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Flattening the Bell Curve in School: Why Not Teach Winning Instead of Losing?

In the classroom my question is, how would you systematically go about creating a situation in which you’re mathematically guaranteed to have a few really good students at the top, a whole bunch of average students meandering around in the middle, and a handful of losers at the bottom? I suggest that you’d start at a very young age – say kindergarten – and pit all the kids against one another in a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly contest to see who will be the best “teacher pleaser.”

You’d give them stars and stickers which eventually turn into grades. You’d organize them into groups so that a few were members of the fast birds at the top, a bunch were members of the average birds in the middle, and a handful were members of the slow birds at the bottom.

By the time they’re in third or fourth grade it will become apparent to anyone who’s watching – especially the kids and their parents – that these kids have been systematically labeled (by teachers who are being paid to sort and label them despite the questionable reasons for doing so) as “gifted, average, and below average” in the hierarchy of the classroom. The entire sordid affair is then made to look legitimate and scientific by plotting this mathematically predetermined phenomenon on what academicians call “the bell curve.”

In large measure the hierarchy that’s set in place during these early stages of education remains intact and is reinforced right on through high school graduation complete with the naming of a class valedictorian. The important thing of course is that “most kids buy into the validity” of this evaluative process so they know what to expect and what to accept in the wake of graduation.

In the Real World
When the real world takes over the gifted will expect to be rewarded in extraordinary ways, the average will expect to live an average life and be rewarded accordingly, the losers will expect to be hanging on for dear life at the bottom of the hierarchy, and to question the system is considered unpatriotic.

But none of this will be a surprise to anyone because they’ve all been systematically taught (i.e. indoctrinated) to expect the winners to win, the also-rans to meander in the middle, and the losers to lose. In other words, done right, school sets the stage for what to expect in “the real world,” so don’t say we didn’t warn you...right?

Change the System, Alter the Results
Now let’s see what happens when we change the system in ways that eliminate the creation of anything but winners in school. In other words, what happens when we refuse to pit Johnny against Jimmy, and Sallie against Susie? What happens when we focus completely on self competition, and we define winning as being a little stronger this week than last week, a little stronger this month than last month, and a lot stronger this year than last year?

What happens when we give every single student in class (and the teacher too) the opportunity to win every single day of the school year starting from day one? I can tell you what happens when every student in school gets a little stronger week after week, month after month, year after year, all the way through high school graduation. What happens is that those kids come frighteningly close to fulfilling their god given potentials in all kinds of ways. And if they’ve fulfilled their potential for 12 straight years they’ll be vastly better prepared to compete conventionally in the real world once that inevitability presents itself.

On the other hand, when you pit kids against kids right from the start, you teach most of them (all but the so called winners) to lose. You also undermine their self esteem, pierce their motivational bubbles, and cause them to shut down, stop trying while very few come remotely close to fulfilling their potential. Under these conditions most students are systematically rendered less prepared to compete conventionally in the real world.

You Won’t Have Losers
Under the new system you won’t have a few at the top who expect to be treated better than everyone else. You won’t have a handful at the bottom expecting ridicule on a daily basis. And you won’t a vast majority in the middle who have been sold on the contention that they’re average, should expect to be nothing more than average, and to accept it because trying to change the status quo is a wholesale waste of time.

You’ll also improve academic performance, minimize the disruptive anti-social behavior, improve emotional stability, and the kids as well as the teachers (who currently live for the months of June, July, and August) will actually learn to enjoy learning again.

And Best of All
And best of all, when they graduate from high school after 12 years of legitimate growth, they’ll expect to continue winning, and they’ll accept nothing less when they hit the job market. And they’ll understand in a way that we don’t understand today, that society doesn’t have to be comprised of a few winners at the top, a bunch of also-rans in the middle, and a handful of losers at the bottom. In other words, if we change the school system we can change American society in a way that flattens the proverbial bell curve, and America would be all the stronger (and more sane) for it.