Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Better Education through Competition

  1. Jan 19, 2005 #1
    I think that student motivation is the most substantial stumbling block in education. Somehow a youth culture must be set up which has education and smarts in general at its center, rather than being peripheral and even uncool.

    I favor student-vs-student competition at every level, with very large amounts of standardized material to serve as the "game," so that, for example, students could race each other to correctly answer questions. The important thing is that in each match there would be a definite winner and a definite loser, instead of a fuzzy sliding scale of points.

    The students also should be rated constantly, as in chess, and always be aware of their rating, and each match would affect their rating up or down. With such instant, painful feedback for a loss, and such instant gratification for a win, what student would willingly lag behind? As reinforcement, rewards such as greater freedom (talking, walking around, eating), money, or martial arts lessons should be made available to higher-rated students.

    Learning would be done during competition--much of the test material would be open book, and maybe half the time in a given school day would be set aside for studying rather than competing. For the most part, adults would administrate rather than teach, although they would be available to help explain ideas students had trouble grasping on their own. The students would have to learn most of the material independently, which is not bad preparation for future life.

    Students who refused to cooperate with the competitive environment or did not benefit from it could simply be moved to a more standard system (even within the same school). They would be marginalized and know it, but would retain the option of re-entering the competitive system.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2005 #2
    Yes I agree learning motivation is very important but I don't think competition can trigger or propel, at least not very successfully, students into a self-feeding cycle of sense of achievement and more motivation.

    I feel in general for pre-teens learning is an emotionally-charged activity, and a little love and personal attention from a teacher or parent can go a long way.

    For teenagers, a sense of the purpose of life is definitely a prerequisite for learning. I thinks a lot of teenagers just look at their parents and adults around them and are quite turned off by what they see. "So I work hard, go to college, graduate and get a job, and become my parents. They don't seem very happy, they don't have the answer to a lot of things. In fact they are such screw-ups, why should I even bother?"

    Just my 2 cents.
  4. Jan 19, 2005 #3
    I play online chess which is where I got the idea. The people who play online chess get very good, relatively speaking, while still often remaining pretty dumb at understanding other simple concepts. The difference is competition. Whenever people compete, they become competent.

    As for the sense of purpose, I am in favor of realistic reinforcement of life outcomes from an early age. Instructors should present students with real, illustrated examples of the lives of people with different education levels--like, "This is Joe. Joe dropped out of 9th grade and has been homeless for six years. Joe spends his days collecting cans in the street...." And, "This is Bob. Bob is an electrician...." "This is Fred. Fred is a patent lawyer...." I think that given exposure such as that, students might realize that their comfortable college-educated parents don't lead such bad lives.
  5. Jan 19, 2005 #4
    punishing students for low intelligence

    And the winners and losers would be determined by their respective IQs. Your idea would have some merit, if we had a multi-rail educational system that would separate students according to ability. A person with an IQ of 85 has no chance of equaling a student of IQ 115 in academically demanding subjects. Nor does the one with an IQ of 115 have a chance, if pitted against someone of IQ 145.

    I used to play competitive chess and learned that players with significantly different ratings would win as indicated by their ratings, unless the stronger player was suffering a concentration lapse. I used to play a dozen players simultaneously (lunch hour at work) and was shocked when I lost to a new guy one day. It turned out that he was from Israel and was significantly stronger than the putzes who typically turned out to be defeated.

    The constant comparison would be too painful for the delicate babies we have in our schools. The dumb ones would always be at the bottom. Why punish them for having inherited a low intelligence? It is better to find things that they can learn and to separate them from the bright students where they can learn by rote and address things within their ability range.

    The parents and public would not stand for a reversal of roles. The accepted way today is to give these things to the students who excel in athletics.
    In some schools, I think the adults are there to keep the students from fighting and burning the school down. Bright students can teach themselves very well, but dumb ones will not do so, nor are they able to do so.
  6. Jan 19, 2005 #5
    The human mind is very adaptable. For example, people's IQs have been increasing over the past hundred years. When exposed to a constant testing situation, students would simply get smarter about tests. Their brains are still developing, after all. Even in adults abilities can shift dramatically according to the demand. I had a subscore of 93 on the WAIS section for speed (far higher overall), yet I was able to become fast enough in one narrow area to ace my SATs with time to spare.

