Winners and Losers
By V.J. Leventhal
For as long as I can remember, our culture has taught a competitive model in which everyone is supposed to work toward being “the best,” and anything less than the top position in any endeavor is seen as unworthy of notice. This impossible pyramid makes no sense for the lives of 99% of us. I see it as a misinterpretation of a valid goal of striving for excellence. In reality, there is no “best.” Even among top athletes, where the competition is clear and easy to define (the one with the most points wins the game), players will tell you that the most you can say is that on a given day, in a particular match, someone came out the winner. On another day, with the same competitors, the results may differ. And what sense does it make to call someone the best actor or singer or painter, when these things are so subjective? All this comparing and ranking mostly benefits people whose main concerns are things like market share and sales tallies. The result is a load of low self-esteem for most people, and a weight of unrealistic expectations for those at the perceived “top.”
In the 1960s, experiments in alternative education created methods such as mastery learning, in which each student works at their own pace through a graduated system of material. With the supervision of a teacher, one student may speed through spelling and grammar while another struggles, but no one is held back or pushed too fast. Everyone learns at their own rate, and the teacher is freed to spend more time with the slower learners who need her, while the faster kids are able to move forward and stay interested. It seems to me that since we are all here, a more serious attempt needs to be made to address the needs of every individual, not just those seen as superior.