No Contest

The Case Against Competition

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986 / 1992)

No Contest - Alfie Kohn

No Contest, which has been stirring up controversy since its publication in 1986, stands as the definitive critique of competition. Drawing from hundreds of studies, Alfie Kohn eloquently argues that our struggle to defeat each other — at work, at school, at play, and at home — turns all of us into losers.

Contrary to the myths with which we have been raised, Kohn shows that competition is not an inevitable part of “human nature.” It does not motivate us to do our best (in fact, the reason our workplaces and schools are in trouble is that they value competitiveness instead of excellence.) Rather than building character, competition sabotages self-esteem and ruins relationships. It even warps recreation by turning the playing field into a battlefield.

No Contest makes a powerful case that “healthy competition” is a contradiction in terms. Because any win/lose arrangement is undesirable, we will have to restructure our institutions for the benefit of ourselves, our children, and our society. For this [1992] revised edition, Kohn adds a comprehensive account of how students can learn more effectively by working cooperatively in the classroom instead of struggling to be Number One. He also offers a pointed and personal afterword, assessing shifts in American thinking on competition and describing reactions to his provocative message.

Table of Contents

1 The “Number One” Obsession
2 Is Competition Inevitable?:  The Human Nature Myth
3 Is Competition More Productive?: The Rewards of Working Together
4 Is Competition More Enjoyable?: On Sports, Play, and Fun
5 Does Competition Build Character?: Psychological Considerations
6 Against Each Other:  Interpersonal Considerations
7 The Logic of Playing Dirty
8 Women and Competition
9 Beyond Competition: Thoughts on Making Change
10 Learning Together

What people are saying

“Alfie Kohn marshals the evidence that [competition] is not the mainspring of achievement in industry, the arts, education, or games.”

— Dr. Benjamin Spock

 “We have been in prison from wrong teaching.  By perceiving that cooperation is the answer, not competition, Alfie Kohn opens a new world of living.  I am deeply indebted to him.”

— W. Edwards Deming

 “Alfie Kohn’s critique of the role of competition in our society is a really impressive piece of work.  Challenging and thoughtful, it reaches to the heart of many problems of our social life and the ideology that constrains and distorts it.”

‑‑ Noam Chomsky

“Well‑researched and sound, No Contest exposes erroneous assumptions about the inevitability and value of competition.  This book…deserves our attention.”

‑‑ Carl Rogers

“Superbly researched, lucidly written.”

— Los Angeles Times

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