SOURCE: Brent Zeller

October 13, 2009 14:10 ET

Students Learn Better in Cooperative Rather Than Competitive Environments: New Book "Evolutionary Education" Proposes Radical Shift in the Education Process and a Paradigm Shift in Human Consciousness

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - October 13, 2009) - Believing that encouraging students to compete with each other before they have achieved proficiency in fundamental skills compromises all aspects of the learning process, Brent Zeller has written a groundbreaking new book that gives a blueprint for a more evolved, cooperative educational model. In "Evolutionary Education: Moving Beyond Our Competitive Compulsion" (WingSpan Press, 2009, ISBN-978-1-59594-309-5, $19.95) the author shows how an alternative, non-competitive system can help students achieve their potential by working together instead of striving to defeat each other.

It is clear that the U.S. education system could use some reform. Stagnation, if not decline, in the United States' education system has been apparent at least since the 1970s, according to Paul E. Peterson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Even our high school graduation rates are lower today than they were a decade ago. In science and math, American students trail those in other advanced democracies and by age 17, their scores on the International Test of Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) trail all but those in a few developing countries.

In "Evolutionary Education," Zeller writes how the competitive system of learning produces negative effects in most students that include decreased motivation, lowered performance levels, diminished enjoyment, higher stress levels, performance anxiety, the tendency to overwork, increased incidences of conflict and cheating, and even higher drop-out rates.

The cooperative, non-competitive approach presented in "Evolutionary Education" allows students to lose fear as a motivator. Without the pressure of competition, a student can better retain knowledge and develop a mental lightness that allows him to enjoy his progress and accomplishments. This non-competitive model produces inner confidence, excellence, innovation, inspiration, peace, love, and joy. "When you're focused, relaxed and joyful simultaneously, peak performance is possible," says Zeller.

As soon as competition is introduced into the learning process, the focus shifts from developing essential skills, to thoughts centered on the fear of losing or the hope of winning. "Competitive learning leads to depression, resignation, feelings of inadequacy and performance anxiety. If competition was a drug, the Food and Drug Administration would ban it for having too many adverse side-effects," says Zeller, who has spent 35 years teaching the highly competitive sport of tennis. Zeller has logged more than 20,000 hours of on-court observations of humans ages 5 to 80 in the learning process. Since he removed competition from his tennis program in 1992 and began teaching in an excellence based, non-competitive learning environment he calls "effortless learning," Zeller has seen his players master the basics more easily and learn to play in the zone of peak performance.

Researchers David and Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota have been studying and teaching cooperative learning techniques since the 1970s and founded the Cooperative Learning Center. In one particularly convincing study, the Johnsons did a meta-analysis reviewing available studies from 1924 to 1980. Sixty-five of the studies found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively, eight found the reverse, and 36 found no significant difference.

Zeller sees applications for this cooperative "effortless learning" model that go beyond education. In the business world, he cites the rise of the Internet and the success of Linux's open source computer operating system.

"Many of the negative societal problems that I see in the world, such as war, poverty, violence, racism, sexism, hunger, and the degradation of the environment, are based on our aggressive, competitive past," says Zeller. "I'd like to see us evolve as a species to higher levels of consciousness towards a new era of cooperation, innovation, inspiration, excellence, peace and joy."

Zeller's tips for achieving mental lightness:

--  Try to recall a time in your life when you felt true joy, and then
    bring it into the learning process.
--  Shift away from focusing on the outcome and focus in the present.
--  Assess your emotional state. Ask yourself: "Does it have to be this
    way? Is this serving me or should I change my outlook." For example, we
    tend to say "I have no patience" or "I get angry easily," but you don't
    have to stay in this mode. You can choose to be in any emotional state you
    want, so why not choose joy?

"Evolutionary Education" is now available at and on and For more information, contact Brent Zeller at (415) 457-9476 or

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