“What we have to face is that we have builtwar in our society’s economic structure as competition.”
(Danish philosopher K. E. Løgstrup, 1972, p. 180).
We are here going to explore Competition and it’s foundation in both our societies and in our education systems within taking our point of departure in the question of whether education promotes what is best for all or not: The question then is:
HOW IS COMPETITION A PROBLEM IN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM?
For context to what we’ll be discussing in this post, I suggest reading the previous posts in the series:
As has been mentioned in previous posts, our Education System is a direct reflection of the world systems in general and since we have made the corporate world and with it market economy the basic principle through and within which we manage our lives on earth, it is no wonder that competition plays such a significant part in our Education Systems as well.
In Corporate Capitalism Competition is glorified as that which motivates people to do better and strive towards excellence. This principle is then prompted in schools as well because education as everything else in the current system serves no other purpose than to support the Corporate Capitalistic Agenda of Profit-Maximization for those who has made it to the top of the food chain and now ‘deservedly so’ reign from their economic ivory tower.
One of the most prominent arguments for the positive effects of competition has been ascribed to Charles Darwin’s theory of the “Survival of the Fittest.” This theory sees competition in the light of ‘natural selection’ and many a corporate capitalist will argue that the Competition taking place in the Market Economy (and by default in our schools) is merely an extension of the process of nature taking its course, naturally selecting the strongest to carry out the evolution of our species.
However – what is seldom mentioned is how Darwin finished the famous sentence with the words: “…for mutual benefit.” (Montagu, 1952, p. 143).
To understand how there is an important difference between the first interpretation of Darwin’s words and the second, let’s have a look at the word ‘Competition’ and break it down:
The following are the etymological origins of the word Competition.
c.1600, “action of competing,” from Latin competitionem (nominative competitio) “agreement, rivalry,” noun of action from past participle stem of competere (see compete
). Meaning “a contest for something” is from 1610s. Sense of “rivalry in the marketplace” attested from 1793; that of “entity or entities with which one competes” is from 1961, especially in business.
1610s, ” to enter or be put in rivalry with,” from Middle French compéter “be in rivalry with” (14c.), or directly from Late Latin competere “strive in common,” in classical Latin “to come together, agree, to be qualified,” later, “strive together,” from com- “together” (see com-
) + petere “to strive, seek, fall upon, rush at, attack” (see petition
Rare 17c., revived from late 18c. in sense “to strive (alongside another) for the attainment of something” and regarded early 19c. in Britain as a Scottish or American word. Market sense is from 1840s (perhaps a back-formation from competition); athletics sense attested by 1857. Related: Competed; competing.
What is fascinating is that as one read through the definitions, it becomes clear that the word does not only mean ‘rivalry’ as that is actually a newer definition – but in fact rather ‘come together’ or ‘strive together’ as the word itself is formed by the two words ‘com’ with means together and ‘petere’ which means ‘strive’.
Based on this, it is relevant to distinquish between two forms of competition; Agreessive and Progressive competiton (Thomsen and Zester, 2011, p. 15).
Aggressive competition can be defined as ‘competing against’ which is the form of competition that most typically is seen as destructive with its purpose for the combatants fighting against each other to win at all costs. Progressive competition on the other hand, is the one promulgated by amongst others the father of modern day capitalism Adam Smith as a preposition for the free markets and it’s agents’ mobility. Here competition is seen based on the idea that competition is a mutual agreement formed by equal parties. There is thus a distinguishing between striving against and striving together, where in the first form, there’s only one winner where in the second both win and the competition itself is seen as ‘friendly’.
So free market capitalists wants us to believe that the type of competition that is being implored, for example through standardized testing in schools is one where each one come together in a mutual agreement where each can strive to their utmost ability through ‘friendly’ competition. There is thus in market capitalism an idea that the competition that is its basic principle, is based on an agreement made between equals as it is seen and recognized by all participants as giving each an opportunity to strive.
However if we have a closer look at what is manifested by and through competition, as it currently exists, it is clear that it is an aggressive form of competition that is most certainly not agreed to by all parties in equality. We are born into this world with no option but to participate in the competitive ‘game’ of market capitalism – if we’re even at all able to. Furthermore – where we are born and into which family is not equal and as such we don’t have equal opportunities to compete as some already from the moment they are born have competitive advantages in the form of access to resources, education or even genetic privileges accumulated through decades of health through economic abundance.
Market capitalists wants us to believe that we all have an equal opportunity to compete in the market based on seeing competition as a natural process of selection that is thus based on biology and not on culture or other forms of influence.
