Confessions of a Not-so-Hockey Mom

Lynne McTaggart

For the last two weeks I have been busy reacquainting myself with math, as I help our 12-year-old daughter prepare to take an entrance test for her senior school. (In the UK where I live, there is no guarantee of decent local schooling, no matter where you live. Children have to pass tests to get into the better schools – state or private.)
I’m not only surprised at noting, from the perspective as an adult, how utterly extraneous most of what she’s having to learn has proved to be in terms of useful life skills for me, and also now early complicated abstract concepts are now being shovelled in.
The need to parade a familiarity with all this fairly useless knowledge has got me thinking a good deal about the main thing that we are teaching our children about the social contract when we force them to compete with each other for places in schools – or indeed anywhere else.
The playground battlefield
I was a guest speaker on a teleseminar called Women on the Edge of Evolution the other week, which had been prompted by a comment by the Dalai Lama that the future of the world will be led by Western women.
My initial response on this teleseminar was incredulity. In my experience, Western women are learning to as competitive and cutthroat as men and their battlefield is essentially the playground.
As the mother of two children, I find more competition between mothers than I do in most boardrooms. In many instances, the social exchange is tainted with a distinctly mean-spirited or competitive edge, laden with a large sprinkling of schadenfreude.
Which school has your child gotten in to? How many children do you have? What’s your kid’s university grade point average? Where, in other words, do you/your spouse/your offspring fit on the social ladder?
Social competition
I often remain blissfully tone deaf to social competition, largely because my foreignness — an American abroad — means I never quite catch the full nuance of the distinctly underwater means of communication unique to Britain.
Once, when I was invited over for tea by the mother of my then 5-year-old eldest daughter’s best friend, she spent a good deal of time inquiring after what we did on our weekends. I painstakingly catalogued the usual list of jolly inner-city leisure activities — trips to museums, afternoons at the park.
When I relayed the conversation to my British husband later, he patiently decoded for me that this exercise was meant to pinpoint where we stood on the social strata by ascertaining whether or not we owned a second home in the country. (We don’t.)
But other times the competitive edge is anything but coded. Many years ago, while I was still grieving after a miscarriage, one acquaintance with four children turned to me and noted matter of factly, ‘So this is the second one, isn’t it?’
And one of my better friends, also pregnant, who’d initially called to offer condolences, ended up explaining why she’d now opted to take a hormone: ‘I want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to me.’
Scarcity complex
Perhaps the greatest rending of the social fabric has to do with our scarcity mentality when it comes to our children. Any success for your children is somehow perceived as a lessening of my child’s chances.
At a party a few years ago, we were asked about our eldest daughter’s college plans, and mentioned that her first choice was one of the top universities in England. I noticed an awkward silence and covert glances being exchanged, as if to underscore that this was a reach that surely exceeded her grasp.
That’s the university she’s attending now, but I can count only a very few mothers who could, with an honest heart, extend their congratulations. A place for your child means one less place for mine.
And now, as most of my 12-year-old daughter’s friends prepare to take entrance tests for a variety of schools, the school gates are awash with scuttlebutt about which are the better or worse schools and therefore which are the better and smarter children – information that eventually filters through to the children themselves.
Competition on the playing fields
Inevitably, this kind of competitive academic edge begins to creep into the social relations of our children. Last year, a 12-year old girl misrepresented her position in netball (England’s version of female basketball) to take over the place usually inhabited by my daughter – one of her best friends.
As I attempted to raise this tactfully with her mother, she shrugged her shoulders. ‘Well, that’s life, isn’t it?’
All’s fair in love and war.
The effect of all this competition is extraordinarily corrosive. A recent study showed that the most depressed group of people in the British population are teenaged girls; more than one-third feel high anxiety from the need to compete for beauty, slimness and grades.
A loss of empathy
What now seems to be lost in modern femininity is that quality we’re supposed to embody: empathy. In our creation of a competitive society, we appear to have lost that special ability to tune into another – to move beyond the sense of self and take the other’s perspective.
Psychologist Tania Singer of University of Zurich studies empathy and which portions of the brain are activated by a variety of feelings. Recently Singer conducted an intriguing study examining neural activity through brain scanning of 32 volunteers after they’d participated in a simple psychological game called Prisoner’s dilemma.
The game is meant to test our response to fairness, because it allows its players either to cooperate for an equal portion of money or to double-cross their partners for a larger individual payout.
Unbeknownst to the participants, Singer had engaged two actors as the opposite players. In the game, all the volunteers played the first round, and gave their partners money.
The actors responded either by returning high or low amounts of money – so one played fairly and the other unfairly. After the game, the participants were placed inside an fMRI scanner while they watched their two partners in turn each receive a painful shock through electrodes attached to the hands.
Punishing results
Both men and women showed neural evidence of empathy toward the fair players. However, men not only had a reduced empathetic response when they saw unfair players getting shocks; but they also experienced increased activation in the part of the brain connected with rewards.
They were actually enjoying the experience of revenge and favoring physical punishment of those who’d got the better of them.
For the men, empathy occurred only in the context of tit for tat: ‘I’ll scatch your back. . .‘
But for the women, they innately wanted to turn the other cheek. Their neural hardwiring for empathy lit up, even for the people who’d cheated them.
But if this is the case — if women may have more of a developed sense of empathy — in my view our societal creations we have created now wrings much of the drop of human kindness out of us.
Until we recover that ability, we will not be able to evolve. When we can all stop being pit bulls with lipstick we might get somewhere.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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51 comments on “Confessions of a Not-so-Hockey Mom”

