Home > Uncategorized > A Teacher’s View of the Olympics

A Teacher’s View of the Olympics

I’ve been puzzling over why the Olympics are depressing me.  When I was a kid, I loved them. I was 9 when Nadia Comaneci earned her perfect 10s, and I couldn’t have been more captivated. Look at her go! A little girl like me–strong, beautiful, successful!  The world is watching her! It still makes me smile. But watching the London games, I couldn’t help but feel mostly sad.  (Look at Jordyn Wieber cry on international television!  Why am I watching this? Why did she devote her life to being humiliated on a world stage?)  I think I’ve figured out why my reaction has changed: I’m now watching as an educator.  As an educator, I look at young people and want to see positive outcomes for all our kids. And I wonder why in the world we need a social system that creates so many losers. 

For every inspiring success story, there are thousands of failures.  Kids all around the world have taken sport beyond healthy exercise to an obsession that dominates their childhoods.  My cousin trained for the Olympic ski team, and spent his winters on the slopes, doing school work on his own at off hours.  I don’t think he’d change a thing, but I wonder if it was the best thing for him. For the thousands of kids like him with big dreams that don’t pan out.  And even if he had made the team, had won a medal, would it have been the right choice then? 

A lot of our formal education system unfortunately also creates winners and losers. The best students go on to elite colleges and bright futures. It’s a sorting algorithm.  But does it have to be that way?  We need lots of capable people–every one we can find.  I have never graded on a curve. I expect every student to master the material, and I personally approach anyone who is falling behind to ask how I can help.

Georgia Tech PhD  alumni Jose Zagal and Jochen Rick wrote a great paper about lessons learned from collaborative board games. Why aren’t more of our pastimes collaborative?  It’s a profound question. Our cultural rituals both reflect who we are and create it.  So here’s a design question for you: What would a more collaborative cultural ritual look like?  Could school sports be more collaborative, where everyone is working together to meet a shared goal? Could we get a group of folks together to accomplish something amazing, and celebrate what people together can do for the greater good?  Those sorts of events actually happen all the time–fund raising walks where we are proud of everyone who finishes, barn raisings where a community builds a home. I wonder what it would take to get our media to celebrate collaborative events with equal enthusiasm as competitive ones. Or for our economic system to devote equal resources to making them possible.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 11, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I think a huge part of what’s going on here is that our environment — economic or otherwise — isn’t designed to be collaborative, unless by “collaborative” you mean things like the Stock Market that distribute risk at a relatively late stage of a company’s life cycle. Even what should be one of the most encouraged economic tasks in this environment — a person finding a job — is an endlessly competitive process, made worse by the fact that the “competition” in these cases is often a nameless, faceless (and possibly imaginary!) Schrodinger’s Job Candidate.

    Even in the current election cycle, the whole “You didn’t build that” kerfluffle seems to be little more than one side thumbing its nose at the idea that people need, want, or require outside assistance from much of anybody, even if the actual reality is quite different. It’s hard to convince people that we need more collaborative cultural rituals when they demonstrate so clearly that people refuse to take part in them (publicly, at least)!

  2. August 11, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Another angle: even worse is that competitive sports are now purely spectator sports. Far from having any health advantages, folks watching these games end up sitting in front of the television with large tubs of unhealthy food. It’s ironic that sports are actually causing obesity indirectly.

  3. Robert Bruckman
    August 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Amy- Maybe you became a fan of the wrong sport. Try Women’s Soccer. Not too late to watch the reruns on NBC…..Collaboration is the goal!

  4. Quentin
    August 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    “to celebrate collaborative events”

    If we celebrate collaborative events, we celebrate CERTAINS collaborative events, not all. it will be very difficult to speak about all the events. It introduces a notion of competition between what collaborative project have to be celebrate.

    At the opposite, the sport competition is competition between collaborative project. A sport champion isn’t alone : there’s are trainers, friends around him. It’s a work of team.

    (Sorry for my english, I’m french : ) )

  5. Pam Griffith
    August 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    One of the most interesting parts of the Olympics for me was a collaborative moment in the bike portion of the men’s triathalon. There were 5 men who had broken out way ahead of everyone else in the swimming portion, and they were trading off which one of them was in the lead to share the workload and keep themselves fresher for the run. Of course, they were still competing against everyone behind them, and it would be everyone for himself again later.

    The cameras seemed to like focusing on the people crying in defeat to the point that I wanted to yell at them to leave people alone, but I noticed a bunch of little moments of support, like the guy who got bumped into 4th place on the gymnastics rings final looking genuinely excited for the person who just took first, or the swedish high jumper patting her nervous american competitor on the back and saying something to make her laugh. I wish they made more of that, I’d rather see good sportsmanship than bitter disappointment.

    • August 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

      Excellent point Pam! I honestly think a lot of my issues with the olympics are more with the event as presented by the media rather than the actual thing itself.

  1. August 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm

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