Although competition is a marvelous motivator to increase performance, collaboration increases student learning. This is especially the case with young people who feel that they never stand in the winner’s circle. A prime reason is that the number of winners in competition is severely restricted—usually to one. This means that competition produces more losers than winners.
A case in point is the annual celebration in the U.S.A. of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and legacy that features a Martin Luther King, Jr. essay writing contest. Where is the wisdom in turning children into essay writing losers in the name of Dr. King?
When did Dr. King ever stand to make anybody a loser? I suggest he never did. An essay writing collaboration in which students correct the various drafts of each other’s papers would help contribute to every student’s success and joy in writing would be a far more fitting celebration of Dr. King’s legacy.
A major advancement in learning would be to desist from the nearly imperceptible yet continual demoralization of K-12 students by fostering competition between students as a way to increase learning. This very significant yet unintended consequence of competition contributes to the reduction of intrinsic motivation for learning of many students, especially those who believe they can never win. To protect themselves, they will drop out—rather than submit to the lower status of losing.
Motivation is a fundamental factor in learning. Every action taken to increase learning should be considered in terms of “motivation for what?” If the desired answer is to improve learning so that no child will be left behind, then one approach to accomplish this goal is to replace competition with collaboration.