The Danish philosopher K.E. Løgstrup has written about the two forms of competition in a different way especially focusing on how Agreesive Competition has become part of our school systems. As such he distinguished between the ‘brutality’ of competition as a dominating factor and competition as a ‘motivating’ factor where reciprocity and agreement was the foundation. The latter he defined as a form of emulation of playfulness and enjoyment where two friends and equals could come together and test their abilities, not with the purpose of winning over one another but with the purpose of testing one’s own abilities for mutual enjoyment. This was according to Løgstrup what made competition legitimate, for example as part of the education system. He thus distinguished between forced and voluntary competition and he argued that it was the responsibility of the state or government to make sure that competition was kept within a framework preventing brutality, exactly because both the economy and its institutions are dependent upon the state. As such he meant that since the state or governmental organs is what delivers the most important production factor, namely education, also is responsible for determining the purpose of such production (Korsgaard, 2007, p. 144).
According to Løgstrup the legislative forces sets the principle framework for the structure of education and with that its purpose, function and content in society and through it, it affects society to move in a specific direction towards a specific goal. As such the state can with its legislative power both suppress and encourage initiatives through its interventions in the education system (Ibid. p. 147). It is here the dichotomy between Aggressive and Progressive or Brutal and Corporative competition becomes relevant – because it would appear that the legislative forces are promoting Aggressive competition in the school system based on the foundation of it in market capitalism. As Standardized Testing therefore becomes a priority above all else, it can be argued that Aggressive competition is used as an incitement to promote the purpose of education based on Market Capitalist principles where it is no longer the voluntary or friendly competition that is in play, but rather an aggressive and brutal form of competition.
The justification for such a move is made by claiming that it is forces outside ourselves that is imposing aggressive competition on us. It is the ‘global society’ that is forcing our countries to excel in literacy and mathematic abilities. It is the threat of China as a global super power that is forcing us to compete. It is the global knowledge economy that demands that we push ourselves to be the best and the smartest – and within all this the question was never asked if it is even necessary to compete in the first place. Competition in school is thus seen as a driving force towards the preservation of one’s nation and in the end oneself. It is never seen as induced through a Market Capitalistic System that has Competition as its core value – where only a few can win and these are almost always predetermined to win whereas the rest lose and face a life of wage slavery and fantasizing about being the one that wins the jackpot.
Here it becomes relevant to then look at competition as a principle for the kind of society we want to live in and the difference becomes whether competition is something that undermines what is best for all in society or whether it promotes it.
According to Løgstrup, it is vital that school is not a part of the Brutal Competition of the Economic System. As such Løgstrup on one hand tacitly accepted that Brutal Competition was a part of society through its implementation in and integration with the economic system, but he also saw how destructive this would be if this form of competition was integrated into the school system. He believed that this would promote values and principles such as democracy and equality in society as a counter-balance to the Brutality of the Economic System.
“Competition happens on a free market, and the school system is not a corporation that sells products to consumers who has paid for their goods through the tax system. The Public School must be society’s school and therefore it’s content and purpose should be decided by politicians and not by the market mechanisms” (Stefan Herman, 2001).
The problem is that school has exactly become a part of the market mechanisms, which can be seen clearly in how education in most cases is defined as a preparatory institution for people to enter into the work force.
When having a look at the difference between voluntary/friendly/corporative
competition and forced/brutal
competition it is clear that the first is a form of play and enjoyment that is based on a mutual agreement between partners. The second is based on a form of paranoia where it is ‘each man for himself’ and where there is absolutely no consideration of one another in any way. This form of competition is based on the fear of lack where as the first isn’t based on fear of self-perseverance. And what is even more astonishing: through our acceptance of Brutal Competition as the foundation of our drive in society – economically and otherwise – we are actually creating more and more lack in our world where we are depleting vital resources, making animal species go extinct and justify that we take more than what we need with the consequence that others starve and exist in extensive poverty and suffering.
All this is happening all the while Market Capitalists will have us believe that what we’re doing in our ‘Consumer Democracies’ is a friendly form of competition that benefits all – when ironically such forms of competition is virtually non-existing in current society. So what this all comes down to is actually how we’ve made fear our core value, driving force and base principle in this world – as shear paranoia that doesn’t have any form of common sense consideration of what it means to live in a way that is best for all. And this is what we serve to our children as they come through our bodies and quickly are enrolled in the Brain Washing institutions we call schools where we make sure that the fear and paranoia – for example through the usage of Standardized Testing is driven so far into them that they’re literally living scared to death, until they die. Is that the kind of world we want? Is that the kind of world Adam Smith thought would be the result of Market Capitalism?