Thursday, 27 December 2012

About Competition

You might not have read my previous post
“A quiz free zone ? Au contraire.”

The post was about the quiz games I’d played with my kids over the last few days. In it I finished with the comment
“Now , in case you're worrying that me beating my kids at these games might inflict any lasting psychological trauma upon them, please don’t. For one thing they are all grown up – the youngest two will be celebrating their joint 19th birthday in 2013, but also they have wiped the floor with me in several games of The Simpsons electronic Monopoly over the last couple of days. But that, as they say, is another story.”

This provoked a very interesting comment from LAM regular dxdtdemon,
“Reading your final comment, I was just curious if the reason that there are fewer quizzing opportunities in the UK compared to other Anglophone countries was because no one wanted the kids feelings hurt.”

What an interesting question. I’m not in a position to say whether it is actually a fact that there are fewer quizzing opportunities in the UK compared to other Anglophone countries in the first place. Perhaps you could amplify why you think that might be the case dxdtdemon. Still leaving that aside for now, I have to say that it does raise a very interesting point about competition, and how healthy it actually is.

I think we can take this wider than just quizzing. Certainly since my childhood in the late 60s and the 70s there was a move against competition for children in the UK. I’m thin king particularly in sporting terms here. In a way I can understand this. Children need hardly any convincing at all to start believing that they’re no good at something, and giving a child a history of failure can be very damaging – unless you provide them with a history of success to set alongside it.

I think back to my own experiences . Up to the age of 14 my experiences of sport were almost entirely negative. In the primary school up to the age of 12 we were taught PE and Games by teachers, who , in most cases , either knew bugger all about teaching sport, or had no interest in it whatsoever. Sports lessons would comprise almost entirely of the teacher picking two captains for a team game – for the boys it was invariably football in Autumn and Winter, and cricket in Spring and Summer. Those of us who never showed any great natural ability were either told to ‘get in goal’ for football , or would invariably never get to bat or bowl in cricket. Especially if you were in goal in football the game held out the prospect of receiving no acknowledgement if by some miracle you actually did something well, and receiving the whole team’s scorn and derision if you lost.

I don’t remember any teacher ever trying to show me how to kick a football properly, or hold a cricket bat properly. To be honest, it was a disgrace the way that PE and Games used to be taught to the least able pupils in English schools. If you taught any other subject with the same attitude – eg – well, this lot here, they’re not good at it so it’s a waste of time me trying to teach them how to do it, so I’ll just let them get on with it – there would be uproar , and rightfully so. So for me, up until the age of 14, my experience of sport was entirely negative. I saw the whole thing as an exercise in pointlessness and humiliation, and I’m sure a lot of kids felt the same as me.

It changed because of one good teacher at the comp ( the school I attended from 11 – 18 ) . He got me interested in rugby ( Rugby Union originally, although I also love Rugby League now as well ) How did he achieve this miracle ? Well, by good old fashioned teaching. In his lessons, everybody got taught how to play. Everybody got taught what was expected in their position within the team. Prima donnas were allowed to flaunt their talents, yes, but were absolutely not allowed to draw attention to any weaker player’s shortcomings. As a result, I got interested enough in the game to turn up for extra practice after school, and to eventually find myself playing for the school team. Even then in the 70s rugby was dying out amongst comps in West London, and by my last couple of years in the school there was only one other school in the Borough which also played. And they were good and we weren’t. With the result that we only ever won about 2 games in all the years I played. Which didn’t actually matter that much. A number of my mates were playing in the same team, and we had a lot of fun with it. Now, had the teachers taken each one of us individually, and pulled us up on our shortcomings after each match then I guess it would definitely have taken away our enjoyment, and maybe some of us would have quit. But they didn’t. We trained, and we worked on improving things on the pitch, and sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. It didn’t matter that much. So I didn’t get that much from playing rugby in terms of success, but I got so much more from it. Playing a team sport is such a valuable learning experience.

I’ve made this point before, but competition is really not a dirty word. People aren’t stupid, and neither are the huge majority of children. They know that if you have competition then someone is going to win, and someone isn’t. I don’t think that there’s anything harmful in that. It becomes harmful when children have been forced to take part and then are made to feel that they have no chance of winning, and never will have a chance of winning. It becomes harmful when they are then ridiculed or belittled for their inevitable failure.

All of which has taken us a long way from quizzing, and I apologise for getting so far off the beaten track, as it were. Going back to the original comment, is it true that there are less quizzing opportunities in the UK compared to other Anglophone countries ?

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