These Contests usually provide only superficial learning to those who compete and are, moreover, prejudicial to the good order and running of the school.
First of all, we maintain that these Contests produce only superficial learning in those chosen to compete for the prizes. The proof of this is easy to establish.
It would be an imposition to seek to persuade you that all from the total number of students chosen to compete for prizes in these Contests make great progress in every aspect of our teaching. No, ordinarily a child who has the appropriate talent for writing, for example, will be carefully coached, and in order to commit him to be honored for this talent and not to distract or discourage him, he will not have to be concerned about anything else. He will be left to follow his natural attraction, quite happy if he can develop an outstanding handwriting. That, broadly speaking, will be the whole value of this student.
Another student, if blessed with a retentive memory, will be entrusted with such activities as will show it off, for example, speeches, acting certain roles, dialogues, and word-for-word recitations from the catechism.
Someone who shows the appropriate talent or disposition will be channeled to define the principal operations of arithmetic, to answer questions put to him about these, and also to explain selected rules of French grammar. Finally, there are others who cannot succeed in any of the above but whom the Teachers wish to associate with the Chosen Ones. They will be formed exclusively to read well. These, in brief, are the results ordinarily obtained by the Teachers and students who dedicate themselves for a good part of the year in order to be publicly honored through Contests for the progress they have made.
It is therefore very rare that this progress is extended to all aspects of teaching for each of the chosen students, because, as we have already observed, each one is concerned almost exclusively with the part that favors his personal taste and in which he can best succeed. Thus one student will know how to write but know little or nothing about spelling or arithmetic, and so on. Another, who knows how to calculate, will understand nothing of the catechism or of what he should know about other matters, because he never has any practice. As a general rule, then, the instruction of those destined to compete for prizes is nothing other than superficial.
If there are Teachers who, as they should, require the students who are destined to compete for prizes to make progress in all areas, or at least in the most important components of our teaching, this attention of the Teachers, praiseworthy as it is, far from eliminating the abuse, only multiplies it in certain aspects. The more things that are demanded of the students, the more necessary it is to give time and special care both to support their concentration and to help them to advance. But in order to be able to obtain these advantages, the Teachers believe themselves justified in modifying, changing, or even overturning the schools curriculum in their regard, so that while the ordinary students are directed to follow what is prescribed for each hour of the class, those in the privileged group, at the expense of the order and discipline so wisely set out in The Conduct of the Christian Schools8 so as to maintain a uniformity of teaching among the Brothers, do whatever most pleases them to make up for what is lacking in the section in which it is proposed they are to shine.
Besides overturning order, how much care and embarrassment this situation brings for the Teachers! On the one hand, they are not unaware that their attention should be given to all the students; on the other hand, they feel that those who are concerned with matters foreign to the common lessons need their special help. Whose side will they take? The very idea of Teachers being placed in this situation between duty and the urge to make the contestants shine proves the abuse of the Contests themselves. There are even more questions concerning the students who are destined to act out some role during the Contests. Are they even ready and in a state to appear on stage with distinction? How much anxiety is there not on the part of the Teachers that these chosen contestants will abandon their part! But in order to encourage them to persevere in this glorious career, how much freedom will they not be allowed! All their shortcomings are tolerated; their most serious faults are covered over; the Teachers even become slaves to their whims. The other students grumble because what was never allowed to them is condoned with these others. They are not listened to because the others are needed; they must be in the Contests to uphold the honor of the class in public. Furthermore, the privileged students make fun of those who cannot be included among their ranks; they are proud of their advantages over them and look down on them. Because of this, there arise petty dislikes and reciprocal insults and attacks. Can these common faults among children be effectively reproved by the Teachers? Is it easy to recognize the authors of such disorders when they occur? Who dares accuse students who have been protected with impunity regarding their faults?
It is quite obvious by everything that has been said that these Contests are harmful to the order and general discipline of the school. Our preceding reflections with regard to the students have shown that these abuses have very many unfortunate consequences over the pretended advantages they may produce.