Excerpt from “No Contest” by Alfie Kohn
[The position that competition is okay, but should not be done to excess] coincides with the entrenched reluctance of Americans to consider structural explanations for problems. We prefer to hold individuals responsible for whatever happens, or at the most, to find a convenient proximate cause. Rarely are events understood in their historical or economic or social context. As one of many possible examples of this, consider how we respond when our children fail to learn. Typically we insist that they are not studying hard enough or we put the problem down to poor teaching. What we do not do is acknowledge that a two-tiered educational system funnels most of the promising teachers and the privileged children to the private sector, virtually guaranteeing that students without the resources to follow will receive an inferior education. We do not ask why learning is defined in terms of a standardized test score, why obedience is valued above critical thinking — and we certainly do not look at the institutions in our country whose existence depends on a passive, acceptant public of precisely the sort that our schools manufacture.