We need to reexamine competition, to see where and when it is useful, and where and when it creates problems. The next evolution in learning will occur in a healthier cooperative model with a skill-to-mastery based focus.

Rather than encouraging students to compete with one another for grades, prizes, and status, this new model will facilitate deeper learning, intellectual acuity, emotional maturity, and a genuine self-esteem derived from excellence and mastery. It will raise the overall level of skill, knowledge, and creativity and allow everyone, from the least to the most talented, to fulfill his or her potential and contribute to the whole.

I propose something along the lines of the Kumon method, which designs a series of tests that go from the most basic material to the most advanced. People who have mastered the material in any subject would design these series of tests.

As with the Kumon method, the only way anyone can go on to the next test is by getting 100 percent on the more basic material. This ensures mastery of the more basic material at every level and makes it more likely that someone will be able to comprehend the more advanced material.

This approach would eliminate grades–students would either get 100 percent or they would retake the test material. I believe one of the big problems in education is that we pass people along to the next level before they know all of the more fundamental material.

At some point, this approach makes it difficult to grasp the more advanced material, and learning stalls. Obviously, there are certain subjects where evaluation is more subjective and not as clear-cut as math, language, or music, and different ways of evaluation will need to be worked out in those subjects.

A non-competitive learning system develops concentration, relaxation, emotional maturity, healthy camaraderie, and fundamental skills. By emphasizing enjoyment of an activity and the learning process for its own sake, and de-emphasizing the importance of winning, losing, and external rewards, it diminishes negative emotional states and behaviors.

Children especially thrive in a non-competitive learning environment, and they naturally develop the fundamental skills without the unpleasant stresses and emotions inevitably triggered by premature competition.

Competition might be part of human nature, but it need not dominate human nature and conduct. By adopting cooperative, non-competitive, skill-to-mastery based models of teaching, learning, and living, we can all rise above the limitations of our competitive system and fulfill our greater potential as individuals and as a species.


Evolutionary Education: Moving Beyond Our Competitive Compulsion