Wimbledon Weekend: Why Thinking Parents Should Notice

2 07 2011

You didn’t think an old tennis buff like JJ would leave you with no tennis power of story to think about this weekend, did you? Au contraire!

Is learning play or competition, if there’s a difference? How should we best understand education ideas that push them together and turn learning into contests: being taught/trained to play, playing to win, players going pro?

Peter Gray’s Psychology Today learning blog:

In nonhuman animals, play and contests are sharply distinguished. Play is cooperative and egalitarian, and contests are antagonistic and aimed at establishing dominance. Hunter-gatherer humans accentuated play and avoided contests in order to maintain the high degree of cooperation and sharing that was essential to their way of life.

In our society, with our competitive games, we often confound play and contest. What might be the consequences of this for children’s development?

Put on the Wimbledon finals this weekend and play (but not compete!) along with past tennis-inspired Snooking, including your 2011 game expansion pack: Hair We Go!

This is not the face of a human playing and having fun, even if her hair seems to be playing around and enjoying it. This is a duel, contest for survival and she’ll kill or die for it. You should hear the vicious SOUNDS this warrior woman makes while “playing” professionally. Right now she is losing the Wimbledon final despite clenched fists and aggressive, no, hostile cries punctuating every stroke. If looks could kill, she would be not merely “winning” but undisputed Queen of the World . . . but in my world, win or lose she’s no champion, no matter how miserable she manages to make herself, her opponents and everyone else.

After years of standardizing education in the name of high expectations, making college the ultimate goal for children, and viewing our children as resources to be developed for our economy, like oil and gold, we are still left with the fact that most children and teenagers do not respond well to this treatment.
. . . We aren’t much smarter for all these expensive efforts.

Why do we blame ourselves instead of our ideas about schooling for these failures?

UPDATE: the queen did lose, long live the queen. The new champ is unassuming, calm and sweet. Also she’s a leftie, which makes her charmingly quirky. 😉 She is exactly Favorite Daughter’s age and reminds me of her in temperament. Asked about nerves in this contest royal, she shyly said, “I just relaxed” — and I believed her.

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16 responses

2 07 2011
JJ

Commentator Mary Carillo talking after the final, about how it’s been for sports reporters on the tour, getting to know player Petra Kvitova: “There’s a small part of her you can have; there’s a big part you can’t have.”

Score! 😀

2 07 2011
JJ

A character in some cable thing last night (Flight of the Phoenix maybe?) responded to a question about what religion he was, with, “Religion divides people. Spirituality unites them.”

Maybe that’s the difference between playing and contesting/competing in any human endeavor? Spiritual commune rather than religious death march! — do what we love with people we love BECAUSE we love, and all make each other better, enjoy sharing what brings us together.

2 07 2011
JJ

Oh, and the clever, quirky Ben Franklin mustn’t be missed this weekend, either. And as it happens, he connects — he championed sharing in the spirit of inquiry to make the whole community better, rather than divisiveness, dogma, competing adversaries: The Spirit of Inquiry Without Fondness for Dispute or Desire for Victory!:

[Franklin in his autobiography]: “Any person to be qualified as a member was to stand up, lay his hand upon his breast, and be asked the following questions, viz.

1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Answer. I do.
3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
4. Do you love truth for truth’s sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes.

Today’s divisive desirers of victory disdain mankind in general as sinners and losers, evoke religion as truth and the Founding Fathers as a weapon of mass destruction against their own countrymen, in never-ending war to conquer and dominate us. (All while denying scientific theory such as natural selection and survival of the fittest.)

Did BP use corporate clout and serve corporate personhood over the lives of actual humans, to free the convicted terrorist-by-explosive killer of American students flying home for the holidays, in a deal for Libyan drilling rights?

. . .[Florida’s Rick] Scott is one of the 2010 campaign season’s top self-funders. (Go figure that one of the country’s most celebrated fraudsters is also staggeringly wealthy! Welcome to the rest of the days of your lives, America.)

Are they “winning” so far, when they get exactly what they want?

The details of the Minnesota government’s shutdown show what can go wrong when no agreement can be reached. Last week, a judge ruled that only core government functions — public safety, welfare programs, care for residents in state facilities such as prisons, preservation of the government financial system and necessary administration functions — would continue if the government were shuttered.

When lawmakers failed to fend off the shutdown, about 20,000 state workers were officially laid off. . .

If they understood anything of the spirit OF the Founding Fathers that has made America great, they would self-immolate in shame.

3 07 2011
bpbproadrunner

I have mixed feelings about this. Learning to cope with failure is good. As is learning to win graciously. But I don’t see that happening anywhere. Thanks to the culture war we either have “Everyone is a winner and gets a ribbon” or angry parents screaming expletives from the sidelines trying to scare their children into winning at any cost. Neither approach is healthy.

3 07 2011
COD

I don’t think a government shutdown is necessarily a bad thing. Garbage piling up in the streets has a way of highlighting the necessity of government services in a way that all the high minded speeches in the world will never do.

