No Winners or Losers, Just Mediocrity

Originally Posted at Smart Girl Politics -

It’s October 2014. Hot dogs are cooked, peanuts are ready, and stadiums have perfected their version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Ten teams have risen above the pack and are set to begin battle in the Major League Baseball playoffs. 

However, Bud Selig has called a press conference three days before the first pitch that he says will change the landscape of America’s past time forever.

He enters the room flanked by Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates. Determined, they adjust their microphones and eye the reporters. “We know many of you are excited to begin playoff competition, a tradition that spans families, franchises, and generations,” Selig says. “However, after long thought and input by trusted advisors, we’ve decided that this level of competition is unhealthy. Every team has worked hard for 162 games, shown up to practice and double headers in the heat, and should be rewarded for their participation. We’ve decided to award every team, and every player, with an award of achievement rather than allow just one team to celebrate winning a World Series championship. As fans, this makes all of you winners.”

The room is silent. Reporters and fans start checking their clocks and calendars, ensuring it isn’t actually April 1st.

This scenario is laughable. Profits would plummet, fan participation and excitement would wane to non-existence, and the spirit of competition that drives the quest for the apex of victories, the World Series, would disappear. No one would suggest that the MLB take such an approach, because without competition, absent the highs of victory and the lows of defeat, what would drive the sport?

Yet it’s what we present to our children on a daily basis. Schools across the country have eliminated the Honor Roll, afraid that students who don’t make the grade will suffer low self-confidence. Peewee leagues don’t keep score and every player receives a ribbon or a trophy for participation. We’re bringing up generations of kids that believe they win, or at least get a passing nod, for just showing up. Even the classroom standards that states were coerced into accepting give no impression of greatness – just a “common core” that incentivizes a dash for the middle, nothing close to a race to the top.

How does this inspire individuals to strive for excellence? Where is the spirit of exceptionalism, of showcasing the results of hard work? Competition drives innovation. It spurs excellence. Challenge and adversity instill in us a will to try again, to rise above failure and celebrate success. It is through those trials, of setting goals and learning that sometimes it takes more than just showing up to achieve them, that grows the character Americans throughout history have been known for – and has become legendary. 

Professional sports are successful because there is an incentive to achieve and a will to work hard to make it happen. Success is upheld as a prize to win, not to be scorned. Fans believe that anything is possible. 

It’s time for teachers to have the same opportunity – to compete for top spots, top pay, in the best schools like top players do for their contracts. It’s time for our schools to contend with one another on an even playing field for the education dollar. It’s time for school choice to become the norm, and for parents to own the process, spending their money where they get the most return on investment. It’s time for students to compete in the classroom and for achievement gaps to be closed by inspiration and passion, not placation and arbitrarily altered bell curves. 

Because, if we aren’t careful, the Albert Einsteins, Nikola Tesla’s, Steve Jobs, and Benjamin Franklin’s of the future won’t be Americans. In the World Series of global economics, we’ll be the Seattle Mariners. Full of potential, but never able to do what it takes to win the game. Participants, not champions.