Tag Archives: cycling

Learning is Not a Competition

Greenwich Photography via Compfight cc

The revelation earlier this week that Canadian Cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal had been a doper and a cheater came as no surprise to those of us who have spent good chunks of our lives involved in the world of elite cycling.  Road racers claim the culture of doping gives them no choice but to cross the line into dishonesty to survive in their sport. Clean cyclists are robbed of their funding and their ability to make a living when cheaters hog the podium, and some of the best athelete role models never get to compete for their country.

Cheaters also “hog the podium” in school.

In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is.  It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.

Ryder Hesjedal chose to race on a bicycle and he chose to cheat to win.  Jesse Jakomait continues to choose to race on a bicycle and chose NOT to cheat to become an Olympian.  Choosing to compete can be healthy and fun and push you to stretch your personal limits if it works for you, but it is a choice.


But children do not choose to come to school.  They have to.

They come to school to learn, not to compete for marks.  We know that learning works best in an environment of collaboration.  Competition for the highest mark, and practices like bell-curving, work against collaboration, and against best learning.

We know that feedback from teachers is a powerful way to move learning forward, and we know that when that feedback is accompanied by a number, a grade, students look at the grade and ignore the feedback.

This recent article/interview on CBC Radio Day 6 outlines the problem of awards and extrinsic awards for learning:

“[But] you don’t just get rid of awards assemblies because they make the kids that don’t get rewards feel bad. You get rid of awards assemblies because they’re not useful for any kids. Everyone loses in a race to win.”

Changing the rules of the game is hardest for those who are winning at the game, as demonstrated by the interviews of “furious parents” at the beginning of the audio interview.

And when learning is a competition, just like elite cyclists, students cheat.

As a Principal, I spent more than a few hours dealing with students who “cheated” on tests, exams and assignments.

But why do kids feel they need to cheat? If kids are supposed to be learning in school, how does cheating enter the picture?

It comes down to how performance differs from learning.  Comparing yourself with others, fighting for the highest mark, competing for a spot in a university program or trying to meet parent demands for high marks sets students up to find the easy way out, which can be cheating.

This math major says it well.  Math is hard, but you can do it. “Stop comparing yourself to that other student!”

Schools need to be a place where children and young adults feel valued, are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn to work with others to achieve excellence.  There is no room for the message that winning is the only thing we value.

Save that for the cyclists.

Note: Thanks to Louise Robitaille (@Robitaille2011) for sharing this thoughtful post by @terryainge: https://deltalearns.ca/terryainge/2013/10/28/understanding-assessment-how-i-fell-out-of-love-with-the-grading-program/

Please also see this collection by Chris Wejr (@chriswejr): http://chriswejr.com/thoughts-on-awards-ceremonies/

What Do We Care About?

Yesterday, while driving along the Trans-Canada Highway north of Thunder Bay, we met a group of cyclists.  We meet and pass cyclists on the T-C all summer long.  It is a dangerous stretch of highway.  Some sections have about 4 inches of paved shoulder before a drop off into gravel.  The highway is under construction.  Hwy 11 and Hwy 17 meet in Nipigon and traffic from both highways funnels into this 110 km stretch before separating again west of Thunder Bay.  There is a lot of traffic on this two-lane road – tourists, transports, commuters, families, walkers, and cyclists.

People making their way along Hwy. 17,  on the north shore of Lake Superior.
People making their way along Hwy. 17, on the north shore of Lake Superior.

Accidents and road closures are not unusual.

Surprisingly, those accidents rarely involve cyclists.

Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal.  July 24, 2013
Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. July 24, 2013

But yesterday was different.  Two of the cyclists we had just seen went on down the highway for several hours, only to be struck and killed by a pickup truck.  The driver was not from Canada.

Why is it so hard to make our roads safer for cyclists?

I listen to endless arguments against the plans of  Active Transportation Thunder Bay.  Why do we not value the opportunity to create safe thoroughfares for those wanting to travel under their own power?

