3 page essay on Article Analysis

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ENG 121 In-Class Essay Final
1) Read the article “Competition in America.”
2) Write an essay following the directions below:
After reading the article, write an essay in response. In an introductory paragraph, first give a
brief (multiple-sentence) summary of the article’s main ideas. Then, in a thesis statement, go
on to either agree or disagree with the author’s views. In the body of the essay, support your
agreement/ disagreement with specific examples from your experience or reading and/or with
analysis of the essay’s argument. If you agree with the author, it will be important to provide
original arguments and/or examples. It will not be enough to simply repeat the same points the
author makes.
Competition in America
Twelve-year-old, 52 pound Molly Dieveney from Denver correctly spells “contretemps”
and “psoriasis” to win the National Spelling Bee. Runner-up Uma Rao says between tears, “I
knew the word after I heard her spell it.” In the 1982 Superbowl game, Joe Montana throws to
Dwight Clark for the winning touchdown and all of San Francisco celebrates; in Cincinnati,
there is talk of firing coaches who cannot win the big one. These stories reflect a pervasive
myth of American life: the Horatio Alger success story, the story of the triumph of the
underdog. We all believe in this myth, we pay homage to it, we may even devote our lives to
it. But on the other side of this myth is a terrible and destructive reality. For every winner there
are often hundreds of losers, people whose specialization has narrowed and stunted their
lives, people whose love, cooperation, and generosity have been replaced by aggression,
envy, and ambition. The destructiveness of competition is most evident in the lives of our
young people—in their schools, their sports and their social life.
In the schools, contests and grades are the most destructive forms of competition. For
every winner of the spelling bee, there are fifty children who have traveled to Washington and
have failed. For every state winner, there are thousands of participants in the local schools
who have memorized lists of words in order to learn the lesson that education is really a meanspirited process, that humiliation is the fruit of their effort, and that only one winner will
celebrate a triumph whose satisfaction is measured by the suffering of others, not by any
intrinsic worth of learning. Science fair projects produce the same results: a handful of victors
and a multitude of children whose ultimate lesson is not about biology, electronics, physics or
chemistry but about how they must not ever be losers again. Similarly, the competition for
grades produces educational losers. Grades determined by examinations decide which
students work for Kodak instead of McDonald’s, which students go to Harvard instead of West
Texas or no college at all, and which students receive scholarships instead of work study.
Algebra students cannot enjoy the satisfaction of solving an intricate problem when they have
to worry about making mistakes; science students cannot enjoy the adventure inherent in
reading about the natural world when they must regurgitate facts about microorganisms or
metamorphic rocks on an examination; English students cannot enjoy the personal discovery
of writing when they are forced to write essay examinations under severe time pressure. All of
these forms of competition in our schools serve primarily to destroy the spirit of learning and
thus turn everyone into a loser.
In organized sports, from the first little league games to professional sports, the results
of competition are much the same. The Vince Lombardi motto, “Winning is the only thing,”
aggravates the destructiveness of competition in two important ways. First, thousands of
children and teenagers suffer knee injuries, broken bones, and other debilitating injuries only to
be cast aside when they are no longer “useful” to the team. The second effect may be more
serious: in order to become the temporary victors, athletes must specialize excessively,
creating a narrowed lifestyle which stunts their development into mature human beings. They
are winners in their sports, but in real life they are losers. They remain as immature and
selfish as John McEnroe, Billy Martin, or David Thompson. These destructive effects appear
throughout all levels of organized sports. In little league baseball and football, parents and
coaches shout obscenities during games played by eleven-year-olds who can barely swing a
bat or throw a football. In a youth league soccer match, a child who has just fractured his leg
screams at his parents, “I never wanted to play—you made me do it!” In college sports,
“student” athletes forge grades, take cushy courses, and receive continual tutorial help so that
they can devote four and five and six hours a day to their specialized training. Surely no high
or altruistic motives drive these coaches, players and parents. When winning is the “only
thing,” the spirit of competition is not ennobling; it is degrading. Envy, anger, viciousness and
hatred are the only emotions strong enough to motivate the Vince Lombardis of the world.
Finally, in the social life of young people, the spirit of competition is a euphemistic mask
for that particularly vicious phenomenon known as peer pressure. High schoolers compete to
see who has the most friends, who wears the most expensive or stylish clothes, who drives the
fanciest cars to the school parking lot, who has the wildest keggers. Only the smallest minority
of students are the temporary winners in this competition—the socialites, the cheerleaders, or
the football stars. But the overwhelming majority of high school students feel like losers. They
are not “popular,” they are snubbed and looked down upon by those who are, and thus they
spend three years wondering why they feel so inadequate or ugly. As high schoolers move to
college, the injurious effects of peer competition continue. Most find themselves in a no-win
situation. The pressures to drink excessively, to have sexual experiences, to do drugs, to take
on part or full-time jobs in order to maintain their materialistic status are enormous. If they
succumb to these pressures, they may fail in their coursework; if they resist these pressures,
they will certainly believe they have failed socially.
The conclusion we must draw is not a pleasant one. Competition in America destroys
our love of learning, our love for physical activity, and our desire to make and be friends. What
can be done, finally, to correct the problem? If we are honest, we must admit it. Nothing. As
much as we may understand that competitiveness is ultimately destructive, it will not change
the reality that the spirit of competition is a mask for the natural human tendency toward
aggression, envy, and ambition. The winner is smiling because he enjoys the misfortune of
others. The winner is smiling because he has his foot in somebody else’s face. This natural
viciousness in man continues to be rewarded in America through the National Spelling Bee
and the Superbowl, the school valedictorian and the winner at Wimbledon. The next time you
see these winners glorified, see if you aren’t left with a bitter taste in your mouth—the taste of
dirt and shoeleather.
—Dudley Erskine Devlin

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