  1. Your post gives a lot of pause for thought, as it flicks off the scab of my own school wounds. I still remember my deflated heart when our teachers in grades 7/8 explained about the Bell curve of grading our exams. Was I the only one that could see that no matter how hard we all studied as a group there would be winners and losers. Bell says so. What is that?
    I remember feeling aweful for having achieved a good grade because my best friend was now being left behind. Perhaps that is when the inner conflict for competition set in for me.
    What would education look like if we (as in Red Cross Swimming lessons) only competed against ourselves and encouraged co-operation for getting ahead? What would that do for our collective consciousness and way of relating to each other? It seems to me that exams, and Bell Curves feed a cultural norm for industry and proft. People on the lower end of the curve get to be part of the masses that buy all the "stuff" while the high points get to be the select few that hoard the planet's resources.
    Perhaps the information age, the internet search giants, and leaps in technology will change all that and faster than the moms at the school gate can blink. The 'mashable' qualities of information, and the nature of succeeding online, is forcing the so called winners to be of high integrity, co-operation, transparency and honesty. In the marketing world for example, it is absolutely hilarious to watch the previously die hard marketeers, start acting altruistic, caring, and sincere with well selected key words of trust, love, and forgiveness.
    The mom's I think are just victims of a school system tied to industry that keeps the status quo going. Change will happen faster and for the better when the education system itself, starts to emulate the net and becomes a system of co-operation for everyone not getting ahead but being a healthy contributing member of our interconnected existence.
    Thank you for your inspiring post,

  2. Lynn, I feel your pain with the competition in this world being number one in our society.
    Unknowingly to you, you are playing that game. Your eldest daughter did get into a top University, and your youngest daughter is taking the exam to get her place in the best school, which she will get into.
    Somewhere in your psyche, you have allowed yourself to be part of “what society expects from you,” instead of what you “know” is good for you. Most everyone does it, and those who don’t are considered the outcast of society. Who wants to be put in that category?
    The categories society has put people into are categories set by their government. I have found people tend to think like their government, especially those who are the head of their country, Queens, Kings, and Presidents. We feel like we have our freedom, but in reality, that freedom is in a box based on what you have allowed the society you live in dictate for you unknowingly.
    With that said: It is imperative to conduct on going large collective meditations with the intent of sending peaceful feelings into certain areas in the world, especially terror minded people, to allow the Universe to put humans on earth back into a healthy state of mind. It is the only relief in sight from a fear based thought world for our children to have the opportunity to live in a society that cherishes them just for being human.
    Large collective meditations = a less competitive world

  3. Well at the risk of taking a lot of criticism for this I have to say we have the women's movement to thank for this.
    My mother is a product of the 70's and 80's "I'm a woman I can do anything a man can do." Well congratulations ladies. We've managed to lose sight of and respect for how important the family is. Now women are expected to not only be great mothers and raise families but have the added burden of being expected to out-perform everyone academically too. Before it seems like we were raising our daughters to be compassionate, to be good mothers and wives. Now we're raising them to be just as cut-throat as the men and look at what has happened to our society!
    The only ones who seems to realize this and do anything about it are, unfortunately, the religious fundamentalists. While I'm certainly not one of "those" types, I firmly believe the women's equality movement screwed us. Criticize and disagree if you must, it's just my experience.

  4. Dear Lynn,
    My one year old grandson is suffering from acute interstitial nephritis. He is on dialysis and to revive his kidneys doctors are treating him with steroids. I would be eternally grateful to the intention community members if they would pray for his speedy recovery.

  5. I don't know how to do anything about it but I feel that competetion in general is toxic. It seems it would be better to have some kind of cooperation-based society.
    The situation you found with your daughter's math is just as true of graduate programs where little of what you learn is relevant to anything.
    Peace and Light and Love, Forrest Jewell

  6. Great post - just one small point: children in Scotland do not have to sit any tests to gain entry to state secondary schools. (Same deal as in England for private schools, but I have no first-hand experience of that.)
    The state education system here is not without its flaws, but children undergo nowhere near as much testing in primary school as they do elsewhere in the UK.

  7. I know exactly what you mean. I had a resonably easy ride of it at various elite schools (boarding as the parents were absent abroad) and so for the most part got away with blue murder, as then it was fashionable to send your privelidged offspring to 'progressive' schools, which translates into to doing very little academically and an awful lot socially - consequently I departed with a lousy education but kidded myself that my life skills were spot on (which they weren't by a country mile!).
    My two daughters however have a very differnt story to tell - the younger in particular is a high acheiver and I find myseld almost dumming down, when in truth I want to shout from the rooftops what a fabulously talented girl she is. But the response from the other mothers would be as you describe! I have brought both my girls up on a shoestring, but they have both done their best, which is all I asked of them, and are both incredibly well adjusted and bright which is largely of their own doing - they deserve the unsung praise (which of course I shower them with but hold back when discussing their abilitied to others).
    Suffice if to say the younger is in the 'talented and gifted' tutor group in the local college - and I should jolly well think so too!!! But again, it's not anything I particularly drop into conversation unless I really want a reaction - churlish I know!
    Good luck!
    Love the Intention Experiment - love the books - love it all!!!!

  8. Bravo, it is just woman like yourself that need to be involved in evolutionary changes beginning with woman. We need to wake up to our way of being and make changes swift and fast and it needs to begin with taking long hard looks at our selves and then being the examples for our children and we need to send the message to others. We need to stop competing for positions and take down the walls of separation that keep us afraid and different. We can't evolve if we still see ourselves as better or different or privileged. If we can't see into the hearts and minds of our fellow sisters and brothers and lend a hand or be a voice of empathy we are doomed. It is Rabbi Schumey Boteach who writes about all of us being more feminine, meaning more empathetic, more inclusive of one another. I think it begins with some forgiveness, of ourselves, of others. I read lately that the young girl who was abducted back in 2002 in Utah, holds her head high and has moved on with her life and won't allow herself to be the victim!
    Let's pick each other up and knock down the walls and reach out a little without fear. We need to stop looking down our noses with old perspectives and start trying fresh new ones.

