[Note: This is the third in a series of commentaries on understanding and reforming education. In the last commentary, I suggested that the model of sports competition necessarily creates losers because it creates winners. The point of this one is that sports may give us the clue to reforming education to create success for all students.]

Digging deeper into the sports analogy, my thoughts came to the game of golf, which I like.

It turns out that the competition in golf doesn’t come from an opponent who is trying to stop you. In this sport, you are your only opponent! You are really only playing against yourself.

However, is that totally true? It seems that the “business” of golf took over. The insidiousness of money crept into the picture. “Money golf” created tournaments!

Tournaments certainly create winners and losers. Rory McIlroy won last year’s FedEx Cup championship, earning $18 million in the process.

Does that mean everybody else in the tournament was a loser? Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im tied for second, winning “only” $5.75 million each. What losers! 

Did their wives or partners think they were losers? No, they were probably saying, “Holy …. $5.7 million! Honey, I love you!”

On the other hand, they also could have said, “You idiot! You just lost us $12.25 million! You should have tried harder!”

What about the player who came in last, 30th, in the 30-man competition — Will Zalatoris? He only won a half-million dollars. He should have stayed home!

Since I have gotten into this, I want to share a side point: the secret of golf. It is also the secret of life. It is to constantly answer the challenge: How soon can you give up the past and live in the present?

Anyhow, back to the main point: Did Scheffler, Sungjae and the others think they were losers? Of course not. Were they disappointed? Of course, yes. But, if you asked them, “Did you play the best you could?” their answer would be “yes.”

They tried their best on every single shot, and when you look at the results, somebody else just did a little better than them. Success means doing the best you can and continuing on in the game. School should be like that.

In competitive team sports, it’s the same thing. Even if a team loses, you can also ask each team member: Did you do your best? It seems impossible that someone would say, “No, I didn’t do my best today.”

On some days, of course, we aren’t at our best physically, mentally or psychologically. However, good players and good teams don’t dwell on that. They did their best, given whatever their circumstances were at the time. If it wasn’t good enough — or even if it was — they use the opportunity to examine: “How can I, we, do better next time?”

When we do poorly, we finish by looking ahead: What do we do for the next game? So, you can be a winner every game, even though you don’t win every game.

This gives us some insight into how schools should operate. Just as a coach with a good athlete, we would take time with students to have them observe what is happening or what happened — on a test, for instance. And then, look at where they want to go next.

My theory is that if somebody gets an “F” on a test, but they understand why after they review it, they should get and “A”!

The purpose of a test is to come to understand what you know and what you don’t. If you understand that, it gives you a direction for moving forward. You now get an “A”!

School should be a simple, guided self-evaluation, over and over, on and on. Just as we adults do — or should be doing.

Teacher aides, or even other students, can be of great help in test-grading and review. Along that line, I have always been interested in relieving the burden we put on teachers.

Make it part of the instruction to have the students “correct” each other’s tests, perhaps in small groups. Many do this already.

If students understand what they got wrong and why, they should then get an “A.” They learned! Do grades exist to serve students or to serve the needs of the educational-industrial complex?

To summarize, learning is not about learning “stuff,” about memorizing. It is learning about learning. It is about engaging in our own curiosity, desire to know, to find out things for ourselves, to self-correct when we are wrong, and to move forward in the direction we want to move forward in.

Good athletes do that. That is a model that good education should follow.

Frank Sanitate is a Santa Barbara author of three books: Don’t Go to Work Unless It’s Fun, Beyond Organized Religion and Money - Vital Unasked Questions and the Critical Answers Everyone Needs. He was a monk and high school English teacher before starting a successful seminar business. Over his 40-year career, he presented seminars throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. He can be reached at franksanitate@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.