Losing by Winning at All Costs

posted in: Values-Based Business | 2
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New York New York
I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
To find I’m a number one, head of the list,
Cream of the crop at the top of the heap – Frank Sinatra

Long before Frank Sinatra popularized the song “New York, New York” during his performances at the Radio City Music Hall in October 1978, New York City was an incredibly competitive town. For hundreds of years, well-to-do New Yorkers have clamored to get their children into the best private schools in the city. Costs can run well over $300,000 for a single child from kindergarten through the twelfth grade.

The process typically starts at age two when selection for a top feeder preschool is the name of the game. Then at age four, parents craft an admissions strategy to increase the odds that their child will preform well on the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, commonly known as the “ERB,” and gain entry into an elite private school. Once admitted, children are expected to bolster their Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course loads with a sufficiently impressive variety of extracurricular activities including competitive sports, music or artistic expressions and cultural activities in preparation for an inevitable entry letter from the Ivy League school of their choice. William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard, had this to say, “Even fifth-graders in Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline, who as adults will face international competition for jobs, should begin beefing up their academic resumes if they want a shot at an Ivy League education.”

From an early age, many children are expected to win, period, no matter the methods. In her book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, Harvard Sociologist, Dr. Hilary Levey Freidman speaks to the hyper competition epidemic, saying,

“Parents’ willingness to game the system across activities shows that they are sometimes more concerned with their children’s winning record, even in a manipulated system, than getting a fair outcome. The focus is on winning at any cost, a lesson that gets passed on to the children.”

Not surprisingly, cheating in schools has been increasing at an alarming rate, even at places like Harvard. A Josephson Institute of Ethics study found that 60% of high school students admitted to cheating during the previous year. We are infecting our children with loose ethics but to what end?

Studies by economists Alan Kreuger and Stacy Dale have found that similarly qualified college graduates from highly rated colleges and lesser-known schools have the same salary prospects. Dr. Thomas Stanley, the noted millionaire researcher, discovered that honesty was the number one trait that marked the 733 millionaires that he studied for his book, The Millionaire Mind, beating out both Attending a top-rated college (23rd) and even Having a high IQ/superior intellect (21st). More and more, I am realizing that it’s not just about the results of the game but rather the way the game is played. I’ve met brilliant minds that attended Ivy League schools and never applied themselves and less intelligent go-getters who will undoubtedly reach incredible success.

I will always be appreciative of how my father helped my brother, sister and me to discover our gifts and interests. My parents sacrificed so we could participate in mission trips to Brazil and exchange programs to Germany. I ran track & field while my sister competed at cheerleading and my brother played tennis. On the surface, this may not seem any different than the New York socialites described above. The difference comes down to intent. The goal of all of our activities was discovery not to pad a college resume. We learned whom we were as people and in the process how to play the game with integrity. The beautiful thing about integrity is that you can acquire it without investing $300,000 in a private school education.

Photo Credit: Eduardo Merille

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2 Responses

  1. Hilary Levey Friedman
    | Reply

    Thanks for a thoughtful post– and for writing about, and reading, my work! Love your passion.

    • Joel
      | Reply

      Thank you Hilary for writing about an important topic and giving us some challenging words to consider.

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