  9. Love the conversation...
    Thirty years ago I discovered that many women had gone farther then men to embody the maxim "this is a dog each dog world". I was in shock over this for years, I spent years very angry with women. Now I've stopped blaming everybody and have taken responsibility. I agree with the Dalai Lama; the women of North America are being called to stand in their feminine power and bring that power, empathy being one component, to bear in our world.
    The school systems are one part of our cultural training no matter what country you live in. I'm in Canada and many of our school districts serve either as glorified baby sitting services, or more truly, prisons. Our children are the prisoners being indoctrinated into separation thinking, into being less than they really are. The details of how this is happening are only important as they relate to waking up to the effects. No blame, no shame, only what is so we can move on.
    Here in B. C., the parent who doesn't want their child educated in such a way that they leave school less as a person than they were when they entered school turn to home schooling.
    Love the work you are doing Lynn!
    Blessed be!

  10. Lynn--Maybe I'm too old to know what is going on. Or maybe it's living in "fly-over country" here in the middle of the US. But I simply do not see the degree or dominance of over-competitiveness that you are describing. Most of the people I deal with on a daily basis, including the younger ones, are kind, cooperative, and trying to do the right thing.

  11. Have you done any "Mind over matter" experiments that include focusing on individuals that are heads of movements that are causing problems in the world? IE Osama Bin Laden , for instance? From your experience, would such a focus improve the individual and the situation or simply empower what was there and make it worse?

  12. Thank you, Marj. I found myself thinking about all of the wonderful examples of kind and generous women that I encounter on a daily basis also.
    Your observations are right on, Lynn, but I feel do not go far enough. If we don't carry these conversations further than just relaying what is currently wrong we are adding to the problem. I know you know this and you are doing much to go beyond. This post, however, made me want to ask, "what did you say to these mothers?". Lets share our experiences with stories of how we helped to make a difference, shift a perspective, and change the world!
    For instance, my daughter is a singer (opera, classical, etc.) and it can be very competitive. I have helped to dispel the comments and change attitudes in our small school district, over time, by communicating support, amazement and encouragement for all our amazingly talented students (and all children) and refusing to participate in discussions that involve hierarchal competitive notions of winners and losers. By placing my attention on this intention it really has made a difference...I just don't hear those comments anymore and we have an amazingly supportive community of parents and students all supporting each other, for the most part. I would love to hear more stories from others that are involved in changing perspectives also because I encounter others daily that I see are really trying to create a better world and these stories give us the courage and insight to take a stand.
    Thank you for your wonderful work!

  13. Thank you,Lynne. Another thought-provoking piece. Your analysis of the social competition involved in the UK's educational system is spot on. My English daughter is bring up her two sons in the USA, and finds the American way to be in practice just as socially competitive as England's.
    You personally seem to have managed to bring up your children successfully while having a highly successful career. And your empathy towards others shines out. So you demonstrate by your own example that all is not lost. The finest career a woman can have is motherhood. Until society recognises this and accords to mothers the respect and financial rewards they deserve I believe competition will remain the dominant motivation of society.
    "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses hs soul?" Or a woman too.

  14. The biggest influence on your daughter is not the school, it's you, the mother. There are many less than wholesome aspects to modern life that we have to negotiate around, competition is just one of them. There is no competition if one party refuses to play. Be proud of your children when they do their best and congratulate others when they do well. Let the rest go. Don't teach your children to be concerned with mean-spirited things others are thinking and saying! So what if they think you stole a spot in a university from them! That is their problem, not yours.

  15. Other people are all reflections of some part of one's self, ego or small self. As a part of the larger "Self" there is nothing "out there" that we do not have within us. Look hard and long and you will see it. There is nothing to do with that except to be what you admire and not be what you observe to be ugly and not life enhancing.

  16. This has been a topic I have talked about since I had my lst child in 1980. It kept popping up in every situation and angered as well as sorrowed me completely.
    This mean competition happens in the boys world so badly that if you son is not athletic (both of mine were not) and cannot kick a soccer ball like Beckam it hurts their social life and takes a toll on their self-esteem.
    The worst case was my 2nd son who was born in 1989. He was well liked, happy and had many good friends until he hit 2nd grade and joined a soccer team with his buddies. Then it all went down hill due to an immediate hierarchy of the boys who were gifted at athletics who became popular (only because of that skill) over night and those who were not athletic slid down to the bottom--even if they were good people or talented in other areas.
    The boys social scene shifted almost immediately and it altered everything about his life and this was only 2nd grade for god's sake.
    My lst son had a similar tale but not as dramatic and found he preferred and excelled in the arts so, he dropped sports and never looked back. He did really well there and it was more collaborative than competitive atmosphere than sports.
    My 2nd son thought it was fun to be with his friends on a soccer team yet he lacked the competitive gene (got that from me-sigh) and he was not very athletic. The boys who were good were so full of themselves and so critical of those boys who were not good and the shake out from that was painful. Overnight you go from happy to being one of the boys to being ridiculed and considered low man on the totum pole because you are not good a kicking a soccer ball. It becomes so superficial and mean.
    But what was even more shocking than the kids behavior was their parents who scorned him and whispered to one another that he shouldn't even be on the team if he can't play as well as their boys.
    It made me sick at my stomach. He wanted to be on this team and he was until 6th grade. It was so painful to be a part of this sport and not all but many parents were very ugly. The most disappointing thing was that my best friend even got worried about our sons being so close that it would hurt her son's chances of being popular with the other boys--because he was gifted athletically (a star actually) and yet he preferred hanging around my son on and off the field. He was a prince of a person and still is today. She should have been more proud of him that he did not cave and give up my son as his best friend just because he was rotten at soccer!
    In our town, which is small, if you don't play on a soccer team on Saturday morning--you become invisible. All social activity flows from those teams which play in spring and fall. So, he knew enough to stick it out so that he could be with his friends or get left out of everything and loose the friends he really enjoyed.
    But the boys world of who is popular (which is really about who is athletically gifted) is just ridiculous. Some of the gifted kids were mean and some were not--but the jocks ruled their boy world in and out of school. And this is just elementary school!
    I look back at those years and it felt like a nightmare. Kids making fun of my son and parents being pompous about their kid's soccer ability and on and on. My husband and I held our heads up and were never ugly to those parents who thought less of our son but there were so many times that I cried because it was painful and childhood should be a happier time for both parents and kids.
    Competition amongst the kids was not the only problem. The parents were also competitive with each other as well. Our community is a well educated one and many of these parents have PhD'sor MD's, lawyers,etc. who work at a large university. There were underlying competitions going on with them as well.
    So much competition in the air was nauseating. So little empathy was saddening. I began to wonder if the more we educate ourselves (or our brains) and get all those fancy letters behind our names, does it cause us to loose contact with our ability to feel what others are feeling because we are breathing different air up there?
    Do we become so superior with more education that we be become just competitive machines? I am sure that the fact that many of these parents work in a highly competitive research university had a bearing on things. It becomes a way of life for them running the race to find the cure or get the grant or tenure that no doubt they bring that into their daily life. All of them are quit successful in their careers and yet few of them were successful at seeing the soccer team as just a kids game. It was serious business for them.
    My husband has initials behind his name but I do not. I had the hardest time and felt the worst during those years about everyone's behavior. The feedback I got was, "you are just too sensitive".
    I'd rather be too sensitive than not sensitive enough any day.

