Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Why We Need Writing Competitions in Schools

My friend and personal hero Rebecca Wallace-Segall landed an op-ed in the Nov. 28 Wall Street Journal about the value of thought-based competitions--like the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards--in schools. In contrast to, say, um, sports, writing competitions aren't valued. And they should be. Writes Rebecca, explaining the opposition and throwing in an interesting generational spin on it all:

"We don't want kids to compete individually, put themselves in vulnerable positions as individuals," explains a leading administrator. "They can compete within teams," explains another. "So the focus is on community building rather than on personal value."

But what about Sam's sense of personal value? Aren't human beings fabulously varied in their gifts and sensibilities? Excellent teamwork can be important, but is it the only admirable achievement? Should any school in the United States prevent broader acknowledgment of a young, creative mathematician?

Mel Levine, a professor at the University of North Carolina and one of the foremost authorities in the country on how children learn, believes the impact of the collaborative education movement has been devastating to an entire generation. When students are rewarded for participation rather than achievement, Dr. Levine suggests, they don't have a strong sense of what they are good at and what they're not. Thus older members of Generation Y might be in for quite a shock when they show up for work at their first jobs. "They expect to be immediate heroes and heroines. They expect a lot of feedback on a daily basis. They expect grade inflation, they expect to be told what a wonderful job they're doing," says Dr. Levine.

Rebecca founded and runs WritopiaLab, a community of young writers, ages 10-19, that revolves around a year-round afterschool writing center and intensive creative writing workshops. Every six months, participants chose to read their polished pieces at Barnes & Noble. I've been to these readings. These kids inspire.

And speaking of the Scholastic Awards, a shout out to all those girls over at Girls Write Now who won awards this summer! I'm heading to a GWN meeting tonight and can't wait to hang with everyone. I made cookies and am carrying a plate of them around today, but I can't guarantee that they're gonna last....I'm baad that way.


Anne Libby said...

Thank you for posting this; I missed the WSJ Op Ed. On a related note, here's a clip from another WSJ article.

Responding to a question about how graduate b-schools should deal with "helicopter parents" of the millenial generation, Daphne Atkinson, VP for industry relations at the Graduate Management Admission Council said:

"The schools have been quite surprised because they weren't accustomed to seeing parents at admission events at the graduate level. We were all wondering why the parents couldn't simply advise from the sidelines. But we have come to understand that parents are there because they are investors who hold their children's schools accountable for a proper return on time and money."

Unbelieveably, as manager in a large corporation, I've seen some of this helicoptering. It is not pretty. As Gen-Xer, I'm shocked to already be sounding like an old fogey.

I literally clipped the article from the newspaper to send with a note to the incoming Dean of the demanding graduate business program I busted my backside to complete. But I'm not sure what I want to say to him.

Um, "Please don't admit students who couldn't attend admissions night without Mom/Dad" occurs to me.

I'm still thinking.

I'd love to hear more from you on this topic.

Full article:

Deborah Siegel said...

Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment! I will def take a look at that article. I went to a corporate panel a few months ago on working across generations and heard stories about this too! To be cont...

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