Monday, January 31, 2011

If only "a competitive society" were an oxymoron....

Social groups should be cooperative by nature, it seems to me, though I know that's not always the case, perhaps especially in our culture.

The longer we unschool, the more we question how learning occurs (versus something being "taught")  and ask what the consequences are of trying to force-feed information to people, the more our thinking shifts to an outsider's perspective and the more we see what is taken for granted by "schooled minds" (including our own) in a different light.

This weekend, I silently watched a micro drama unfold, in which competition was injected into a cooperative venture and no doubt approvingly considered by most minds there, and wished I were quick thinking and clear enough to speak up about it before it was over, though perhaps it would not have been the right time and place to do so.

The occasion was a trip to an animal rescue shelter to present the results of a youth group's fundraising efforts. Several bake sales had raised an impressive amount of money for the shelter and a mock check large enough for a couple of people to hold was to be presented in a Kodak moment.

A parent asked who wanted to hold the check (immediately creating a competitive moment that could only have a winner or two) and many  hands went up. After thinking about it for a moment, the parent asked who from the group had worked hardest to raise this money. I happened to be watching the very excited and hopeful face of a boy who was bouncing with his arm raised when she asked this, and I saw it fall fast and completely, as his arm sagged down. With a sad smile, he stepped back. The remaining girls continued to jockey with their hands in the air, until the parent asked again who among them worked the hardest, and the girls unanimously agreed that one of them had done so, and stepped back to let her hold the check.

To others watching, I imagine it could have looked like a moment of smart thinking on that parent's part, to find the "fairest" solution to this dilemma created by a thoughtless question of who wants to hold the check, even giving the kids a chance to self-evaluate and be honest.

To me it was an unnecessary injection of competition into a purely cooperative activity, at a moment that should have been filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Instead, in that moment, the kids were suddenly and unexpectedly judged by adults, by their peers, and perhaps most damagingly, by themselves, and most of them learned yet again to step back, to step down. I don't think that the moment was created or resolved to achieve this end, it's just how a schooled mind works. I have one too, and I recognize its machinations.

I think to some people homeschooling and unschooling looks like a selfish, non-cooperative choice. The more I live it and look at the larger community around me with fresh eyes, the more I think that it's schooling that can be non-cooperative and anti-social in ways that have life-long consequences.

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