  17. That – the immensity of useless info and skills that the kids are forced to learn – may not even be the worst part of it. What really saddens me is to verify the degree to which school systems are capable of totally destroying those young minds' intuition! By the time they get out of school, almost no intuition is left.
    For what it is worth, in Brasil, we also have a very competitive selection exams process that brings out only the very best brains for our top schools – question is, how do we know that those selection criteria are, in fact, weeding out lesser minds.

  18. Hi Lynn and ALL,
    Humanity is an interesting being. I have experienced very similar events as you, a mother of two girls. Much of my life I have been challenged to be true to myself with the risk of aleinating family and friends as I flourish. In schools the competition, resentment, and untruth telling to get into clubs, on teams, in classes is destructive to all of humanity. I wish to envision a school system that accepts each person for who they are, helps them identify their gifts, find their passion, and build their self esteem. Perhaps that alone would stop the behavior that is reinforced in our cultures.
    I had an emotional pause when I was reading comments on this subject and then saw the grandmother's honest plea for prayers for her grandson. Somehow put all this in perspective. We are all blessed. So I end my comment in deep gratitude for you, for me, for the ability to talk and share with so many.

  19. Dear VVS Mani,
    Please send your grandson's full name, age, location (town/city, country) and a full description of his illness plus a photo j-peg of him to, anand we'll put him up as an Intention of the Week.
    Wonderful comments, everyone. Keep them coming! Love the suggestions about positive ways and intentions to reverse this situation.
    Warm wishes,

  20. someonesmother - Many old fashioned Spaniards who miss the safety and orderliness of society under the Franco dictatorship now blame the freedoms under Spains democracy for the more chaotic and less safe society in spain today. You are making a comparable mistake when you blame the women's movement for the competitive society and the difficult role we women have today. Society has changed and our lives are enormously more complicated but we also so many more choices . The problem, as I see it, is that the women's movement has been truncated, getting stuck in the "I can do anything a man can do" stage, when we need to complete the cycle and arrive at the "I can do it a woman's way" stage. I personally refuse to be veiled, have my freedoms limited, nor be expected to be a stay at home mom. And I feel that by backing a real womans' movement , one that brings our empathetic. holistic vision of the world into existence, we western women can be the creators of a wholesome human evolution.

  21. Do you wish to be a participant in this game Lynn? If you do not, become aware of how your competetive buttons are being pushed. If you do not want your children to be so competetive why enter them for exams that will qualify them to be academic race-horses. Why are these schools/universities "better". Better for what? Become aware of your own indoctrination.

  22. I must say that I find that some western women are very empathic, supportive and embracing of others. To say most, I don't think so, but there is a definite difference between men and women in the west. In my work I help people empower themselves, find their passion and purpose and by and large, 90% of those who are interested in this type of work are women. Perhaps I see the cream of the crop, but those people who I work with are the type of women (and men) that the Dali Lama was talking about.
    Yes, there are the social climbers, who compare themselves and their children to everyone else, but there are those special ones who are in a league of their own. I am fortunate to be working with these special people!

  23. 2:16 p.m. CDT, October 29, 2009
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Many states declare students to have grade-level mastery of reading and math when they do not, the Education Department reported Thursday.
    The Obama administration said the report bolsters its effort to persuade all states to adopt the same set of tougher standards for what students should know.
    "States are setting the bar too low," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "We're lying to our children when we tell them they're proficient, but they're not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success once they graduate."
    "If we are serious about rebuilding our economy and restoring our competitiveness," Miller, D-Calif., said, "then it's time for states to adopt a common core of internationally benchmarked standards that can prepare all children in this country to achieve and succeed in this global economy."
    States can set easier standards that ensure schools will meet the federally mandated goals, or they can set more challenging standards that help kids improve.
    His state chose the latter, but Fabrizio said it was tough to explain that higher standards meant lower scores.
    "That was a really difficult job for us to do and communicate to the public that students did not all of a sudden become very ignorant," he said.
    ----The US government at work putting people into catergories. ----

  24. its all about the money. social stratification exists because the human species strives to obtain things; whether it is money, love, fame etc. Obtaining "things" gives pleasures to the brain/ego. the more pleasure the brains experiences the more it wants. as we evolve into pleasure seekers we exhaust the resources of the planet. this ultimately leads to us obtaining things and others going without. if u dont believe this is true look at the continent of Africa . In the western world we dont create to share we create to acheive more resources, fame, recognition etc. this ability to collect and hoard resources allows me to send my child to a good school, pay for tutors, buy a house in the country etc etc. in the british culture, britons adore a queen not because she significantly contributed something to society but because she is simply a descendant of another queen. wow what an acoomplishment. yes competition is alive and well in the western societies and it is taking hold in the east. eventually they will consume so much of the planets resources that those who go without, will have to committ crimes to exists, which will include making war. Somali pirates are a good example. people who go without will try to take away the resources from those who have them. lynn needs to ask herself (just like everyone else, who cares) does she possses and expend to many resources. why must she send her daughter to the finest schools. is that really the reason we are put on the planent; to send our daughters to the finest schools. quit complaining about the competitiness of british society and use your creative ability to develop a process that will share the resources you possess. it starts with one person. isnt that how intent works. one person, then another person, then another person. an so on and so on an so on.......

