Competition runs deep within the fabric of the United States. We are a nation built upon the principals of capitalism where, theoretically, every person who works hard has the ability to improve their social situation, and businesses compete rather than monopolize, ultimately bringing about a better product. Thus, one would expect competition within the academic environment to bring about an improvement in the cognitive skills of a student, a better “product.” In reality, a student brought up within the rat race of today’s education system is extremely proficient at completing busy work and understanding material to the level required to do well on examinations.
Academically competitive environments are pivotal in instilling the will to obtain high marks in classes. The essential downfall of this train of thought is that high marks in classes do not typically translate into a deeper understanding of the material. The goal of a student should be to increase his or her breadth and depth of knowledge within their chosen career path. A high grade in the current academic environment simply means that a student has done their homework and thoroughly studied the details of a chapter. This competition for high grades has riddled the education environment with “honors” classes which do little more than inflate GPA, and study sessions which often consist of the teacher dictating what types of questions will be on the test to dedicated students who are willing to spend extra time outside of class. The academic environment is meant to bring about an understanding of basic material so that it can be expanded upon and used by the student. Competition has led students to over-study basic material, keeping them from learning how to apply these concepts to more complicated problems. The student who sits in front of class and constantly asks questions about topics so that they can be elaborated upon is often ridiculed as a nuisance. Sadly, the inquisitive nature of a true scholar has been lost upon the students of today who are most immediately concerned with succeeding on tests in order to improve their class rank, which has become a major part of college admissions decisions.
Competition for good grades has done nothing beneficial for the school system except encourage students to work hard at pleasing teachers rather than pursue their unique interests. Some of the greatest innovators of today dropped out of school because they were unable to fully pursue their unique ideas. Steve Jobs, the charismatic mastermind behind the reinvention of Apple, dropped out of Reed College in Portland so that he could pursue an interest in computers. Competition, while useful, becomes damaging when innovation is stifled.