    Another thing I am in favor of is that beyond basic minimum skills students must know to live, students should be encouraged and enabled to drop out of whatever classes they are uninterested and untalented at. This way, students of lower intelligence could remain competitive with brighter students simply by concentrating their time on fewer subjects.

    As I said, students for whom the system simply did not work could be shunted to conventional classrooms. Segregation by skill level is already in practice in many high schools--in my high school we had class levels 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Making the upper levels competitive game-type classes would not be a huge departure from this system.

    For these reasons, students of all intelligence levels could be accomodated.
  7. Jan 20, 2005 #6
    There is a huge array of stress-related illness that plagues us, in this nation. Turning our schools into a rat race just plays into that. School is like a small world, and I think it is stressful enough, as it is, without cranking it up like that. I did attend military schools for Junior High, and my first year of High School. Each student was tested and ranked, according to intelligence. Each class was numbered and lettered according to that ranking. So Class 8A, was the smartest eight graders, and it was challenging for them. Class 8 H was farther down on the chain. Great for people at the top, hopeless for people at the bottom, they had no chance to be challenged, after having been pigeon holed, in that fashion.
  8. Jan 20, 2005 #7
    In a rated scholastic competition, every student is constantly challenged. The rating can always increase. A mediocre student finds interest in a subject he was not interested in before and his rating in that subject starts to climb. But he knows who is above him; there is always a solid challenge before him, to increase his rating. No one is telling him what he must learn and no more; his only limit is his own interest and ability.
  9. Jan 20, 2005 #8
    I assume you are referring to the Lynn-Flynn Effect. The secular increase in IQ scores has not been shown to reflect an increase in psychometric g and is apparently entirely the result of gains in specificity in some group factors.

    When the g loaded test is composed largely of nonscholastic items (matrices, figure analogies), the raw scores show a secular increase; when an equally g loaded test is composed of scholastic items (reading comprehension, math) the raw scores show a secular decrease. Obviously, the sure level of g cannot be changing in opposite directions at the same time. The difference in vehicles must account for the discrepancy. So, the extent to which the level of g per se has been rising (or falling) over the past few decades remains problematic.”
    [Jensen, The _g_ Factor, 1998, P. 322]

    More recent studies have demonstrated that IQ gains are not g-loaded (study in Estonia) and that even when there are score gains, there is no improvement in inspection time measurements (known to track g).

    It is g that best reflects intelligence. If the Lynn-Flynn Effect is due to gains in s, those gains are of little consequence in predicting academic success, job performance, health, lifespan, learning rate, and career ceiling.

    I assume, from the above, that you dropped out of English before they got to the part concerning the correct use of prepositions. Would you have our IQ 80-90 students drop English and math?

    What examples demonstrate that lower IQ students can be competitive with higher IQ students in any cognitively demanding task?
  10. Jan 20, 2005 #9
    I am not talking about adaptibility of g, although I believe that this too can happen (I've read that travel during childhood increases adult g; no doubt you can enlighten me about this phenomenon). But I am only talking about adaptibility of the mind to certain activities. The fact that g can take different "vehicles," as you say, is evidence that this happens. A turn-of-the-century student would beat a higher-IQ modern student in a test consisting of "scholastic items," to borrow from your quote of Jensen. This is the example of a lower-IQ student being competitive with a higher-IQ student in a cognitively demanding task that you were looking for.

    Another common example is in chess. If someone with an IQ of 120 plays serious chess from age 8 to age 20, he'll probably beat someone with an IQ of 130 who has played serious chess from age 20 to age 32.

    The specialist, and in particular the specialist who started early, has an advantage over the non-specialist even if the non-specialist has a higher IQ.

