Are modern educators embracing the competitive spirit of society when they should be removed from comparisons and focus on individual achievement?
I don't know how others feel, but I don't think competition is encouraged in the classroom at all (as your question suggests) and I think most teachers have been so discouraged from doing this (by parents, administrators, etc.) that it isn't common.
I have mixed feelings about this. The real world is highly competitive, in almost everything. The job market is competitive, the quest for acceptance into college is competitive. Even once degrees are obtained and jobs secured, there is competition IN the workplace to be better than others or always improving. We won't even get in to the competition that exists in the dating world...
A healthy amount of competition is a good thing in my mind. This is why athletics (and music, marching band, speech/debate, etc.) are so great for high school students. It means more to work for something that says "You are better than all of these people." In the classroom however, I often am dismayed at how public schools in America fail to prepare students for many real world social issues, competition included. I think we are largely too soft and too easy on students with chances for success. In North Carolina, failure is ALMOST not an option - and I think this is wrong.
On the flip side, I also think that too much competition can be unhealthy. High school does still need to be a place where every student has an opportunity for success, so there still needs to be a buffer before the real world hits.
I think there is a very delicate balance that can be struck - and if done well, can be very healthy. In our classrooms today however, I actually think we've fallen too far on the non-competitive side, and are teaching kids that everyone is a winner just for playing. I understand participation awards, but I certainly do not think everyone should be made to feel like the winner.
I think we are embracing the competitive spirit, despite how administration, students, and parents expect teachers to collaborate. In an ideal society, all teachers share ideas and materials; however, as we learn from 1984 and Brave New World, most utopias inevitably turn into dystopic societies. Teachers who embrace complete and utter collaboration end up falling short against their counterparts. The fact is, as long as there is academic data, as advanced as test scoring and merit pay or as anecdotal as Ratemyteacher.com, there needs to be competition. Teachers who compete to engage their students end up being trailblazers in academic motivation and technological advancements. Don't misunderstand me, I believe collaboration is necessary, but I believe it is important to be identified for your achievements first before sharing them with others. The competitive spirit is what drives our capitalistic economy, why not our education?
As educators in times of budget cuts and scrutiny, many of us are faced with the aspect of marketing ourselves to keep our jobs. In order to be competitive, we must embark on being up-to-date on current teaching trends and techniques. Those teachers that don't participate are sometimes shunned and looked upon as just teaching for a paycheck. In order though to keep yourself competitive you must be able to take these techniques and apply them efficiently in the classroom as well. We must always keep in mind that whatever we do or learn is for the good of promoting and supporting our students.