls I want to see all eyes on me!" Why? Because you need the attention? Lot's of times kids are learning a lot as adults are without looking right at, and so its the case that that kind-of talking isn't always necessary. So for some kids who are not contributing a lot my question as a teacher is "Why"? Is it because that's just the kids style and the kid is still making sense of ideas that engaged? Or is if the fact that the kid doesn't feel safe to contribute? And if that's true is it because A) we need to work on how we do cooperative groups and deal with safety together as part of a class meeting? Or B) because there's other stuff unrelated to whether the kids are spending time in pairs, small groups, alone, or in the whole classroom. Where the whole classroom doesn't feel safe. If you're grading them for class participation that's the definition of a lack of safety. Never mind an extrinsic inducement so the kids are now contributing to impress you and get a grade which is the opposite of doing it for authentic reasons. Or is there something else about the classroom climate where kids don't feel safe? If kids say stuff like, you ask a question and a kids says, "Oh that's easy!" I would stop immediately and say we gotta talk about that. Folks, if it's not easy for me how does that make me feel when somebody else says "that's easy"? Teachers every day are figuring out how as a community we can make sure that nobody feels like I'm taking an enormous risk by volunteering a possibility when I'm not certain. I'm never going to be made to feel stupid. So that requires us to do than just rethink the structure of the grouping in order to invite kids of all different temperaments and sensibilities to feel part of that community. And if some kids says "I don't want to talk even in a small group" than our question is "OK so how can you participate, give some ideas? I'm happy to hear them." Loudest voices sometime carry a lot of weight. But I think it would be throwing out the baby with the bath water to get rid of all the enormous benefits of collaborative learning simply because some of us as adults and kids carry that bias into groups. Instead I would explicitly call people's attention to that bias. What a great topic for a cooperative class meeting. "Do you think that's true?" "Have you ever found that?" "Can we come up with an experiment to see if that's true?" Because if kids are mindful of that bias, it's less likely to infect them. I wouldn't say, "Therefore you should work on your own." and miss out on all the wonders of hearing why somebody else didn't have the same reaction to the character in the story we just read. If they're doing it by themselves they're losing out on everybody else's brains. But there's lots of ways that groups can go bad. The tendency to listen to the most outspoken kid and give more weight to his or her comment more frequently his, is one example of a problem to be solved about cooperative learning. Not a reason to dispense with it, in my opinion. Yes? - I'm so deeply grateful for the research you've done and from Peter, and from listening to you, but I just - after the question here about group based assignments - My initial question was going to be because I've had assignments where I've had students say "It's not fair. I'm doing more work than the others and we're all getting the same grade", and realizing yeah, and coupled with that the problems of grading. So then more broadly, I'm doing PhD research right now looking at socioeconomic determinates of youth and mental health and they talked about competition of getting into university and painful that is and how much it impacts a lot of - supporting a lot of what you said. Do you have any thoughts on broader structural policy changes? I mean how do we change if these kids need grades to get into university and to get scholarships. How can we -, any thoughts on that? So the question you didn't ask but were tempted to had to do with what happens within the individual classroom, and there's a lot to be said about that. Your more challenging question is structural changes when the society hasn't come as far as we have is still requiring grades for scholarships and university admission. I think some aspects of this question are more easily addressable in the short term than others. For example, there are kids who are homeschooled and have never received a grade who are admitted to universities anyway based on far more meaningful criteria. That proves that it can happen. I think there are some Waldorf high schools and other alternative high schools that don't give grades in BC. And again the universities can make exceptions. If enough secondary schools said, "We're not going to give grades either, based on the research, but what we will do is provide universities with a meaningful annotated description of the courses that the kids have taken along with narrative reports from the adults who know them best. When combined with essays and interviews, that will provide you with much more information than a grade point average, so you can decide whether this student is good for your university." If enough secondary schools do that the universities will have no choice but to change their admissions process. Which they've already proved they can do. Well, free is a different question from selective, that right. I mean in Scandinavia for example it's free of cost but it's still selective and theres still a stratification in terms of which universities. Do we need that? Hey you want to get really radical about this how about this for a challenge? Why are universities accepting mostly the students who are easiest to educate? That is, the ones who are most successful k-12 instead of the students who could most benefit from what they have to offer. Now that's a radical question about this. But I think they're made...and people who are giving out scholarships based on grades need to ask a moral question. Which is, never mind what criteria are being used to determine merit, why are scholarships being given on so called merit instead of based purely on need? So we don't simply make the rich richer. So there's many levels at which we could address this, but the one thing we shouldn't say is "Because there are many examples of institutions still wedded to disc functional systems and questionable beliefs we can't make change. And the reality is that we can especially when we organize. And by the way theres, to your first question the one you didn't ask, there was a fascinating study in the journal of personality and social psychology that found that almost everybody in cooperative groups comes out thinking "I did most of the work and everybody else depended on me." (Audience laughs) Yeah. How might you be preparing a one and a three year old for a competitive school? Is that what your...I couldn't have heard that right? How do you...well, first we can prepare them for cooperation by modeling it for them. What example are we setting? Are the kids overhearing us feeling very differently when we win something or lose out in a contest in work or in sports. Second, as they get older are we having conversations with them about this? Watching TV with them to help them upack "What are the lessons here?" Not for a one year old obviously who shouldn't be watching TV at all. But as they get older to think about these things And are there ways in which we are inadvertantly perpetuating a competitive mentality. "Ok kids, who can get into their pajamas fastest?" That's not innocuous. "Whose the best little girl in the whole wide world?" This kind of thing, this language and these activities in a family are teaching kids to regard even their siblings as obstacles to their own success. Maybe there's ways we can set a different example. And then if they go a traditional school where suddenly it's about contests, now we've given them an immunization so they can be, if I may quote St Augustine wildly out of context paraphrase him..."Now they are in a competitive environment without being of the competitive environment". They can hold it at a remove and say "This sucks! And I'd rather work with." So, it doesn't mean that we can never expose them to sub-optimal arrangements but in our home life we can make sure they have a basis for comparison so that they can see, I learn better, I have more fun I'm more successful when we're doing this in groups and so they know. If your a teacher and your teaching in what I call a working with way instead of a doing to way you're solving problems democratically in class meetings, you're not giving're not saying "Good Job! I really like the way you dot dot dot" Which is a verbal doggy biscuit to get compliance. If you're not punishing them by making them suffer punishments and rewards are two sides of the same coins. If you're not giving homework, if you're not giving them grades if you're not having them memorize facts for quizzes but instead helping them to explore ideas in interactive and active learning and then next year they go back to a competitive, grade based, punishments and rewards, homework and quiz infected environment and you think, "why did I bother?" I'll tell you why you bothered, because from now on you've given them a gift that no one can ever take away. When they're back in a traditional environment, you've given them the knowledge that it could be otherwise. Something otherwise they may never have known. My voice is giving out, my mind is giving out. Thank you so much for coming (Audience clapping) Thanks again.

Video Details

Duration: 1 hour, 40 minutes and 33 seconds
Country: Canada
Language: English
Producer: Zeitgeist Vancouver
Director: Zeitgeist Vancouver
Views: 416
Posted by: ltiofficial on Feb 19, 2014

Zeitgeist Vancouver lecture by Alfie Kohn on "Education and Competition", with an introduction from Matt Berkowitz.

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