American loves a winner. We always have. As a former athlete and coach, I have great respect for and tremendously value the power of competition as a means to motivate and achieve one’s goals.
I also recognize the need for schools to be in the front of helping develop and maintain a culture of civility. This is particularly true given the challenges presented by teasing, bullying, and confrontation exhibited not only in schools, but in society in general.
Herein lies a dilemma for schools. How do we address the need to remain competitive and a leader globally, recognize that we are evaluated mostly based on results, and help create a climate of civility?
Competition, the need to “win” globally, the pressure to achieve higher scores, etc. are all issues that generate stress. In the heat of competition and operating on the motivation to “do better”, a certain degree of stress is vital to success. I agree that American schools do need to be more globally aware and competitive. I agree that our students are not performing up to acceptable levels in many cases. I also think we are seeing signs that the drive to “win” in education is not being checked against the need to maintain a disciplined and complete approach to education.
On the other hand, stress and competition has shown to have a negative affect on creating an culture of civility. The more competitive and stressful the situation, the more likely it is that people are less civil towards one another. It is creating a culture of civility that will have the greatest impact on improving the challenges with bullying and teasing.
So how do schools effectively address this catch-22? I see a possible answer in realizing that the solution is that there is no one solution. Maybe this situation needs to be handled like trying to balance a scale. Leaders need to recognize when the stress levels in their schools reaches an unhealthy level (possibly by seeing a decrease in civility) and have the authority to redirect the culture away from mostly competitive to a more empathetic and supportive approach. The opposite is also true. When results are needed, the leadership should have the resources available to put into action.
Ultimately, schools focused on the development of emotional and social intelligence along with scholastic and academic intelligence are in the best position to “win” the game while creating an environment in which everyone feels empowered to share in the victory.