    I think someone with an IQ of 80 or 90 can be fairly good at either English or math, probably with an edge to math. All they need to do is specialize. Of course, if they don't want to learn it, then they should drop out once they have basic skills (which I think is what happens now anyway).

    No, I stayed in honors English, though I would have liked to have dropped it in favor of more math or computer science. Not ending a sentence in a preposition is a rule which I generally ignore. It would sound slightly stilted to move the preposition into the middle of the sentence. I think that with time this rule will be dropped; I don't know its history but it seems like it was only made to enable easier sentence diagramming.
  11. Jan 21, 2005 #10
    I am not sure what it means for g to be adaptable. At the individual level, g is highly heritable, ranging from about 70% of the variance in middle age to 80% in the elderly. The only environmental factors that influence g in adults are those that are chemical or biological (the intrauterine environment, hormonal concentrations, toxins, diseases, etc.)

    Spearman discovered g in 1904. Since that time there has been no finding that any macro environmental factors affect g. Even the most extreme of social factors--adoption--has zero impact on IQ after the age of about 12. Adopted children mature to have IQs that are within the range that would be predicted by their biological parents and have a zero correlation to their adoptive siblings. Education, travel, and institutional efforts to boost g do not work.

    That is a different matter. People can and do learn things to the point of automatic response.

    Although g does not show a secular increase or decrease, the s-loading of various tests apparently changes. The nature of that change has been the subject of a lot of speculation. The effect may be partly an artifact of test construction, especially with respect to the norming process. One paper addressed the influence of restriction of range on the Lynn-Flynn Effect. I mention this only because it is an example of a test structure artifact and not of change in intellect.

    I disagree. It is an example of the difficulties of constructing IQ tests. It turns out that g can be measured as well from reaction time tests as from IQ tests. Reaction times to elementary cognitive tests are each correlated a bit more to g than are individual test items in an IQ test, but also have additive variance. Thus, a battery of such tests can produce a g measurement that correlates to such standard IQ tests as the Wechsler and Raven's as well as these correlate to each other. Reaction times have been shown to be invariant, even when raw IQ scores have increased.

    I agree. There is a good explanation for this and it relates to the age ranges that you selected. Do you know the reason? Why did you select two different age groups, when you apparently wanted to compare two different intelligence levels????? <big smile>

    A person can learn a g-loaded task to the point where the g-loading is displaced by s-loading. The specific mechanism for this has been explained particularly well by using chess as the study subject. When the g-loading of a test item is reduced by specific training, the individual in question does not develop a higher g, but simply learns to deal with the test item from learned responses. This means that, when presented with a different g-loaded problem, the person will have not gained any additional ability to solve the different test item. For example, a person who learns to play chess at the master level will not have gained an improved ability to deal with such g-loaded test items as sentence comprehension or pitch discrimination. This subject is discussed at length throughout the literature.

    "U. S. Employment Service data show that the _lowest_ IQ found among persons employed with the occupational title 'mathematician' was 115 (the 85th %tile of the general population); the mean IQ was 143."
    [Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g factor: The science of mental ability. Westport, CT: Praeger.]

    It doesn't work that way for cognitively demanding careers. Mathematics is an especially cognitively demanding field. For any such field, there is a threshold, below which people are unable to function adequately. When a discipline does not require actual reasoning, decision making, daily learning, etc. that field may be learned by people with ordinary or even limited intelligence. As the factors I listed increase, the IQ threshold for that field increases. Even after the threshold is reached, individuals who are able to function within a field are inclined to succeed in proportion to their intelligence. A particularly strong demonstration of this has come from the longitudinal study of academically talented youth (Johns Hopkins University). Their data set shows that even within the top percentile (that would be IQ 140 and above), a fine analysis of IQ variance within that percentile shows that career success is strongly related to intelligence, as measured at age 12-13.