  25. Dear Everyone
    Here's another observation to put out there. In my experience this behavior isn't just the product of traditional old-style competitive schools.
    The child of a great friend of ours had great difficulty fitting in at school.
    They tried everything from the most traditional schools to friendly 'alternative' schools to home-schooling, and nothing seemed to suit.
    At one point, they transferred their daughter to a very alternative project. It seemed ideal: a lovely homey environment with kindly teachers, highly creative projects, no pressure and a tiny student body made up of children from families with similar values.
    Their child ended up finding it the most exclusionary, lord-of-the-flies type environment of all the schools she attended.
    I think these qualities run very deep - and reflect the very warp and woof of western society.
    We women (and men) have a lot of work to do out there.

  26. I am 62 and the England you describe is not the one I lived in or brought my daughter up in (I am from the south-east). What you have experienced with other mothers sounds exactly like New York City snobs and other NA places.
    I returned to UK 3 years ago, after living in North America for 12 years. I am seeing that parts of the UK have now the worst aspects of NA society. I now live in the North where the greed and competitiveness has not yet reached.
    By the way, Ann Cressey, the Dalai Llama is believed to have said "the women of the West' not North American women, as you stated.
    I agree with Lisa, everyone must stop playing the game because you are supporting the system you claim to abhor.

  27. I'm struck by how often a theme shows itself in my life. I hadn't thought much about competition at school - my daughter is 39 and it didn't seem that competitive then in our small town.
    However, I've been hearing more and more about the subject. And recently came across this article Cool School: Video game teaches kids how to resolve conflicts peacefully amongst themselves
    Although it's not about competition, I loved the idea of conflict resolution training. I think we could all use this. Imagine how our lives would have unfolded if we learned about Intentionality and Conflict Resolution as children?
    Last night I was watching a TV show in which the competition and nastiness between teenagers almost caused one to commit suicide. The shock, though, was that the original attitude that this girl was "less than" actually came from a teachers constant put downs and the kids learned cruel, thoughtless behavior from him.
    I trust that if we keep seeing a world in which everyone has enough and knows it and treat each other kindly - we'll see it eventually in our lives, not just our dreams.

  28. I mainly want to comment on the beginning of this blog, about useless education. I do not see it that way at all. I believe that teaching abstracts for instance has nothing to do with the specific, but about training the brain to think differently, less linear, able to perceive things differently. Children's brains are so much more pliable and can get extensive neuronal connections that will last a lifetime, which may give them abilities as an adult that would be useful, due to their ability to conceptualize in a different way. Or, like the memorization of historical facts, which are never needed again in adult life, teach the brain how to store and retrieve information, a handy thing!
    I, too never thought I would need fractions, geometry, or metric conversion tables but now I use them all the time. You just don't know where you will wind up.
    I am glad my teachers pushed us and my brain was wired up for lifelong learning and the ability to grasp very abstract concepts!

  29. Lots of great blogs and insight! No easy solution. In retrospect and seeing what is happening in public schools (Kansas, US), I wish I had homeschooled my own children (2 boys & 2 girls). They didn't learn that much (how can teenage boys learn algebra when they sit with girls wearing seductive clothes - seriously), but there was plenty of sex and drugs. I especially want to respond to SOMEONESMOTHER - I completely agree. Our children need us to be less stressed (from overwork) and more available. The schools aren't going to teach them morals - quite the opposite. I plan to teach some of my grandchildren at home.
    Keep up the good fight!

  30. Lynne,
    I entirely agree with your comments. I grew up in the New Zealad of the 1950's/60's when public education was as good as private; competition was encouraged but only within the then codes of honour. That is, you didn't scream and yell when you won and you were graceful in defeat. In Australia where I now live, eductaion seems to be only aimed at producing willing fodder ( and consumers) for big business albeit that illeteracy is an at all time high!
    As to 'wiring' the brain for learning, I believe that is now a lost skill as the computer becomes central to teaching.
    Keep it coming!

  31. I'm 73 and haven't been around children in school for a long time. It's been even longer since I was a child trying to figure out how to function in school. I started school in 1941 and except for two years in the army went to school until my last class in a graduate school in 1982. My childhood schools were in Arlington, Virginia. My understanding is that the Arlington schools were the best in the country at the time. I have no way of evaluating that claim.
    I'm very bright but I have ADHD, bipolar syndrome, SAD, and some kind of general evergy syndrome that many years of therapy have not explained.
    When I started school I could read at what I suppose was a fourth grade level so, of course, I had to plow through Dick and Jane in class and then read Uncle Wiggley or The Bobbsey twins to my class during the breaks. Before I started school I had read Robin Hood, Treasure Island, parts of Canterbury Tales, and the five or ten books I got from the library every week. I could also add and subtract and do simple multiple and division. When we got to algebra in the fifth grade, I simply knew the answers to the problems but had to work through all the rigarmarole to get credit for the answer being correct. We had history in the fourth grade where I learned it and then we had it again in several other years -- the same history in larger books with bigger words. Learning it was a waste of time because it was a compilation of myths and hogwash that I then had to spend many years unlearning.
    The one thing the schools were very good at were teaching me to hate school, stop reading, suffer through years of enforced boredom, and similar worthwhile outcomes.
    In 40 years or so of going to school I had no more than ten teachers who made a difference. Some teachers were nice, others were vampires, and very, very few were effective.
    I suppose the schools of the time were in some ways better than those of today since most kids did learn to read and make change.
    I remember a couple of competetions. One was a spelling bee in the twelfth grade. At the end, the contest was between a pretty girl I saw as beautiful and with a halo. She had first chance at the word but the teacher said whe spelled it wrong. It was some word like fulfill that can be spelled a couple of ways. I simply spelled it the other way and won the spelling bee. I tried to tell the teacher that the girl should win the half dollar or whatever it was but she was insistent that the spelling in the book was the rule to live by.
    My lasting impression of school is that it was a joke.
    In college and graduate school I found that teachers seemed to pride themselves on failing a lot of students. It didn't occur to them that if they failed everyone they were simply demonstrating that they hadn't helped anyone learn anything.
    Anyone from some other planet where anything was understood about learning would be completely stumped trying to figue out what was ging on in all the schools I've gone to.
    Peace and Light and Love, Forrest Jewell

