Welcome back to The Testing Games, where the odds are never in your favor! In our last episode, we met the comical, hypocritical teacher, Effie Trinket. Today, we take a look at the leader of this game, Master Testing Coordinator, King of Rigor and Keeper of the Games, President Snow:
President Snow: Seneca… why do you think we have a winner?
Seneca Crane: [frowns] What do you mean?
President Snow: I mean, why do we have a winner? I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up twenty-four of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster.
[Seneca just stares, confused]
President Snow: Hope.
Seneca Crane: Hope?
President Snow: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.
Hope, he says, is stronger than fear, but fear is what he utilizes to control the masses. Using propaganda eerily effectively, President Snow, of the blockbuster, The Hunger Games, not only convinces parents to send their children off to slaughter, he somehow has them convinced that their country depends on it. He is a master manipulator, brainwashing parents into believing that competition, at any cost, is good.
Don’t be fooled.
Education experts have long questioned the role of competition in our education system. In our dog eat dog society, it may seem necessary to maintain this value system throughout school, but the opposite is true. Students grow and learn better in an environment of cooperation, not competition.
Consider this analysis:
“One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.”
Pitting children against one another has become the expected status quo in schools today. Even our US President entitled his education plan, The Race to the Top, a program that fosters competition right in its name. US students take countless, standardized, high stakes tests, repeatedly throughout the school year, competing for scores that will give them the competitive edge in life, so they are told. More importantly, like in The Hunger Games, how well the children compete determines how much funding the community will receive. In our Race to the Top, the reward for high test scores is money.
Yes, it is true, in our national Testing Games, public school students must compete to earn the federal funds necessary to run our schools.
“The similarities between standardized testing and The Hunger Games abound. Maybe we don’t stop our lives to watch our kids bubble in answers at their desks for two epic weeks of reading passages and math problems. But it’s undeniable that the nation anxiously awaits the results of those trials (Ross, 2012).”
Many parents and teachers agree this system is immoral. But, even further, we must ask: Is this competition truly effective? Does it foster learning and growth? Many experts in education argue that the answer is no. I agree. Consider this source:
“In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint.”
I agree. This environment of competition is toxic. After decades in the classroom, I am fully sold on the idea that collaboration between students is the best way to teach. From Kagan to CRISS strategies, teaching students to work in groups, helping kids to communicate effectively, and modeling how to share ideas with respect, is primary for teachers who want to lead students in a healthy, collaborative classroom environment.
As Kohn describes, we need to move students away from this concept of “I win, therefore, you lose.” Much like in any organization, our goal should be to lead students to “Win, Win, Win” solutions.
Getting to the win, however, is impossible in today’s high stakes, testing environment. Embedded in, both, The Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, is the fact that not every student can win. Inherent in The Testing Games is the concept that hope is a promise, but success for all students is impossible. As in wars and fights, one must win, and so one must lose.
But, public education is not meant to be a war and our children should not have to fight each other to succeed. Students do not need to be pit against one another to have hope.
“Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education”
Cooperative education is the answer. Competition is not the path we want to force our children down. Competition does not foster hope for all … it fosters despair. Rather than encouraging students to reach their highest potential, educators are left trying to squash their dreams into bubbled shaped circles on tests.
Parents and educators need to change the game:
“ In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.”
Dismantle the walls of testing. Know your options.
Bonnie C. Margolin
Welcome to the Testing Games