    Did your "honors English" teacher accept incorrect grammatical construction? What did your honors English teacher think about your spelling skills? For example, consider "adaptibility." Most people would spell that word with an "a" in place of the "i." [adaptability]

    I can see that you do ignore it. Do you do that for a reason? In math, do you also make up your own rules?

    The sentence you used was grammatically ugly. Why would a correct sentence structure be "stilted?" Do you read books that contain incorrect sentence constructions?

    You could always adopt Ebonics. I doubt that the requirements of that language would be "stilted."
  12. Jan 21, 2005 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    There is no general rule about ending a sentence with a preposition in English; that was a nineteenth century mistake.
  13. Jan 21, 2005 #12
    Let me remind you of the prior dialog:

    The proper use of a preposition includes the use of an object of the preposition. In the ugly sentence, the preposition "at" does not have an object. This is a grammatical error.

    Do you read books that use the word "at" without an object? If so, do you believe the books you read are written by scholars, who are attempting to use correct grammatical structure? If you were teaching an "honors English" class, would you accept the use of prepositions without corresponding objects?
  14. Jan 21, 2005 #13
    Too Narrow-Minded

    I hope you realize that you would be marginalizing the greatest minds in history. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and so many countless other geniuses would be marginalized if they attended your school.

    I personally loath competition in educational environments. It breeds shallow quick thinkers who can think fast but not necessarily deep. It also encourages cheating, and the use of quick shortcuts. It also favors people who have photographic memories but who may not be all that intelligent. A competitive educational environment be good for training fighter pilots where a quick response is more important that deep thinking, but as an overall policy for general I couldn’t disagree more.

    I'm not saying that competition itself is a bad thing. But if that is the sole basis of the educational institution, and they marginalize everyone who disagrees with their narrow-minded approach to learning, then I think it is a very bad thing.

    I was always a slow learner, and a slow responder. Other students would be quick to raise their hands while it would take me a while to think about the question. My brain just works slow, that's all there is to it. But if you believe that this somehow marginalizes me or that I can't think deeply then you are sadly mistaken. Ironically, even though I was often recognized as a slow thinker, my fellow students always came to me when they had a problem that they were stuck with. So what does that tell you?

    Now, as a teacher I don't care for creating a competitive environment. I've found that students learn at different paces. They're background education can also play a huge role in how quickly they can absorb new material. When I have students that are quick learners I give them more difficult problems to work on while I help the slower learners understand the basic concepts.

    Why make the slow learners compete with the quick students? All that's going to do is make the slow learners feel discouraged. Why on God's green earth would you want to do that?

    Fortunately, all of my classes are only 30 students or less so I'm able to work with them almost one-on-one. I put the quick learners into a group and give them an enormously complex and difficult problem. :biggrin:

    Then I spend time with the slower learners explaining very simple problems in great detail. It works out for everyone involved. In fact, I'm sure that you would be surprised at how many of the slow learners actually catch up with the fast learners simply because they needed to take it slower while learning the fundamental concepts. Personally I think they are probably learning them deeper and this is why it takes them longer to organize the material in their minds.

    Give me your marginalized learners! They are probably your BEST students!

    By the way, I should mention that one of my very slowest students turned out to be the best student I ever had. He started out almost flunking out, and ended up being a straight A student by the end of the program. He went on to become the chief network administrator for the news network of this entire region. Most of my "quick" students pretty much stayed at their same grade average all the way through! So much for your theory of who's marginalized.

    If you are in a position of authority concerning the implementation of the style of pedagogy at any educational institution I can only say that it would sadden me to know that. To think that you are prepared to marginalize people who may not respond to your method of pedagogy is actually quite scary.

    Now if you simply offer a private school that advertises a teaching style that is based on competition that's different. I just don't like the idea of marginalizing people who don't do well using your methods. Sounds too much like a dictator gone wild. Then you give them the option to come back to your way of thinking after they've experienced what it's like to be marginalized. Sounds pretty disgusting if you ask me.
  15. Jan 21, 2005 #14
    Two questions need to be asked: Are "scholastic items" on a test "cognitively demanding"? And then, when the student from 1900 with a lower IQ score scores more highly than the modern student on a test consisting of scholastic items, is the student from 1900 "being competitive" with the student from 2005? The answer to both questions is obviously yes.