  32. This is a message for V.V.S.MANI regarding your grandson's kidney problem, my daughter reversed her similar kidney disease back in 1996 on the eve before a major operation when her creatine was 990 when it is normal at 125, it was nothing short of a miracle and she did not have to have the operation the next day..mentally she did not accept she would have the operation, she kept asking the surgeons and other medical staff who would be involved with the operation,what would happen if her reading came down, they responded that this would not happen and to accept the fact she would be having the operation...they were all shocked the next morning by the dramatic fall in her readings and instead they placed a shunt in her wrist should it return high again. She has this shunt removed two years later because it was never needed and it had caused a vein in her wrist to have gown to a dangerous size. Your grandson needs to see himself healthy and cured and dwell on the image of doing some healthy sport perhaps. Bye the way after the removal of her shunt in her arm, my daughter trained in Kung Fu and got high grades and was exceptional in her movements.

  33. If you really want to know what the learning environment is like in America’s public school, go set in during a class that is being taught. You have that right as a taxpayer to set in a classroom and observe the teaching and the students. You may be very surprised at what is really going on in America’s classrooms.
    What I am about to describe does not happen in every classroom, only about half of them. The classrooms are small and packed with kids. They are 55 minutes long. Kids have to sit down and be ready by the time the bell rings, when the bell rings to leave for the next class, they have 4 minutes to get to it. There is very little teacher student interaction because of the time restraint, and I believe teachers just don’t want to be bothered. If a student needs help, they come before school or stay after school for help. Most kids are on their parent’s time schedule and cannot come before school or stay after for help. Kids are very disrespectful to each other and the teacher. They curse, steal other students work right off the teacher’s desk, erase the name on the paper, put their name on it, and then turn the paper in as theirs. The classroom reminds me of cattle waiting in holding pins to be slaughtered.
    Most teachers don’t bother with discipline knowing that a student’s home environment is what’s causing their disrespectful behavior in the first place, and being afraid of being fired due to the school being sued by the parents.
    This is a very big issue in America’s schools today and very sad as well.

  34. I am a teacher in the US, have been now for 25 years. I have also raised two children. There is a ring of truth in everything that has been said, however it is ultimately the parents responsibility to raise their children, teach them values, show respect. The student that wants to learn will. The pendulum in education is slowly moving. In the US, we have summers off because children were expected to help their parents on the farm. Try changing that one! The educational system hasn't changed. If you live in the US, your child is entitled to a free education. I have students who don't speak English in the same classes with gifted students and special ed students. I was told at a staff meeting that we are not moving fast enough on the scope and sequence. The big push now is accountability. The teachers are accountable, the school is accountable. Low scores no money from the state or feds. Disipline well that's another story. Try finding a parent when you need one. The phone numbers students give when they register don't exist. Try asking for help with a disipline issue from the administration and they threaten your job. It's no wonder that young teachers don't last in the classroom longer than three years.
    I love teaching, and I get along with my students. They whine and complain all the time. I have seen the quality of what they know coming into the class deteriorate over the last 25 years. They don't want to learn and will do everything in their power not to, and everyone blames the teachers. I recently had to protor a PSAT exam, I had four different students that didn't know their street address to fill in on the form. I currenlty have 110 students, on parent night there were only 30 that came to see their child's progress. I have sat in on parent conferences where parents have told me, " I can't do anything with this child". The children run the meeting, not the parent.
    Bottom line, parent's need to be parents, YOU are the ultimate teacher. If you children do not learn to respect others and are too competitive, then look in the mirror.

  35. Thank you, Lynne for highlighting this issue of competitiveness. I work in the field of behavioural psychology and have often wondered why one of the perceived basic motivations has not received as much attention as it might have done. I am referring to the 'getting even' syndrome, it would seem that there have been but a few books dealing with this topic. As we- as a species- become more honest about our motivations and willing to adddress them more openly. various hidden behavioural traits come to light, to be healed. As children, we learned to compete with siblings & class mates (and parents, as Freud pointed out), and perhaps also learned to feel guilt or shame about these natural emotional responses, then repressed these feelings and stored them in the unconscious mind. It is often said that our children are our teachers as they activate how we were as children. With this knowledge, we might begin to release denied emotions, without any more judgment, consequently being more able to delight in others' achievements. Awareness allows us to choose different responses.
    Has anyone read 'The Dumbing of America"? I would be most interested to read others' responses.