And as a 10 year vet of coaching youth sports, bp is completely right. The benefits of competitive team events are immeasurable. However, it is incumbent on the adults in charge to make sure the proper lessons are being taught.

3 07 2011
JJ

Mixed feelings and wrong lessons — the new American identity. It’s not just for sports anymore, boys and girls!

3 07 2011
JJ

Other than actual team sports, though — what do you think about education, governance and politics, the arts and the justice system and states within the union, all being confounded with the competitive sport model, operated to establish hierarchy and dominance, winners and losers? Does the “exceptional” American way of life somehow depend more on competition than cooperation, so now that we can’t be Number One at everything anymore, we’re going down in flames and the next generation can’t save us because we made them maladapted too?

Hunter-gatherer humans accentuated play and avoided contests in order to maintain the high degree of cooperation and sharing that was essential to their way of life.

In our society, with our competitive games, we often confound play and contest. What might be the consequences of this for children’s development?

4 07 2011
JJ

My dad (southern gentleman, retired Air Force officer and business professor) played club tournament tennis. He was in tennis as in life the most charming, self-effacing, gracious winner OR loser, Mister Congeniality.

So he was everyone’s favorite tennis buddy as partner or opponent, hardly mattered as long you got to be on the court with him — he was in fact the very definition of “courtly.” (some fun with how tennis connects to king’s courts and aristocratic chivalry here)

Unlike him I was hot-headed in actual competition that counted for anything, overwrought by the pressure so couldn’t enjoy leagues and tournaments. What I loved was being out on the court with a dozen friends on a beautiful day having our regular clinic from the pro, where we all encouraged each other and all got better together, doing everything but keeping score — the pro would fuss and say too many women were like us, enjoying the tennis without the competition and ranking part, and that wasn’t real tennis so why would we do that? But to me what wasn’t real was the way I got as a person when caught up in fierce competition. I have no idea how my dad managed.

I’m thinking about this in a quiet moment because we’ve been “playing games” on weekends recently, including a marathon involving Infinite City and Monty Python’s Fluxx yesterday. People I love made six players around the table and there was wonderful communal cookout food. But I don’t have much fun compe- I mean playing those games or others the kids bring home.

These two are different games, one taking itself seriously and the other absurd, mocking everything, but they made me feel the same — first off-balance, then cross and then victimized, as if the rules were intentionally capricious and random, plus mean-spirited, setting us against each other with no way to learn or plan or invest wisely, no way to relax or be comfortable, also no way to cooperate and create and enjoy each other’s accomplishments, only contest and tear down and discard. And then always, most of us lose.

That was supposed to be “fun” and “play” but I felt like I was getting beat up and the system was against me, could do nothing to protect myself. Unlike my own old favorite games like Scrabble and chess — and tennis — where the rules are reliable and designed to let the people play the game, not for the game to play with people.

I guess life feels like that to some people, that school feels like that all the time to too many kids. Probably a lesson in that for me . . . but I wouldn’t call it play.

4 07 2011
JJ

So Dear Husband awoke and I asked him about the gameplay. He scoffed! 😀
To him these are straightforward “strategy” card games, perfectly predictable and able to be planned out, and he finds them just “logical.” Also he says “of course” the main strategy is to “diminish” all the other players!

Thus he seemed to think he was winning while actually losing our conversation, by conceding all my points for me. 😉

Then he suggested it wasn’t capriciousness or cutthroat competition that attracts the young to these games, so much as the stimulating complexity. We chewed on that. We thought about our kids and their generation as young adults, some of whom DH works with (against?!) More contrasts were noticed in how each of us saw this and whether it was healthy. Finally I was intrigued enough to see if there were game forums with any insight as to how others “play” and experience Infinite City.

Turns out neither of us is alone, but we sure aren’t together!

The first forum I clicked on hit multiple mentions of “chaos” and “chaotic” as downsides many folks don’t enjoy about this game, along with several references to [my new favorite word!] the “screwage” factor making you want to upend the table when everyone else is messing with you. (The author sounds like DH — he gets that we feel it, but he doesn’t feel it himself. Interesting.)

There is a lot of interaction in the game – some may call it chaos, but I believe that clever play and to know how and when to play certain tiles, mitigate that chaos.

Sure there may be moments when you want to flip the table ‘cause everybody seems to mess with you. But you always have the chance to make a great comeback . . .
This game can go sour, if you don’t like people screwing with your plans or dealing with what the gameplay has dealt you.

I read the forums out loud to DH. He just smirked into his coffee.

4 07 2011
bpbproadrunner

You nailed it JJ. It’s all about Grace. You either got it or you don’t. So many people lost their grace generations ago, that it has been dropped from our mass-social-gene code.

Screwage rhymes with Sewage. Just saying. I find that the only “players” I want to diminish are the ones that I have a genuine, deep and abiding dislike for. And I cannot recall this ever happening in sports, but in real life where it wasn’t really a game at all. So perhaps this form of passive-aggressive behavior is missed placed, and I say passive-aggressive because that is all it can be in a “game”.

