It's very tempting to run schools on the emotion of competition rather than on the spirit of cooperation. But it's a temptation schools should face down and put aside.
Teachers should expect the children in a class to help each other out; they should provide ways for this to happen. Assignments should be handed out on the understanding that the weaker will be helped by the stronger.
For example, an assignment which calls for designs and drawings to accompany text based on material found through research can call on the various skills of a number of pupils -- with those strong in one point aiding those strong in another.
Eduction research shows, contrary to traditional teaching patters, that students who help students show gains. And education research shows that competition fosters success for a few and failure for many.
Therefore, the spirit of cooperation should permeate each school site and both out-of-class assignments and in-school work should be done in pairs and groups and with the understanding that all can get a perfect score.
And further, that failures on tests, quizzes, and assignments are not the sole responsibility of an individual pupil, but a clear signal that a teacher has not only failed the pupil, but that all the other pupils have failed them as well.
Each class level has its basic skills need to be understood by every pupil before he or she can graduate to the next level. Helping every pupil reach that level should be a cooperative effort.
In a perverse and odious reversal of responsibility, for example, some teachers of French boast that they may have had 32 pupils in French II, but that only 12 qualified at the end of the year for French III.
In other words, for these teachers, the job was not to see that each child learned an equal amount through unequal efforts by classmates and the teacher, but that the job of the teacher was to so order assignments that in the competition to succeed, only a few could make it.
There may be rare occasions when a school wants to so order a sports or academic program that ranking is essential and stiff competition is the order of the day.
But certainly not for physical education classes or regular academic programs. Here, cooperation should be basic. A cooperation which takes into consideration individual needs and abilities -- lifting each pupil from where he is to where he can comfortably go.
Yes, it may be important for the 80-pound, 4-foot 10-inch pupil to know the shortest time any other pupil his size has ever run the 60-yard dash, but it is more important for this youngster to learn how he can best use his own strength, balance, mental discipline, and agility to run as fast as he can.
At such a time, competition should come in the spirit of cooperation. Maybe it's more thrust with the arms, or a quicker spring at takeoff, or a lowering of the head --whatever it is, the children who should be helping this young runner are the ones who have been able to better his record.
No children learn very much from those who don't know as much as they do -- yet how many schools constantly put pupils in such a crowd, and then wonder that they don't measure up.
But, say those who work at the secondary level, what kind of a silly question is this when the better colleges and universities are more interested in rank in class than in teacher-given grades.
It's no kind of silly suggestion: Even the best of colleges are looking for strong students, and every good high school which doesn't submit to the hostaging of class rankings will be able to provide college admissions officers with all the information they need to know whether a specific student is (or is not) capable of doing college-level work.
Next week: No more principa ls