Academic Contest Misconceptions

The title of this article does not hide the gist of its contents. As such, it may trigger a dismissive reflex in most people.  After all, isn't it obvious enough what academic contests are all about? Academic contests were not invented just yesterday and many of us have been in one, either as a participant or a mere spectator. So maybe you are asking, how can anybody have a misconception about them. The reason I felt the need to write this article is that there are really those who don't understand what it's all about. At least not, in the context that I am about  to discuss here in this article. It's not anybody's fault though why many have these misconceptions. Like I said, academic contests have been around ever since maybe the first school was opened. And each one of those contests followed a consistent pattern. The common concept is that it's all about children pitting their academic skills against their peers, all designed to find out who has the superior brain cells. The contest also focuses mostly in traditional subject areas like language, science and mathematics. Then came Eastbridge and many things seem to be different. And they are different in the most unexpected way, even to a point of being mislabeled as ill-conceived in its design and arbitrary or downright unfair in its choices of participants. To those who have a similar thought, let this article explain the rationale behind the things that we do here.

Please forgive my penchant for citing slogans and taglines about our school lately. It's just that with the proliferation of ad posters by practically all companies of various shades and colors (no pun intended), slogans have become nothing more than catchy phrases that really don't mean anything to the advertiser. The wizened reader of those ads consequently pay very little attention to the slogans. When Eastbridge puts up something, we definitely mean what we put in there. This year's slogan was "Like no other". This line of thought is pretty much reflected in many, if not all, things that we do, academic contests included. Our school, being a progressive and MI school simply doesn't fit the traditional mold. No wonder why our academic contests are not that readily understood.

Misconception No. 1:  Academic contests are designed to showcase brilliant kids in various academic subjects in a competition format.

There is really nothing wrong with the above concept, especially in a traditional school setting where academics are the only basis for intelligence. In the first place, there is nothing else to test the students in since a traditional school does not normally bother with the other intelligences as theorized by Howard Gardner. Besides, academic competencies are quite readily measurable. Teachers and parents are familiar with the measurements and also with the outcomes. Simple question and answer quizzes will easily determine the top child in every competition.

However, in an MI context like the one Eastbridge is operating in, the above concept easily breaks down. Not that it is altogether excluded but rather, the traditional measurements of competency and/or intelligence has expanded and also expanded extensively. Suddenly, contests like puzzles, lego construction, clay modeling and others are included. Most parents don't know what to think about these other categories. Many dismiss them as intermission numbers designed to create a break in the program and nothing more. Thus, these other categories are less appreciated and sometimes even spurned. Let me make this clear to every one who happens to be reading this that these other contests are designed to highlight the other intelligences in the MI Theory. As such they are not inferior contests nor less important competitions. This brings me to the second  misconception.

Misconception No. 2: Contestants in academic subjects, like English, Math, etc. are more intelligent than those who are in the other MI categories. Stated differently, a clay modeling (or other MI category) contest is for less intelligent children only.

If it is not yet obvious to anyone at this point, let me reiterate the principle of MI: Each of the intelligences in the MI Theory is considered an intelligence. Gardner did not make any distinction as to any one of the intelligences to be more superior than another. In other words, a musically intelligent person is no less intelligent than a numerically intelligent person. To compare the two is actually like comparing apples to oranges; they just can't be compared. Each intelligence is a gift all its own. Each has its own strengths and usefulness. If you think a person who can crunch square roots and differentials to be more superior than a gifted singer, wait until you need entertainment and see who becomes more useful. Thus, if your kid is a contestant in solo singing, it is not an inferior contest that he or she is in. The same is true if your child is in a lego construction contest. There, he or she is competing in a visual spatial intelligence where structural balance, stability and appearance are the criteria. It is not, in any way inferior to a science quiz.

Some may ask why an academically superior child can memorize faster and readily recall than those who are less superior? The question is stated rather incompletely. It should have specified the area where the academically superior child does better. If you are talking about memorization in English, Science or Math, then the observation may be true. But test both also in memorizing songs and melodies (musical intelligence) or a dance  or sport (bodily kinesthetic intelligence) and it's a totally different ballgame.

Misconception No. 3: Academic contests is all about showcasing.

While the above concept is also true, it only tells half the story. Our contest is not just about showcasing; it's also about self-discovery. At least that's as far as Eastbridge is concerned. We indeed highlight our students various skills in our contest but at the same time, we also allow our students to discover and appreciate their other intelligences especially in areas which they don't normally focus on nor interested in. Those in the academe for so many years will tell you that kids don't know anything yet about where they are competent. It needs the teacher's keen observation and evaluation to point this out to them. They even have to be compelled to focus on these intelligences sometimes. Thus, a child who is logically and mathematically intelligent may just be interested in basic math operations and numbers until the teacher encourages them to solve a puzzle. The teacher should have already known about this child's strength but he or she needs to "discover" this about himself or herself through classroom activities and competitions. At the same time. those who are less appreciated for their average academic achievements will discover their other intelligences that are equally important as those with high math scores and realize that they are intelligent too.

Misconception No. 4: Those who are not participating in the academic contests are not doing very well in the academics.

Nothing can be further from the truth than the above misconception. If, for instance, student A is ranked no. 3 in all academic subjects in his or her class, he or she may not be a participant in any of them at all. But that doesn't mean he or she is not doing very well in academics because in reality the child is in the third rank. During contests, this child may end up in one of the MI categories instead.

Misconception No. 5: The participants in the academic category are always the top-ranked child.

The participant selection is deliberated upon by the teachers and the Directress. Here, the principle of equitability is oftentimes applied. Where the differences in grades of top students are not so wide, students with less chance of being picked as contestants will oftentimes be elevated to become participants in that category if the top-ranked child is already participating in at least one contest. The reason for this is to spread the opportunities around a little bit. This may appear unfair to the top-ranked child at first but since the MI award is usually awarded to this child, we deem it still fair to give others the chance to compete.

Having said all that, maybe it's also important to note at this point that we are considering changing the title of this program in the future. The title Academic Contest inevitably creates a confusion since it implies that only academic subjects are actually considered contests. In the future, it will be called MI Competition or something similar. I hope those of us who have been enlightened by this article will help in making these principles clear to other parents who may have one or more of the above misconceptions. It will go a long way in making our programs in the future more of an adventure in self-discovery for our children than an indulgence in parental pride. Let me close with another principle here that we have not yet published in any of our ads but is equally observed in many of the things that we do at Eastbridge. The principle is: Eastbridge is not about us, parents; it's about our children. In short, many of the things we do may not even please our parents. But in the integrity of our hearts, we always have the students' welfare in mind.


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