Protecting Self-Esteem By Eliminating Academic Competition?

Today on Ave Maria Radio, one of talk show host Al Kresta’s guests was Elizabeth Scalia.  An accomplished Catholic editor and writer, she was promoting her most recent book, “Strange Gods:  Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life” (Ave Maria Press).  The book is a wake-up call for those who limit their understanding of “idols” to the golden calves of Old Testament days.

Yet, a side story which caught my attention involved a conversation she had with one of her children’s teachers.  She was curious as to why the annual school science fair was no longer being held.  It had been an excellent learning opportunity for the students and many looked forward to it.  The reason given was that it had become too much of a contentious event with parents fussing over why their children weren’t rated higher.  The teacher went on to say that the competition hurt some students’ feelings and he was hoping that the honor roll would also be eliminated in next school year.

Is this teacher serious?  He is forgetting that many of us academically successful nerds have felt strong disappointment at not always being able to excel in the “real” school glamour events – sports.  Perhaps we should let everyone be on the team and, better yet, cease keeping track of won-lost records?

Neither position is in the best interests of the future adults we are supposed to be helping to mature.  As with anything, excessive competition will be destructive for individuals and for society.  By the same token, the absence of competition is detrimental for all concerned (recall the debacles of socialist societies strewn throughout history).

Yes, we are all created equal in terms of human dignity.  However, equality in human dignity does not mean we are identical.  Any attempt to downplay the various talents each has been given shortchanges society as well as being unfair to the individual.

The problem is not competition, but our attitude toward our talents.  Each person is bestowed with the ability to help mankind whether by accomplishments or through the ability to teach love and compassion as a result of our weaknesses.  If we are fortunate to be the achievers, we have an obligation to be thankful for and a right to make the best use of our abilities.  However, we do not have the right to make others feel inferior.  The focus of our “wins” should be more of what we accomplished instead of what we did against someone.

If viewed properly, competition has the potential to help everyone, not just the “victorious.” 

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