Was anyone else a little baffled by '08 Michael Belinsky's op-ed in The Dartmouth today about the need for more competition in the classroom at Dartmouth, called "Competing at the Top"? Belinsky (also author of last week's "Liberal Hypocrisy," where he as a "moderate liberal" puts forth several generalizations about free speech, compromise, (L?)liberalism and (C?)conservativism, only to leave you wondering what the point of it all was) opines,
Now, if the College wished to promote the pursuit of knowledge alongside moral and spiritual growth, surely it would prefer to do so in the most effective way possible. I hold that a competitive environment is best suited towards such an endeavor. Before you mark me crazy or, worse yet, cast me away to Harvard, please hear me out!
The problem with competition is that our mostly liberal community attaches negative connotations to the very word "competition," equating it, in the good spirit of neo-Marxism, with exploitation, alienation, and a generally shabby way of doing things. The burden therefore lies with the writer to prove that competition in a given arena, in this case, learning, would generate desirable results. Let us begin. I will approach by arguing for two claims. First, moderated competition does not harm student relations because cooperation is possible within the competitive arena. Second, competition drives students to learn better.
Does anyone really dispute this argument? I think most professors and students at Dartmouth realize that fostering (or simply allowing to let develop) competition is a useful and important strategy in encouraging learning, in addition to strategies such as getting students to collaborate sometimes. Who exactly are these neo-Marxists Belinsky talks about? How many members of the Dartmouth community voted for the Communist Party USA or Socialist Party USA in the 2004 elections?
Decide for yourself: how will material be best absorbed: by assigning readings and problem sets only to say that first, they won't be graded and second, grades are the least important thing in college, anyway? Or will students learn better if you assign graded homework and encourage high performance while using grades to benchmark that performance?
Again, I don't know what classes Belinsky has been taking, but I get plenty of grades in all my classes here. This isn't Brown. Maybe some readers of this post know what he is talking about?
My point is, I don't think any lack of competition ranks among Dartmouth's significant problems, or can even be said to exist at Dartmouth. A waste of op-ed space?