Winning in academia


I love the Olympics.  I love the pageantry, the sportsmanship, the beauty of sport.  I have been glued to my TV like a 5 year old to a Dora marathon since the games began.  It’s been great. As PIC and I have watched event after event, we started thinking about the notion of winning.  Our culture seems to be obsessed with it.  We have a whole generation of kids who have been raised to feel like winners but now are lagging behind in so many other areas.  They can’t keep jobs, their job skills are poor, their emotional intelligence is low, and as a generation, they need some more help. We raised them always winning a ribbon, but it seems we missed out on some pretty important steps along the way.  The Olympics is much the same way.  While this is the worlds competition, we’ve become so obsessed that we’re doping our bodies, throwing matches (badminton-really?), and pushing ourselves without taking a moment’s thought about what it took to get there.

Is it because we’re obsessed with winning?  When did we stop to think about the athletes and the stress they put their bodies under, the sheer amount of training, discipline, and sacrifice.  Isn’t getting to the Olympics ENOUGH???  Most of these athletes can’t even drink legally yet we hold our nations pride meter on their sometimes tiny, sometimes wide shoulders.  When did we forget about what the journey involved? One athlete after another bursts into tears if they don’t win, apologizing to their country for not performing. While this show of respect to their home nation is to be admired, I also can’t help but wonder where this pressure came from? Was it all within?  Was it more than just their home country?  Did they know they were destined for labor camps like the North Koreans?  I hope not.

I met with a student who wants to pursue graduate school and was concerned about her GRE score.  She, like me, suffers from ‘terrible test taking tyranny’ (TTTT) as I like to call it.  I could not score over 1000 on my GRE’s either time I took them and look at me now, I earned an advanced degree.  With no great measure of intelligence, these and other tests our society is forced to take are making a mockery of our intelligence from the people who design these tests, to the people who take them, to the folks who make what they believe are informed decisions based on them. On the other side of the coin, we’ve become so obsessed with ‘winning’ at these tests that we’re willing to cheat, lie, steal answers, and commit crimes in order to have the chance at getting in to a college, enrolling in a program, or getting our name at the top of the list. I worked with my student to share with her my terrible test history and she said to me, “you just made me feel a million times better.”  By simply sharing with her my dismal history of tests, she knew she could still be equally successful in her own mind.  When did this happen?  (the beginning of time i’m sure)

Now, don’t get me wrong, some tests, like a drivers test is a necessary test.  Quite frankly I don’t know how some people pass it judging from their road etiquette or lack thereof, but the tests we are subjected too based on our subject areas is a daunting task and not for the faint of heart. Standardized tests could be much more useful if we would learn to read beyond the ‘pass/fail’ rate and really dig into the data of why kids are or aren’t learning but we don’t take the time too.  We’re too busy racing to the top that quite frankly, doesn’t really exist.  Our society is learning some hard lessons about competition.  Penn State is an excellent example of sacrifice for the sake of winning.  I feel terribly for that community because they are paying the price of poor leadership, terrible morals, and with the notion they promoted that winning games and dollars was more important than saving boys who were helpless children. My heart bleeds for their community, not for the terrible acts, but for the lying, concealment, and lack of good judgment all of those involved did not use, only to leave someone else to clean up the mess and bear the brunt of the storm.

Our system of win or be considered ‘the loser’ and the longtime thought that “second place is the first loser” has got to go.  Do I think healthy competition is necessary in life? Absolutely. I encourage my students to go for the big scholarship, but instead of just saying, “oh, you didn’t win” and walk away, I’ve learned to take the time and ask them, “what did you learn from the experience?” Even without the ‘win,’ students and all humans have power to reflect and improve themselves for the future.  It’s not the ‘we’re all winners’ culture I’m promoting, but instead to think about losing as an equally valuable mind set we can all grow from.  I’ve lost big and small in life and each time, I manage to bounce back.  Losing has forced me into depression but I didn’t go back for more of the same, I figured out how to cope with those feelings and manage them for the future.  By building these skills in our students, we can help them be successful in jobs, with relationships, and on the playing field.  If we continue to ignore them and only recognize them when they ‘win’ we will continue to raise a generation who dope, lie, throw matches, and do other things that are less than moral so they can feel the recognition.

As I prepare for a new academic year, I hope you will join me in thinking how to help students build skills they will need for life.  I did not realize at the time how much my simple statement about my own GRE experience could help another student.  How do you work with your students?  How do you teach them about the game of life and teaching them it’s a marathon, not a sprint?

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3 thoughts on “Winning in academia

  1. Holly says:

    Love the blog this week! I had one of my student athletes fail a test that he had spent hours preparing for. He is doing the reading, going to class, taking notes, etc….but, he has some test anxiety. Which is to be expected when you are just out of high school and taking your first class at college and have the pressure of being a student-athlete. After he failed, I had a conversation with him about how I had failed tests and even failed a class at one point. I think that made him feel better once he realized that everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect. It’s difficult to transition to college and to help students make that transition.

    And I’ve been obsessed with the Olympics too!

    • newfaculty says:

      i agree holly! this is something i think that we can work with our students on, in class or small groups. it’s a tough one as they see their friends/peers get scholarships/jobs/internships b/c their transcript is better without it reflecting true learning….one student at a time right?? 😀

  2. […] directly correlated and today’s generation is having a tough time with that. They only see winning as the outcome. They LEARNED this behavior from somewhere though and odds are, it was their parents […]

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