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'Trying' to learn is failing

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VICTORIA -- In its recent report, Hipster isn't a real job, the B.C. government lambastes graduates, inferring they are lazy, disaffected scroungers who perform menial jobs despite holding advanced degrees from prestigious universities.

Holding one or more advanced university degrees no longer necessarily leads to a high-profile job. Quite the contrary. Employers contend that graduates are not being hired because they lack the necessary individual skills.

Employers want creative, intuitive, intelligent individuals who will be an asset to their organizations. Instead, they are encountering an increasing number of graduates from a system that places more value on trying than on actual success.

It is all part of the touchy-feely approach to education that seeks to eradicate intellectual inequality and individual initiative through enforced co-operative endeavours.

According to Francis Kew at Bingley College, it is a product of the "counterculture" approach, which sacrifices the "excellence of outcome" to the interpersonal benefits of group effort.

"The process is everything," Kew says. "The end result is unimportant".

The banning of a "winning" mindset in institutions of learning is at the root of the problem, researchers say. Competition produces excellence, and it is under fire.

Under the evolving new approach to learning, individual excellence is to be discouraged for fear of making lesser-achievers feel badly about themselves. Kew explained that the objective should be equality of opportunity, not outcome. Competition generates elite graduates.

"Competition is intrinsically positive (and) participation in competitive activities provides the opportunity to develop skills in the pursuit of excellence," argued Sheryle Drew of the University of Manitoba.

But, according to Antony Flew at the University of Reading, "the new theory that any kind of discrimination or selection for quality is to repudiate all standards of excellence in every field of human achievement."

The anti-intellectual curriculum is now creeping into elementary and secondary school athletics, where participants are given awards merely for taking part in events. In some schools, winning is banned.

Some researchers say these developments amount to sheer lunacy.

According to researcher D. Bailey, reporting in the Cambridge Journal of Education, it is not logical to promote that winning is unimportant.

"Competition (with winners and losers) is a precondition for personal development," reported Peter J. Arnold in the Journal of the Philosophy of Education. "(It teaches) initiative, pride and independence."

Education theorists, however, contend that all students should end up with the same result, presumably generating a fairer distribution of ideas so that nobody feels outperformed.

"Competition involves comparisons with another person or persons (and) involves striving... to do better than the rest," Flew pointed out, adding that those who excel are no longer equal to those who have not yet achieved their level of excellence.

According to a study at Concordia University, our society is competitive and achievement-oriented, where winning is a rare commodity.

"If you undermine the value of winning, you undermine the value of the whole exercise," explained researcher Charles Bailey.

Researchers James Julian and Franklyn Perry at the State University of New York confirmed that students in "purely co-operative conditions yielded the lowest level of group performance but had the most favourable interpersonal relations, (whereas) individuals and group competitions produced higher motivation and quality of performance."

The Canadian Sport for Life movement is attempting to promote among young people the philosophy that competition is "not about winning or losing," but rather about collective effort, the exact opposite of what the Julian-Perry study prescribed for high-quality performance suited to the needs of employers.

Robert Alison is a zoologist and

freelance writer in Victoria, B.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2013 A7

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