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Chapter Eight: Middle Childhood

Section 10: Competition


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Filipina Dance at Filipina Festival, August 2, 1998, San Jose, California.


While in the most sophisticated systems with the most highly developed individuals competition would be rare, it does play an important role in lower level systems. Less sophisticated systems, and more sophisticated systems that interact with such systems, must be able to deal on a competitive basis. Since social competence tends to parallel system sophistication, even political friendships must utilize competition in the education of the young.



According to Erik Erikson in Childhood and Society, middle childhood is concerned with the opposition "industry v. inferiority". Since the child now is able to communicate and cooperate with peers, the child is more able to make comparisons between oneself and others. There is more of a concern with how productive one can be and how one compares with others. In this sense, competition is central to middle childhood.



Competition at this age does not have to be preplanned. Children will compete in appearance, popularity, physical prowess, academic competence, and other areas without encouragement. Competitiveness is a motivation for excellence and provides a forum for psychological success.



Of course, competition can also lead to failure and a sense of inadequacy. For this reason, it is important that there be various types and levels of competition. This allows each person to select those activities in which they wish to participate, among these, each person can determine which are most important for success.



The attitude of the teacher is very important. Of course, teachers like to succeed just like everyone else. Unfortunately, many teachers perceive successful students as confirming and poor students as disconfirming the teacher's competence. The tendency is for the teacher to favor the "good" students, and disfavor the "bad" students. This aggravates any harm low standing has on any student -- as if failure were not bad enough in itself, it is accompanied by rejection by the most important adult around. While it is true that student performance is a function of teacher competence, many other factors are involved. In any event, no one is benefited by the teacher blaming a student for the latter's poor performance.



Organized competition provides for better preplanning so that the teacher has more control over what lessons are learned. One prime value of such competition is the disciplined channeling of aggression. Success in competition usually requires high aggressivity. However, the rules of the competition circumscribe the use of the aggression. Breaking the rules can result in various forms of punishment -- a penalty, exclusion from the game or sport and, perhaps most importantly, social sanctions.



In middle childhood, the largest system that children can relate to is limited by the importance of face-to-face interaction during the stage of concrete operations. Thus, the competitions should be intra-classroom or intra-school so that the competitors are acquainted with one another or at least identify with some common larger group. This makes social sanctions more salient, and reinforces the importance of disciplining aggression.



Furthermore, team competitions provide fairly clear feedback on the degree of cooperation of team members. Thus, competition between teams can spur cooperation among team members. Therefore, we have a channeling of the group's aggressive energies in a coherent fashion.



In our pragmatic utopia, such aggressiveness may be less important than it is today. Yet such disciplined aggression is critical to success in the business and international arenas. The people who would mold our future must acquire the power to do so, and this requires the success that aggressiveness permits. Even in the utopia, aggression may be important as an educational phase. So the development of controlled aggression through competition will remain important and desirable in the foreseeable future.







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Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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