In a boys’ school, there is much to be said for being competitive. There is an abundance of literature to suggest that boys seem to be naturally competitive and will find any reason to rank, rate and rise to a challenge. In Growing Great Boys, Ian Grant notes that boys are competitive because they enjoy the intimacy and structure of ‘the game’. “Boys and men enjoy the simplicity of the competition, and the camaraderie as they talk over the moves and the goals.” C.S. Lewis also acknowledged this almost tribalistic characteristic of boys. “We had to plan the hunt and the battle. When they were over, we had to hold a post mortem… we ridiculed or punished the cowards and bunglers, we praised the star performers… we talked ‘shop’… all bound together by shared skill, shared dangers and hardship.” Some boys seem to thrive in this tribal experience, where competitiveness and the safety of the group alleviate the pressure of too much one-on-one conversational and emotional intensity, giving their male brain, with its fewer neural connections, time out to process. Boys thrive under affirmation from a variety of people and many tend to get that though competitive sport.
This competitiveness that boys are biologically hard wired for has a strong presence within the invisible curriculum of a school. This invisible curriculum is what exists outside of the classroom and has embedded within it the conventions and norms of what we expect of young men in schools today. Last week I attended a professional development day where Ron Ritchhart, Principal Investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project from Harvard, made reference to the ‘Game of School’. This is a reference to the notion that if our students play the game of school to the rules, adhere to what is expected of them and observe the norms, the result is that they will ‘win at school’. With the end of term comes exams and assessments that give us statistical data in which to write summative reports based on academic achievement. The Game of School suggests that if played correctly, high scores on tests will produce top results, which will enable a coveted university placement, with the by-product being a high paying job which in our society, equals materialistic success in life. But the Game of School focuses on the short term, with tests and exams being interim indicators of academic aptitude. Are tests the only thing we should be measuring? And what of the invisible curriculum in a school? How do we measure the significant role competitive sport plays in the development of our young men? And significantly, what is the criteria for success when the curriculum should not be about what you learned, but how it has shaped you?
As ‘a grad at grad’, a student from Xavier College should be aiming to strive for the Magis, seeking ‘the more’ in every dimension of their lives; spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and of course, academically. University entrance qualifications and exam results are important steps towards significant stages in life, but they do not define the moral character of our students. Our students should access their natural competitiveness as a means of pushing themselves to be their best version of themselves in all aspects of College life. The pursuit of individual excellence should set the fire in our students’ hearts to be men of competence, with the competitiveness of rankings and results only fanning the flames.
Tests and exams tell us who will be successful at the Game of School, but not who will be successful in life. In the Game of School, did you win or did you learn?
In this blog series entitled “Conversations in Context: Teaching and Learning in a Jesuit School” or in short “Teaching and Learning in Context” we present articles written by Melinda Roberts. These originally appeared in Xavier College’s fortnightly newsletter, written for the school community and published on the school website. We are happy to share these with the wider Jesuit education community. To read the previous blog click here.
Melinda Roberts is the Head of Teaching & Learning at Xavier College in Melbourne, an all-boys Jesuit high school in Australia. In the last twelve months, she has led a number of significant changes at a physical, philosophical and ultimately cultural level, with the aim of ensuring Xavier remains committed to its mission of excellence in education and the formation of reflective, compassionate and articulate men and women of Christian faith, hope and love who will provide outstanding service and leadership in our world, while still producing excellent academic results. Her articles in this blog series provide an insight into this challenge, one which is invariably shared by Jesuit schools across the globe.