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The highway from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada.  It is also unique in that for most of the route, communities are about 100 km apart – a perfect cycling trip.  Cyclists have been enjoying this stretch of highway for years, and there is so much potential to market this as a week long, 700 km bike trip.

But it remains a very dangerous route.  Adding paved shoulders to the highway for the entire 700 km would make it a safer, much more enjoyable trip for everyone.

We need to care about encouraging activity, especially active transportation that does not use fossil fuels.  Let’s make sure these deaths were not in vain and that we work to ensure safe cycling everywhere.

Update: More on the story from CBC here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/story/2013/07/24/tby-thunder-bay-cyclists-killed-highway-accident.html

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East Loon Public Access, 55 km north of Thunder Bay, Ontario
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Terrace Bay “Private” Beach (now on the front cover of the Ontario Tourism Brochure!)
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Red Rock, 100 km North of Thunder Bay, Ontario
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Rossport, on the road to Nicol Island.
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Rossport, taken from Nicol Island.
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Old Woman Bay, on the T-C, south of Wawa, in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
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Along the Trans-Canada (17) between Kama Bay and Nipigon.
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Along the T-C between Rossport and Nipigon at Kama Bay.

Lanterne Rouge

svein worlds silver
Canadian Champion Road Cyclist Svein Tuft winning silver at the World Championships in 2008 (after flatting on the course)



Photo Credit: One-Fat-Man via Compfight cc

A friend once said to me, “I never expect much of anything. That way, I am never disappointed.”

It’s an odd way to live.  I would sooner set my sights very high, and learn to get over any hint of disappointment.

Reflecting on that makes me think about the reaction of most Canadians to sports.  As the mom of an elite athlete for more than a decade, I know how poorly Canadians support their athletes.  Many of my friends will pay hundreds of dollars to see a professional hockey game. This is more than most national level athletes are paid to live on for a full month. Yet, when the Olympics arrive, we expect medals!

When my son (Kyle Fry) was Mountain Bike racing, we travelled and raced with courageous, committed and talented athletes. Some sacrificed the cost of a hair cut to pay for a race entry.  They lived day to day, travelling across the nation five to a car, sleeping on friendly couches and getting a free meal when they could.


Photo Credit: OttoKristensen via Compfight cc

When Kyle switched to road racing, Svein Tuft became a model of what young riders could aspire too.  Tough, gritty, vehemently anti-doping, and fast! We watched Svein win numerous national titles, inspire Canadians with his 7th place finish in the ITT at the 2008 Olympics and his 2nd place finish at Worlds in 2008 – a remarkable finish considering Canada’s past history in the sport.

blog abitibi ttt
Team Ontario prepares for the Team Time Trial at the Junior World Cup.

That brings us to this year’s Tour de France.  We were so pleased to hear that Svein would finally have an opportunity to ride in the 2013 Tour.  We celebrated when he helped his team win the TTT, and when Svein spoke in public about his thrill in working to help his team place so well, we knew it was truly from the heart.

Svein had an amazing 6th place finish in the ITT.  He fought his way through crashes, over mountains, and he never gave up.  He finished the Tour de France dead last – but he finished.

In cycling, finishing dead last is respectful, because you did not give up.  Cyclists call this the “lanterne rouge”.

Those who gave up did not finish, not even in last place.

Lanterne Rouge
from Wikipedia

How will the media spin this? How many jokes will Canadians make about finishing last? I hope that instead, Canadians take the time to learn about who Svein Tuft is, what he has accomplished, what he stands for, and what an powerful role model he is for our young cyclists.

I ask how many Canadians have ever finished the Tour, drug-free?

Svein Tuft is a strong, courageous man who makes me feel proud to be a Canadian.

Athletes like Svein Tuft that have earned our respect and our support.  We can learn a great deal from his character and his courage.

Update: Svein Tuft’s post-Tour interview with Canadian Cyclist: http://www.canadiancyclist.com/dailynews.php?id=26172