Before you run off hating me, I would ask that you suspend judgment long enough to at least hear me out -- then you can run off hating me.
I realize this isn't going to win me many fans, and I'm likely to lose followers on Twitter and subscribers to my blog, but I guess that would be my point. How many people have jumped on the Edublog Award bandwagon and think it's a good idea? Is anyone out there giving pause long enough to think about whether educational leaders should be "recognizing excellence" in a way that pits us against each other as we vie for artificially scarce awards?
That I can count on one hand the number of people who publicly speak their doubts about these awards, leads me to believe that many have resigned themselves to groupthink or simply don't feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Either way, this is can't be okay.
There are many responses to my criticism for the Edublog Awards. Here are a couple followed by my rebuttal:
Competition might be bad for kids, but we are adults.
- Even if this were true, there is an award for "The Best Student Blog". This year, five children who attend K-12 schools somewhere in the world named Jaden, Miriam, Jake, Jarrod and Gemma were pit against each other so adults could vote for their favorite. Would this be an appropriate way to "recognize excellence" in your classroom? If not, then why is this okay? On top of this, scientific research and anecdotal evidence both tell us that collaboration trumps competition. Always. This is true for children and adults alike.
- It's also important to note that the children are always watching. While we flood Twitter with our support for this competition, we are modelling for our students and colleagues that competition is more important than collaboration, recognition is something you get when you defeat others and success is arbitrarily scarce.
Why do some people feel compelled to rain on others' parade? Can't we recognize excellence?
- Labelling doubts about Edublog Awards as a personal attack on the winners misrepresents the issue as personal when it is a systemic problem. The issue isn't over who was nominated or who won, rather, the real issue is that anyone is nominated or that anyone wins or loses. I don't disparage the winners anymore than the losers (full disclosure: I was nominated) -- but I do wish that this kind of recognition was not artificially scarce and dispersed to only a select, popular few.
Can't we celebrate excellence? Why are you so against naming names?
- I'm not arguing that nobody can be named. In fact, I'm all for recognizing excellence and naming lots of names. But I am against the notion that we arbitrarily name only a select few names while arbitrarily excluding others. Recognizing excellence and declaring winners are not the same thing.
So if you're against awards, does this mean you will not accept awards? Does this mean your children will not accept awards?
- That it is really, really hard for people to say 'no thank you' to being nominated or winning should tell us something about the bullying nature of awards. Someone who turns down a nomination or an award is likely to be seen as ungrateful and someone who does not win or is not nominated and criticizes is likely to be labelled jealous. Either way, the idea that we should compete for artificially scarce recognition remains unscathed. The status quo has remarkable momentum.
- I have seen with my own eyes how awards can rupture relationships between winners and losers. I've seen people placed in situations where they were made to win over and conquer their peers and they wanted nothing to do with the situation. This sounds awfully like bullying to me. This is precisely why I helped abolish award ceremonies at one of my previous schools. Chris Wejr has a remarkable list of links on rethinking award ceremonies and has started a movement for Honouring All Students. What's good for the kids is equally good for the adults.
These awards allow us to expand our Professional Learning Networks by introducing us to new blogs.
- I agree. It's true. These awards can be used to grow your network but I would argue that this is better done through collaboration rather than competition. Do we need the Oscars to tell us which movies to watch or Oprah to decide which books to read? If you want to find a good book, go to a library that has lots of books. If we really cared about expanding our PLNs, why not make the EduBlog Awards like the phone book or a dictionary where all blogs are listed for all to see all year long?
Our belief in the value of competition is built on a great number myths. It takes courage to cultivate a community of learners without resorting to killing it with competition.