    All of whatever you're saying about reaction time as an alternative method to measure IQ is irrelevant. The only thing is that somehow the student from 1900 had his IQ measured, and somehow the student from 2005 had his IQ measured, and the student from 2005 had a somewhat higher IQ.

    The 20 year old has an IQ of 120 and the 32 year old has an IQ of 130. This is a given. Any change in IQ with age is not relevant. I selected different age groups so that the 20 year old could start at age 8 and learn through childhood, and the 32 year old could learn for the same amount of time but not in childhood.

    This is the essential point, and the reason why someone with lower IQ can compete with someone with higher IQ in cognitively complex tasks.

    Well, the IQ 80-90 student probably can't be a mathematician, but he can be fairly good at math. He could learn enough math to be a competent carpenter or accountant, for example.

    As to the whole language issue, why are you making such a big deal of it? This is not an essay for an academic professor, it's just a discussion. On such an essay I would carefully proofread. As it is an informal discussion, so long as you know what I'm saying, it doesn't matter how I say it.

    Neutron Star, you raise a good point. I was going to say that slower students would simply compete with a different time limit, but this can't always be done if there aren't very many students total. So perhaps it is only a good idea for a large school to enable students to compete in the areas they are strong at--e.g. someone who is slow but deep would compete with harder questions and more time to answer them, against other slow but deep students. Once each grade has a few hundred people or so I think it would be feasible to put students in groups with students of similar strengths.
  16. Jan 22, 2005 #15
    The cognitive demands of scholastic items vary according to the process involved in learning the underlying material (learning by eduction is highly g-loaded) and the nature of the extent of g-loading for the category of the test items. In all cases, the drift in raw scores has been zeroed out by renorming. This is done in order for IQ tests to conform to the definition of IQ, as established by David Wechsler.

    It is highly relevant, since reaction times reflect g at a basic level. IQ tests only tap g at the end point and are subject to various measurement difficulties that are eliminated by chronometric and EEG measurements. The latter show no change over decades, even when testees show drifting raw scores. It is important to understand that most of the Lynn-Flynn Effect is observed for individuals below the 50th percentile. The effect is not uniform across the IQ distribution.

    As I pointed out, the degree of difference in raw score is dependent on the test given, not the testee. The Lynn-Flynn Effect usually shows a secular increase in raw scores because the contribution from abstract components rises at a rate that is greater than the rate of decline in scholastic measurements. The evidence all points to test related artifacts as opposed to g-loaded gains or losses. This is emphasized by the stability of chronometric measurements.

    Your suggested comparison involves two very important variables, making it impossible to draw any conclusion from any observed result. If you wanted to compare two different intelligence groups, you should have specified that they differ only in intelligence, not also in age. If you wanted to compare two different age groups, you should have specified that they differ only in age, not also in intelligence. By introducing both variables at the same time, you have created a meaningless comparison.

    Meanwhile, you didn't answer the question. I wrote: "I agree. There is a good explanation for this and it relates to the age ranges that you selected. Do you know the reason? Why did you select two different age groups, when you apparently wanted to compare two different intelligence levels????? <big smile>" Let me give you a hint. Chess has been used to study mental performance. In one of the very first papers published on the subject, very significant findings were made with respect to the role of working memory and long term memory. Later studies added a more sophisticated model of the processes that were initially observed. Can you use these to explain why an adult cannot take up chess and become an international master level player?

    Would you like to revise your comparison to involve only one variable?

    The process of learning to the point of automatic response is sometimes referred to as teaching to the test. It is of no use in preparing a person for dealing with novelty. One of my favorite quotes is by Carl Bereiter: "Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." It is the presence of novelty that causes thresholds in various academic and job pursuits. This is why the US military uses IQ tests to place people in jobs according to their abilities to deal with decision making, novelty, and complexity.