  36. 1. We seem to be trying to fill our youngsters heads at school with "stuff" which anyone can easily look up on the internet. At the same time we are ignoring some imperative "how to's". For literacy and numeracy we need to be able to store numbers and words in still pictures, this is a capability, that only about 50% of the population I meet have developed naturally. Once this “how to” taught in a few minutes. Literacy and numeracy becomes easier. When reading you need to be able to develop the skill to generate pictures to aid your memory. Learning the skill to communicate well, see both sides of a discussion, etc. etc. Are all essential “how to” skills for life that seem largely, focusing on more “stuff”. To me we need more emphasis on what we learn and how we develop rather than what we are taught.
    2. My school motto was “be what you seem to be”. We were never allowed to know who can 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc in exams it was all about how we as individuals progressed. I look back on my school days now and can see some great benefits I probably never realised at the time.
    What a great article and fascinating posts..thank you

  37. and the competition has another aspect. When you have a reputation as smart, you are afraid to fail. You are terrified if you don't understand something the rest of the class does, and can't bring yourself to ask questions. I have the so-called "female math block" which is very real. No teacher would listen to me when I said I was not going to college, so please let me take some classes that were practical and maybe, just maybe a little fun. Consequently I left school in 11th grade, then got my GED several years later. I was just so terrified of being seen as not as smart as everyone thought I was that school became intolerable. Even now the so-called "reading problems" in math make my mind literally turn off. If I had been able to admit my problems in 9th grade I might have been able to overcome them eventually, but no, Anna May was the smartest girl in school, she didn't need to ask questions or for help after school, that would have been admitting a less than perfect person lived in my house. Wow, where did that come from! Sorry for dumping that as a comment, but it just seemed to spill out. Have you noticed I don't have any misspellings or grammatical errors like most people do in this medium? I just have to back up and fix any I see. My text messages are the same way, that old "competition" kicks in and won't let me leave errors in like the rest of humanity.

  38. I am touched by Lynn's post and find it thought-provoking, very nice.
    Many people commentating fall into a duality, separating the education system and our own thinking (my own, your own). It's my competitive, scarcity-focused, unkind, unaware thinking that is creating this world.
    It's primarily by freeing my own mind I bring in the new world, secondarily through working on anything "out there." I am that.

  39. Thank you so much for this post, Lynn. I am deeply touched by your candid concern and would love to share with you an "alternative reality".... Love and concern for our children have motivated us to co-create a different, more "life-affirming" and holistic educational scenario. We have chosen to "un-school" our 3 children and couldn't be happier. Having diligently played the educational game, and achieved several letters after our names, my husband and I feel we were duped by the system. Much of our youth was consumed by stress and the false promise of something better just around the bend. Nowhere in school did we learn about the power of intention or the power of now. Instead, we, like your daughter, filled our heads with dis-jointed and largely irrelvent "facts". We have chosen this "path less taken" because we want to break the cycle. We want our kids to "know themselves" and learn to listen to their own unique voices.... "Another world is possible. Another world is now." Thank you for sharing your brilliance with the world. Namaste.

  40. Thirty years ago young girls had far fewer opportunities in competitive team sports. Boys learned how to deal in group situations and to account for various skill and ability levels of all team members. A new generation of girls, including my daughters, began on a more even playing field. They can participate fully in group activities ( many of them competitive) on an even par with men. They pay a price, as do most professional women, with finding the balance between the home and family and the workplace. But if they are to be truly independent to choose "their" roles, they need the tools that their male counterparts have had.
    We might all be happier in a less competitive world, but it is not yet on the horizon.

  41. Hi Lynne thanks for the web-site. Having just returned from holiday (cruise) and meeting a british couple (both retired in August this year) and hearing their stories about the way things were for them at the end of their careers - he was a headmaster It was very sad to realize that so much is expected of them that they are unable to deliver these days. The society that we are living in is breaking down at such a rate that older teachers are scratching their heads over it all. We are an evolving humanity and as we all begin to understand how we can changed whats going on by thought alone it will be so much easier. This couple struggled with this concept as they were trained to teach in a manner that was far removed from that concept. They were both some-what bitter about the system in the UK and felt it was going down-hill. I live in Perth Australia and our sons have been out of the school system for a long time . Our grandchildren are in the UK so of course this was very personal for us and concerning. We are hard wired to reach beyond our grasp and our very natures are geared for this but we now need to balance all this with empathy and compassion. HOOROO (an ozzie goodbye)

  42. I don't kniw anything about education in the UK. In the US we have to recognize that education and health care are worth nowhere near as much as telling other people how to run their countries, invading places, and killing people. We seem to import most of our physicians from India and Pakistan. China is financing our endles wars. Our war on drugs insures sufficient profit from selling drugs that the earth will never run out of people willling to risk dying in order to deal in them. So we support the Taliban, assorted cartels, and other organizations that we war on at the cost of services to people.
    In the US there are millions of people growing up in neighborhoods where the role models are drug dealers, pimps, and whores. People from those neighborhoods donot read, the childrenare largely ADHD

  43. I obviously can't comment on being a woman with the social challenges of raising childen and preparing them for school, but as an ex-pat American living in Australia for the past 10 years I can certainly speak to the issue of requiring a translation from the locals to better understand what is being communicated.
    I have found Americans are brought up to tell it like it is, but Ive learned to water my true thoughts and words down as they are often perceived as aggressive or lacking empathy.
    Though this can be very straight language is intended to provide concise communication, not intimidate or put someone off.
    Americans are taught from conception that we are the greatest country in the world, and it's only after you leave the country for any period of time that you realize this assumption comes at a price; the alienation of the rest of the planet.
    We need to meet in the middle!
    If someone wants to know if you have a second house in the country, they should just ask. If they want to know where you intend to send your daughter to college, then they should simply inquire.
    The rolling eyses and side glances are the fruit of envy or jealousy, so maybe you're better off without that circle of aquaintances?
    If you believe in the power of intention and the ability for your thoughts and words to have an impact on your experience of the world, than stop worrying about offensive people and start focusing on what you want!

