I attended a really interesting information session Friday about an extra-curricular programme. The pitch, as I understood it, was: Math helps brain development, so sign your child up for more math. (Just to be clear, in this case extra-curricular means a class outside of school that you pay for monthly, not a club you go to during lunch rather than playing "Orange Crush.") One thing that stunned me: Part of the sales pitch is that this particular math curriculum has a competitive element. Our presenter straight out said that we all know how hard it is to reach the top of any profession right now, and it is tough times for anyone not at the top. So besides the benefits of increased brain development, learning to compete to win at math will help develop that killer instinct in our kids. Then they'll win at life. (We've got more on helping boys, in particular, succeed in school.) At that point I had to look around as if I were listening to Fifty Shades of Grey at a potluck. I'm Canadian. Are we allowed to be talking about killer instincts if we're not in a hockey rink? Or to be saying flat-out that our kids may have a tough time succeeding if they don't get a competitive edge? What happened to the level playing field? You know...I'm pretty sure my parents were confident that if I did well in school and went to university I would be okay. And "okay" was good enough for them for the most part. And they were not completely wrong, but I don't feel like that is good enough any more. If that fear's correct -- what do we do next? On the one hand, I believe kids should be kids and we should give them down time and trust in their abilities to learn and grow and develop within the context of a caring and connected family. And there should be a way to get, if not to the top, at least far enough along in a cooperative manner. I probably listened to Free to Be You and Me too many times as a hippie child, but killer instinct seems harsh for the under-10 set. On the other hand, I myself like to succeed, which often does mean beating the competition. Given that there is competition, I do want to make sure my child has the experiences he needs now to develop that competitive muscle. How to win, how to lose -- how to prepare in advance and beat the pants off everyone else from time to time. Free to Be You and Me did not have songs about off-shoring the knowledge economy, nor has it ever helped me negotiate a better salary. I'm pretty sure I know what our family's decision will be about this particular activity. But I would love to know what you think about how parents should set their kids up for success.