Dividing people by ranking is part of everyday life. We rank most things, people and places even if we are not aware. But in the age of neo-liberalism that “everybody is special” and “you cannot argue over taste” we end up contradicting ourselves, both as a society, and especially, we give a contradicting massage to our children.
Foucault in his writings talks about power and society. His idea is that every relationship is also a power relationship. There is no real equality among people and organizations. If we look at a classroom, even if all the students are in the same academic year, they have different abilities in different fields. This is the “birthplace” of ranking. It is natural and it is everywhere.
The easiest to detect and think about grades. Arranging the classroom in a hierarchy of grades is easy. We can rank the classroom by their average or into separated subjects. But the students rank themselves into other categories. The broader title will be “social capital.” Who is the funniest? Who is the most “cool”? who is the most popular? Also into physical traits, who is the best in sports, who is the best looking? Of course, it is not just “the most or the best,” it can be on a scale from the least to the most. There is overlap between “social capital” and “physical capital”. The most beautiful girl in class, will likely be popular. The best kid in sports, will be with a lot of confidence which will make him “stand out”, meaning having a lot of Social Capital.
If we look at the way we educate children, we will notice that we give them conflicting messages. While we persistently tell them that they are unique, we also tend to push them into those systems of ranking. These systems deems only certain individuals as special. It starts with the simplest things. Like when a parent might tell his kids to race to the door. There will always be faster kids and slower kids; not everybody can be “special” because only one will get in first place. So when our kids discover that they are not “as special” as they were told, we adults are being confronted with the negative feelings that are produced out of this contradiction. Then, we try to encourage the child, we say things like “you have other things you are good at.” But as my mom used to say to me “there is very little room in the tip of the pyramid.”
So we contradict ourselves and confuse the kids. We say that everybody is special, but we are consistently ranking individuals. Kids also rate themselves. Raking systems seem to come naturally to use humans. It is self-evident in many instances. Usually, this has to do with physical traits; it is easy to detect the tallest kid in class. Kids from very early age use physical power to take other kids toys, to fight for their place on the sofa and so on. Some resort to different strategies like crying, so the adult will intervene because they cannot overpower their “adversary.” I’ve seen kids for more than 20 years straight due to my mom’s occupation; they live in a world of constant conflict, which in many times has to do with ranking and power struggles.
The bigger kid can get what he wants. I remember that when I was a kid, every time that I heard the line “knowledge is power” in class or cartoons, I couldn’t understand it. I contemplated on it, but all I could see that other bigger kid were intimidating, and it had nothing to do with how many facts I know or how smart I am. If they would take something away from me, I couldn’t get it back on my own. So I thought that it is better to be bigger rather than smarter. Though, when I got older I understood the meaning.
The most prominent example of this contradiction is sports. Sport is good for kids. It enhances their coordination; it builds their bodies, it is fun and improves their socialization with other kids. But, there are parts we omit, it teaches them about winners and losers. we omit this part when we say that sports give them self confidence (meaning they get confidence through a raise in rank in a particular area), and that teach them the importance of dedication and hard work (in order to raise in rank in this world of struggles and rankings).
so, in the end, a game has to have “winners” and “losers.” In Israel, many people go to the beach and play “Matkot.” They just pass the ball with a racket that is made out of wood. The goal is to pass the ball without it touching the ground. There are no other rules. No winners no losers, but it seems that even in this situation people compete. Many people consider this as a “national sport” and unique to Israel. It is so popular that you have to dodge the flying balls every time you want to go into the sea. I suck at this game so I don’t play, but through watching it many times, i noticed something. It seems that many people hit the ball quite hard, as if they want to impose on their partner a “tough position.” It seems that in many cases, they are competing each other rather than just passing the ball. Because if the goal is only to pass the ball, you don’t have to hit hard, you don’t have to change the ball’s course or to rotate it. But they often do. So it is also contradicting. Even in a game that has no rules, no winners, no losers, they still compete.
So when we put our kids in sports, which is a system of ranking, we force them to fight for ranking, meaning to win. Because nobody like losing. But when the game is over, and winners are crowned, and losers deemed as inferior, we tell them that “this it’s just sport.” And that the most important thing is not who wins or loses, it is the degree of fun they had and their participation that matters. “As long as you play and have fun, you are the winner.”
Maye, we say that, but we still end up with winners and losers. And when we get consistent winners and consistent losers we affect the kids in other fields. They get “social capital” out of those contests of speed and strength. Many kids idolize professional athletes, so the best kids in their class are “closer” to these idealizations. This is being enhanced due to the fact that in many instances professional sport has the association of “war” and “struggle.” The winners get money, fame, prizes and beautiful women to give him the “trophy”; the losers don’t. So when they watch TV, they don’t see this as a “game” but as something bigger more glamorous. More so, if the player’s fight (exchanging blows like in hockey), play very aggressive (make dirty fouls) or trash talk.
So the idea of “it is just a game” doesn’t follow through.
The ranking is not only about that; it encompasses more and more areas of life.
I’ll elaborate in the next post.