Why not an Educational Olympics?
Why not have an Olympics of the mind? We've watched, the last two weeks with much excitement and fanfare, a display of the stamina, flexibility, strength, precision and speed of the bodies of the world's greatest athletes. Oh, that we could observe the brilliance of the world's greatest minds covering hundreds of subjects. Certainly, the world's greatest producers, promoters and teachers could create events to capture the public's imagination.
I write this half in fantasy, but not in jest. We need excitement about education. We need competition within the public education system. We need to value education and learning and skills of the mind as high as we value the physical abilities of people. No, I don't mean handing out pay raises to teachers and increasing scholarships for students. We need to create the excitement about the wonders of the mind. And, we need to do it in mass proportions just as we have with sports.
To some extent we do this with music which truly permeates our culture. There is competition in that field and there is recognition and rewards. We start this in grade school, we display it on athletic fields, we press ourselves into stadiums to hear it, we wire our heads to listen to it, and we pay millions to the performers. The field is competitive, it requires hard work and discipline, it requires coaching and standards, it creates excitement. Not all people make it. Not all are equal in performance. But, it's an exciting race.
Can we raise academic achievement to that level? Well, the Olympics go back a few years. According to Wikipedia and a few other sources, the Olympics supposedly started in 776 BC and lasted until 300 something AD (they were too pagan). They were revived in France in the late 1800s. An academic of education has to start sometime. Why not start around the years 2012-2013?
It can be argued that we already have competition in education. We take tests; fortunately, we still have spelling bees, the closest to public competition; we publish honor rolls; we recognize achievements and standings; we award scholarships; and the better performers ultimately are chosen for the higher paying jobs. It's all true, but it's all a little ho-hum. Honor rolls don't have standings. Individuals are lumped in groups. Test scores are private so as not to embarrass those who didn't do well. I just can't visualize a pump fisting "Oh, Yeah!" declaration when test scores are handed out.
Some private schools do have more competition. Japanese schools used to have a near mind-blowing competitive factor that, in recent years, has been put down as too stressful, too competitive, too demanding. The Chinese (and other Asians) have been so competitive on the college level that there is a complaint that many isolate themselves and lack social skills. That's not unlike athletes whose only focus is sports and whose life's interest are so narrow that they can't cope with the "outside" world.
There are always excesses. However, I don't think we would be in danger of an excess of education. And, there are enough educational subjects - math, literature, history, and all the sub-subjects as well as technical or mechanical subjects - so that not many students would be left out. Competition can also be for broad or deep knowledge of a subject, speed of response, and, always, accuracy. Competition can be in written form (computer or pencil) or oral. Like sports, make it fun, while still insisting on discipline and study. I'm always amazed that professional athletes who have barely made it through school, can absorb multi-page play books, instructions, and perform mental tasks while being shoved around.
Hey, few people are truly stupid. While minds are not all equal anymore than bodies are all equal, all minds have the ability to learn and the capacity to retain. Expectation, training and discipline are major components of performance. We need to start out day one with high expectations and high support for making students recognize their own capabilities. Encouragement is always an element of good coaching and so is expectation and discipline and self study.
So, I'm for some competitive mental games leading to an Olympic stage. It would be good for students. It would be good for teachers who get recognition and ultimately rewards. It would make education more fun. It's a mind set that we can't get started on soon enough.