    That is certainly true for the carpenter. If you read The Bell Curve (see P. 54), you will find a list of high IQ jobs; one of those jobs (the first one listed) is "accountant." I disagree that a person with an IQ of 80-90 can perform well as an accountant. You are off by close to 2 standard deviations.

    I seldom comment on the grammar or spelling of someone who writes on a forum. I am interested in what that person has to say, not whether or not he has an education that is adequate for correct communications. In this case, however, you made a comment that was shocking: "Another thing I am in favor of is that beyond basic minimum skills students must know to live, students should be encouraged and enabled to drop out of whatever classes they are uninterested and untalented at." You were actually suggesting that students DROP OUT of classes and at the same time, your comment was grammatically incorrect. The irony of this was simply too much for me. I remain both shocked and somewhat amused by the incongruity of your suggestion and your grammar (and later spelling errors). The whole thing became quite humorous when you then told us about "honors English!" I am sure I make both grammatical and spelling errors, but I try not to do so when bragging about my English education and I try to refrain from suggesting that people drop out of classes which might teach them the very things that relate to English errors.

    Why do you think time limits are a matter of proper compensation for slower students? Are they slower because they are less intelligent (using g as the best definition of intelligence); because they are equally intelligent, but do each task more slowly; or is there another issue?

    I am aware that some schools grant extra time to students who say they are suffering from some kind of disorders that cause them to be slow. I wonder if those students will be given similar protection in their adult lives. Does it matter if an airplane pilot is slow? If you are bleeding and admitted to an emergency room, do you want a doctor who got through school by special "extra time" rules? Should our troops be commanded by officers who need extra time to think?

    Your honors English class must have instilled the "at" problem in you to an extent that it cannot be corrected. In this sentence, "at" is a preposition that has no object. It seems that the "at" usage is part of your normal written English. Of course, it does not matter if you make this ugly mistake on a regular basis. People will understand what you mean and they will probably not pay any attention to it because our schools no longer require English proficiency, but it remains amusing to me in the context of the prior discussion.
  17. Jan 22, 2005 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    As in most other areas in life, "competition" favours pretense, intrigue, egotism and fraud, at the expense of sincerity, cooperation, ethics and curiosity.
    The only form of competition worth having is "self-competition", the willingness and ambition to transcend your own limitations.
  18. Jan 22, 2005 #17
    Like in a communist state free of competition? :yuck:
  19. Jan 22, 2005 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    The fact that you have been meticoulously brainwashed into believing American nonsense, does not invalidate what I've said.
    For example, you obviously believe that "competition" didn't exist in Communist states.
    It did, and fiercely, inhumanely so:
    They competed about who seemed to be the best Communist; and did so ruthlessly at the expense of millions of lives.

    I am disgusted with Communism in all its loathsome forms; enforced cooperation is nothing else than slavery, and I strongly resent that a brainwashed individual insinuates that I have any sympathies in that direction.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2005
  20. Jan 22, 2005 #19
    I agree completely with both of your statements. :approve:
  21. Jan 22, 2005 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    In your example, there most certainly is an object ("classes") associated with the preposition. There is a big difference between ending a sentence with a preposition whose object appears earlier in the sentence, and ending a sentence with a preposition that has no object. It is the latter which is definitely a crime, and the former, only rarely.

    Getting back on topic, I went to school in a place where competition was not used as the motivation for improvement. On the contrary, it was virtually banned. The idea was to teach the students to be able to understand themselves better; learn what their strengths and weaknesses are; understand what gives them joy and what, sorrow; and how to deal with these through the better understanding of one's self. I think we all did okay ! :smile:

    Comparison and competition creates a mindset in the student that is a result of mass psychology and teaches the student how to survive the ratrace, and little else. But should this be the purpose of schooling ? On the other hand, does the ignoring of the ratrace that is the real world, do more harm than good in the long run ?

    Since this is now turning almost irreversibly towards philosophy, I'll break it off here.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?