  44. Lynne ~
    Do such manifestations, of mankind's crude societal attitudes, petty philosophies and reflexive behaviour patterns not cause you to despair?
    Sometimes, I "feel" evidence that the concept of our universal "oneness" is something that people are generally moving towards, and that encourages me. Then, learning of experiences such as yours, re the UK school structure, and the parental attitudes, make me wonder if we remain in an essentially unevolved, almost barbaric mode.
    Possibly my periodic feelings of optimism about our "spiritual" development, in general, are largely delusional.
    Or to contemplate the phenomenon from a perspective, similar to those"parents", possibly mankind falls into two categories, which will cause some to feel smug in the belief that they are superior:
    1. The spritual evolvers;
    2. The spiritually blind.
    If we suscribe to the idea of "oneness", are we destined to evolve, or to stagger along on a semi-barbaric path, with only temporary flashes of enlightenment?

  45. My daughter, who taught herself to read at four years, rebelled about "schooling" in grade three. "But I didn't get to read what I wanted to read, I didn't get to draw what I wanted to draw, and I didn't get to play today!". When you have a strong-willed child who is very self-directed and self-taught, how can you squelch that? Then, I found John Taylor Gatto (New York State Teacher of the Year), read his books, and discovered that the standard model of "schooling" was taken from India. The "classroom-memorization" model was used by the Brahmins to keep the caste system in check. Think about it. All children are brilliant. Take those rich minds and force memorization on them, and their exploratory nature is suppressed. They are told there is only one right answer, and someone else will give it to them. Mandatory education was forced in the US when the literacy rate was 96%. Since mandatory education, it has never been above 87%, and it is probably a lot less now. (John Taylor Gatto, "The Underground History of American Education").
    We need a new model of educating. Real education is not memorization. It is the process of being taught knowledge and then, experiencing that knowledge. My daughter learned math and algebra from cooking and making things. Our children need hands-on education. They need real experience. Our kids grow up into teens and do not know how to take care of themselves. They don't know how to make things or fix things. The only fulfillment in their lives is to be better than someone else, hence, competition. Isn't competition just a sneaky way to get the attention of kids who might rather be doing something else? When little children play together, the first thing they think of is not having a race, but building a fort together and carving roads in the dirt!
    Children need apprenticeships by age thirteen doing something real, gaining skills, solving problems, and learning to trust themselves.
    One more item. It is also documented that "schooling" was planned as a way to make factory workers for the industrial era and to control the population. With a little investigation, one finds that the curriculum has been "dumbed down", and today, it is worse than ever. Text books, especially math and algebra, are intentionally made to be confusing and convoluted so the student feels dumb and cannot figure things out without the teacher. The teachers can't figure it out either without the teacher's manual.
    First, be aware of what's going on, and let's start new models of education for our children.
    Thanks to you, Lynn, for your great work and important books!

  46. Lynne,
    Why is it that you talk about children competing as a bad thing, and at the same time wants to have your children in the "best" school. Don' you see that your choice is keeping the system going?
    Competing will only stop when we chose to stop teaching it by doing it.

  47. I just discovered this book. It will be worth the read!
    John Taylor Gatto’s "Weapons of Mass Instruction" focuses on mechanisms of compulsory schooling which cripple imagination and discourage critical thinking.
    Here is a demonstration that the harm school inflicts is quite rational and deliberate. The real function of pedagogy is to render the common population manageable, remove the obligation of child care from adult workers so they are free to fuel the industrial economy and to train the next generation into subservient obedience to the state.
    John Gatto shows us that Ivy League schools do not produce the most successful graduates, some of the world’s richest entrepreneurs are high school drop outs and Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie didn’t finish elementary school. An education matters desperately, but spending a fortune on college fees will not get you one.
    Filled with examples of people who have escaped the trap of compulsory schooling, Weapons of Mass Instruction shows us realization of personal potential is not possible within the system of compulsory schooling. That requires a different way of growing up and learning, one Gatto calls “open source learning.” In chapters such as “A Letter to Kristina, my Granddaughter”; “Fat Stanley”; and “Walkabout:London”, Gatto gives us a window into a different reality.

  48. Hello everyone, this has really brought up so much . I especially wish to thank # 51 of this weeks blog.. So much to think about , my respects to everyone for sharing. As always, peace and love. Allison

  49. This is a great piece Lynne and thank you.
    I agree that competition is erosive to humanity in general and starts being drummed in at school. I was lucky enough to have missed school (UK) until I was 9 - apart from happy days listening to bible stories at missionary schools all over Africa.
    Then all change - daddy wanted to give me the best perceived in society to give me any advantage he could... so St Paul's it was and I resisted and rejected so hard.
    Only in retrospect can I appreciate both him and the school. At the time I felt imprisoned and manipulated
    and utterly shocked by competition having learned about collaboration and co-operation from my parents and Africans alike. ..Oh and the missionaries were cool too. Really kind - I took this all as the norm.
    All my close knit group of friends went to Oxford and Cambridge and I escaped early and made it to art school. The rift grew. They were analytical and always comparing one thing with another (the intellectual way of being competitive).
    The thing that strikes me most having read your blog and the scores of fantastic comments, is that I naturally found competition abhorrent and frightening having missed out on the government's early programming. The first exam I ever took was the entrance exam which was a novelty. After that exams were a yearly nightmare that the others accepted so I tried to - except my best friend who rebelled and creatively free-formed her A level exam papers. She escaped earlier than I did by being expelled for disgracing the school with the examining bods.
    A lot of the comments are very perceptive - we don't notice our programming at the time. We are so keen to be part of something (and why not?) that we tend to copy others willy nilly and do what they do to be accepted. Even rebels copy other rebels.
    Leandro Herrero says we are hardly Homo Sapiens - rather Homo Imitatus. I believe Lynne has picked up on a pivotal point of change - which WILL save the planet and fast - competition has caused the bloodshed and pollution - not religions, not politics - not even the ridiculous incompetent bankers. All of them are innocent. It's competition after all that is the beating heart of tragedy.
    The Romans started it - copied it from Atilla the hun probably and that idiot Alexander the Great (yeah right) look where it's got us now.
    I think this is a very important piece of observation and beautifully written. thanks again
    Jackie Mackay

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