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Unequal Opportunity to Learn Not Limited to Classroom, Author Finds

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

For children, unequal opportunity to learn isn't limited to their experience in school, according to Hilary Levey Friedman, author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. Middle- and upper-class children also receive a competitive edge from the activities they participate in outside of school.

In an article published this month in The Atlantic, Friedman writes that the role competitive after-school activities play for the children of middle-class families helps explain why they have an advantage in education and as they enter the workforce.

In speaking with parents, Friedman found that they identified five skills they hoped their children would acquire through these activities that would turn them into well-rounded adults. She refers to this as "Competitive Kid Capital."

  1. The importance of winning: Friedman writes, "Such an attitude prepares children for winter-take-all settings like the school system and lucrative labor markets."
  2. Learning from loss: This teaches kids perseverance and focus—traits that are valuable as children move through life if they want to work toward successful outcomes.
  3. Time management: "Children need to learn how to manage their own schedules," writes Friedman, "something they may have to do some day as busy consultants and CEOs."
  4. Adaptability: Participation in competitive out-of-school activities teaches children how to perform and compete in environments that require adaptation, such as taking the SAT, the LSAT or the bar exam, according to Friedman. 
  5. Grace under pressure: For example, the grace a student learns to maintain when performing in a ballet recital will serve that student well when interviewing for a job.

While the success of a child's performance in one soccer game or one recital is unlikely to have a lasting impact on his life, the skills and resiliency associated with the activity will translate into other advantages later. However, "The vast majority of today's competitive afterschool programs are pay-to-play, which means the development of Competitive Kid Capital is differentially distributed by income."

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