I prefer worthy opponents, because I feel there is no shame in being beaten by someone who has better skill. You at least get to learn something and hone your own skills. But playing against people who are mean spirited and who cheat—That ruins it for me. First of all, they are not worthy to play me because they are cheaters. Clearly They are beneath me, and secondly watching people cheer for cheaters that they know or suspect are cheating is disgusting.

I am such a Dudley-Do-Right.

4 07 2011
JJ

Btw just saw Young Son’s Scotland-born and bred bagpipes mentor post this to FaceBook:

Happy 4th….. Dear America….we will of course be having our annual “losers” party….but we are such good losers!!!! LOL… Have a great day y’all!!!

7 07 2011
JJ

Just reread and noticed how these comments — about competition and mixed feelings, complexity and strategy, how competitive gaming to diminish others might not be socially responsible preparation for cooperating in real society etc — sound as if we were discussing blow-em-up video games! (We weren’t. I wasn’t even thinking about them.)

But we might as well have been! . . . and video gaming like the new table games disturbing me but unlike traditional sports, are right here at home for hours everyday year-round, in season and out:

Ferguson says it’s easy to think senseless video game violence can lead to senseless violence in the real world. But he says that’s mixing up two separate things.

“Many of the games do have morally objectionable material and I think that is where a lot of the debate on this issue went off the rails,” he said. “We kind of mistook our moral concerns about some of these video games, which are very valid — I find many of the games to be morally objectionable — and then assumed that what is morally objectionable is harmful.”

In other words . . .

“Playing violent video games probably will not turn your child into a psychopathic killer,” Bushman said, “but I would want to know how the child treats his or her parents, how they treat their siblings, how much compassion they have.”

11 09 2011
JJ

America has a new poet laureate named Phil Levine, 83 years old now and something I care about because Favorite Daughter cares about poetry. He is a working-class laureate too, which I care about because that’s who DH is.

Then this morning reading NYTimes stories about the US Open, I found out that I care about Phil Levine because he cares about tennis! 🙂

Plus he literally has played where I’ve played, knows where I’ve been and who that has made me:

I first met Phil Levine in November 1985 in Gainesville, Fla., when he came to give a poetry reading at the University of Florida. My wife, Kate Daniels, is a poet, one of the many Phil has mentored over the years. She called him, and told him to bring his tennis gear. I was excited to meet the poet who wrote “One for the Rose” and the incantatory, hypnotic masterpiece of postindustrialism, “They Feed They Lion.” Enrolled in a poetry workshop, I quickly found I preferred Levine’s fiercely American voice, which celebrates working-class lives and the hard labor they entail, to the rarefied meanderings of more deliberately obscure poets.

On the way to the courts, we talked about tennis and poetry, two pursuits that are often labeled elitist. Phil’s attitude conveyed the opposite, that writing a poem or trying to play tennis well were deeply human endeavors, beautiful to work at because they were so hard to master.

We played for a couple of hours on a hardcourt at Westside Park on Southwest [JJ’s note: the correct address actually is NORTHwest] 34th Street, a mile from campus. I was a year removed from the satellite circuit, and I remember playing long, patient points with Levine. He was fast and steady, and always chose the right shot. That night, before a packed auditorium, Phil read a poem called “The Fox.” It begins:

I think I must have lived
Once before, not as a man or woman
But as a small, quick fox pursued
By ladies and gentlemen on horseback.

It’s a stunning poem, conveying the rage of the working class toward the idle rich, and the proud attempt to maintain one’s dignity in the face of injustice. Levine read for more than an hour, introducing each poem with rambling, comic monologues that made the crowd laugh.

11 09 2011
JJ

“They Feed They Lion” is about the race riot in Detroit. Or as the Poet Laureate himself has said:

It is, I believe, the most potent expression of rage I have written, rage at my government for the two racial wars we were then fighting, one in the heart of our cities against our urban poor, the other in Asia against a people determined to decide their own fate. The poem was written one year after what in Detroit is still called “The Great Rebellion” although the press then and now titled it a race riot.

I had recently revisited the city of my birth, and for the first time I saw myself in the now ruined neighborhoods of my growing up not as the rebel poet but as what I was, middle-aged, middle-class, and as one writer of the time would have put it “part of the problem.”

11 09 2011
JJ

Levine is white btw. Yet here we see one of his masterpiece poems has a “dialect” title and a black-white civil rights theme in which he recasts his own coming of age — “my growing up” — as having been part of the problem rather than some grand rebellion against it. So I wonder what my black friends so offended by the white author of The Help, make of him?

11 09 2011
JJ

A Facebook friend just posted this quote and I can’t tell if it’s meant to be in the context of the 9/11 anniversary or her ongoing conversations about “The Help” or both. I know it fits both, as well as Levine’s power of story and “what’s wrong with learning as competition” power of story:

“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.”
— William James

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