Competition in Education

The Culture of Competition – Competition in Education

Honors in Action Project

Phi Theta Kappa – Alpha Theta Omicron

November 21, 2012

Emily B. Carlson & Brandon M. Jones

November 21, 2012

Rio Salado College

Phi Theta Kappa – Alpha Theta Omicron

Competition in Education

Competition: The act or process of competing; rivalry (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, n.d.). When thinking of the word competition, many think of sporting events such as football or a race. The fact is competition exists in everyday activities such as job performance, personal rivalries, and even education. Competition among students is prevalent in achieving social status to climb the ladder of social hierarchy. The competition for social status in schools has shown to have an effect on individual academic performance. The effect on academic performance ***.

Social status is portrayed every day on television, magazines, and is no stranger in the school systems. Competing for social status in schools can have an effect on a student’s academic performance. Social interaction among students is relatively important allowing youth to find social support and forge relationships with their peers also gaining an understanding of how social networks function (Ludden para. 1). Research indicates that students set social goals to avoid embarrassment or teasing, for acceptance by popular groups, and to experience intimacy with their peers. The impact and effect that social status has on a student’s academic performance is viewed to be both positive and negative.

When it pertains to the social status of a student, there are several different points of view on this matter. To get a better understanding from a real-world perspective, research was conducted at a local charter school in Phoenix, AZ. In a recent interview with the superintendent and principal at Ambassador Academy, Dr. Reyes states:

“Ambassador Academy focuses students on academic gains and developing leadership skills. These are overtly valued, encouraged, and, celebrated. We have found that when a student is only a “jock” but low in academics, that student is not high on the social scale here. Initially, “jocks” are, but once their lack of academic performance is evident to the others, they lose that status. Guess you can say our students strive to be “cool” geeks.”

This statement is quite profound due to the fact that once a student is recognized for poor academic performance, the fact that they are a part of a certain social group becomes irrelevant. In fact, it would seem as though academic performance in this case outweighs “jock” status.

According to Danielle La, a senior at Sandra Day O’Connor High School, the impact of social status has on academics depends on which crowd you choose to associate with (La interview). Cliques vary in reputation & style. Cliques such as the “skaters” or *** tend to carry the reputation of ditching school, alcohol and substance abuse, and poor academics whereas the “preppy” clique reputes for wearing brand names and maintaining good grades. Members of sports teams typically carry the label of “jocks”. Jocks are mostly viewed to be the most popular “cliques” on a school campus. Football and other sports team members are required to maintain a certain grade point average to play sports. Competing for the social status of “jock” would tend to increase academic performance so one can maintain that social position and continue to play the sport. Personal communications and interviews conducted with several high school students lead to a consensus that many students rely on keeping up with the latest trends and buying new clothes in order to achieve a certain social status. One other high school senior added that many students are too busy keeping up with gossip and the latest trends in order to fit in losing focus on academics. Many school districts have incorporated the use of school uniforms on campus. An article written by Grace Chen states, “There are fundamentally two benefits associated with school uniforms: a focus on learning, as well as a reduction of violence on campus.”  School uniforms have proven to decrease ditching school and suspensions. Chen goes on to explain why school uniforms are beneficial to students by stating:

Many school administrators and parents believe that uniforms create a better learning environment at school. First and foremost, students are not distracted by how they look, and therefore, spend more time learning at school. The peer pressures of stylish dressing with the “best” brands are alleviated, and students can focus more upon their schoolwork, rather than social appearances.  In fact, the socioeconomic differences present among students are equalized with school uniforms, minimizing the pressure to “fit in” with the right clothing choices (“Public School Uniforms”).

There are disadvantages associated with the implementation of school uniforms such as the denial of self-expression. Self-expression is found to be important for a student to embrace individualism and personality encouragement. One other noted disadvantage is the potential for discomfort for some students. Grace Chen writes, “It is important to ensure that the student is comfortable in order to maximize learning outcomes, uniforms may stymie academic focus” (Chen). Dr. Alan Hilfer, a senior child and adolescent psychologist adds, “Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetuated by older kids on younger kids for their sneakers and possessions” (Svenson.).

One topic in particular that has increasingly affected academic performance and social status within school systems is bullying. Those students that are bullied by other students because they don’t “fit in” in turn can show a decrease academic productivity. “We cannot address low achievement in school while ignoring bullying, because the two are frequently linked,” states Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology (“Victims of Bullying”). Professor Juvonen conducted a study on the academic achievement in bullied students reported projected findings of a 1.5-point decrease in GPA for one academic subject. One other study performed by researchers at UC Davis showed that students climbing the social ladder of hierarchy were more likely to bully other students. “I think a lot of kids think this is one way to gain or maintain social status,” said UC Davis sociology Professor Robert Faris, a co-author of the study. “The more kids care about being popular, the more aggressive they are.” (Tucker & Nelson, 2011).

Research indicates that students that have trouble fitting in during the early years of their academic careers tend to indulge in alcohol and substance abuse in college in order to feel more accepted among their peers. According to Ludden (2012), “In relation to status social goals and problem behavior, being popular, and placing importance on popularity and status have been associated with problem behaviors such as disrupting and skipping classes, delinquency, alcohol and drug use, and perceived pressure to engage in problem behaviors” High school senior, Olivia Gano, reported that she observes students whom are trying to fit in with the “wrong crowd” ditch school and get into trouble. Gano also stated that these students put forth little effort in their academics and do poorly in their classes (Gano interview). Ms. Nichole Pope, a teacher and educator tutored a student who shaved a portion of their eyebrow and engaged in behavior such as substance abuse and skipping school to fit in. Ms. Pope stated when she asked the student why he did these things he reported it was to fit in and feel accepted by his peers. As an educator who has worked with students of all economic classes, Ms. Pope stated, “I feel the crowd that students tend to associate with and the importance they emphasize on their studies has a lot to do with their families and support they receive at home.” Ms. Pope went on to state that a family’s influence has a lot to do with what crowd students gravitate towards and how that student perceives the importance of academics (Pope interview). Some families set rules and boundaries and put a strict emphasis on academics no matter what economic background they are from. Other families simply don’t apply the time and attention to a student which tends to instigate that student to engage with the wrong crowd and fail academically.

One other factor that has a vast impact on social status and academic performance is what city that student resides in. “In small, rural communities, social goals in school are particularly important, as school bonding and a supportive classroom environment in these tight-knit environments serve as important protective factors in promoting engagement and positive youth development, even more so than in urban or suburban contexts” (Ludden).


Works Cited

Chen, Grace. “ Public School Uniforms: The Pros and Cons for Your Child. Public School Review. 2008. Web. 8 Nov. 12.

Competition. “In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary”. n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 12.

Gano, Olivia. Personal Interview. 03 Nov. 12.

La, Danielle. Personal Interview. 03 Nov. 12.

Ludden, A.B. “Social goals, social status, and problem behavior among low-achieving and high-achieving adolescents from rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 27(7)”. 2012. Web. 9 Nov. 2012.

Pope, Nichole. Personal Interview. 03 Nov. 12.

Science Daily.. Victims of Bullying Suffer Academically as Well, Psychologists Report. 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 12.

Svenson, Ann. “ School Uniforms: Pros and Cons. Family Education”. n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

Tucker, J. & Nelson, K. “Bullying seen as ‘instrument for social climbing’. San Francisco Chronicle”. 2011. Web. 11 Nov 12.

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