By Graham Sarasy
In the 1960’s, when our country, the US, and the Soviet Union were pitted against each other in the “Space Race,” we were proverbially at war. However, this war was not one of brute force, or strength of arms, but one of technological prowess, academic aptitude, and scientific ingenuity. It was obvious to both nations at the time that the only way to plant their flag upon the dusty, grey surface of the moon was to increase the rigor of their respective academics, particularly in mathematics and the sciences. It is clear in retrospect that it seems as if the best way in which to heighten the academic and technological might of a nation or culture, is to promote competition, whether it is between two countries or within an institution of learning, and with that in mind, wouldn’t competition help, if not solve, the massive problem of underachievement within the American public school system? The example of the “Space Race,” or even that of the Cold War era in general, are both excellent example of how competition, on the whole, has a positive impact upon the educational caliber and the scientific and technological ingenuity of the participants. In 1961, when President Kennedy challenged the nation, and other nations to be the first to place their footprint upon the face of the moon, he was in effect, challenging the educational systems of the world to step up their collective efforts, and churn out as many young minds as possible to get them there. This challenge paid off more than he could ever have expected. By 1965, the number of students that graduated from colleges or universities in the US had increased by 37% and the number of students that were majoring in math or science fields had nearly doubled. This simple act of changing education from a requirement of life in the US to a means of which the individual could do their part through work and dedication to help catapult their country to glory on the world stage was instrumental in creating a renaissance of science and technology that helped create NASA, some of the first computers, and created the environment that would make it possible to put a man on the moon. On a far smaller, and likely more relevant scale, this same principle of competition in education as a means to achieve societal excellence can be applied to the system of the individual school. For example, just as in a sports environment (something which the US school system emphasizes greatly, and with much success) where the players or teams are ranked based on their skill or ability, a school could apply this same basic system, but in terms of grades and work ethic. It is basic human nature to want to be better than others, this has been known to psychologists for some time that humans have an innate want to dominate and control; however, others will inevitably look on with envy, causing those that have the drive and the potential, to improve themselves in order to best the current leader. Obviously, such a model of self-impelled improvement is designed to essentially “naturally select” the best among their peers, those whom are destined for greatness. Those who are the most worthy of the resources of the educational system, particularly in math and science, will gain the attention that they deserve, the very attention that they have been starved of since the end of the Cold War. The only way in which our nation will be able to maintain its prominence and its influence on the world as both an intellectual leader and as an economic and political superpower is to create an educational system that cultivates minds through competition amongst peers and creates an environment where the most fit, in a Darwinian sense, among the student body are able to be given the opportunity to employ their full potential. If this system were adopted by the American public school entity, I have the greatest confidence that it would have the effect of increasing the dedication of the student body to their own education. Competition is the best and most readily feasible way to save the American education system and to finally reincarnate the scientific achievements of the previous century.