Culture

Apples and Footballs

Happy belated World Teachers Day! In case you missed it, World Teachers Day was October 5th. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside contemplating all the good things us teachers are doing well in this world. Then, I read this article and felt…different.

The article, “The Case Against High-School Sports”, by Amanda Ripley from the October Issue of the The Atlantic, discusses the merits, or lackthereof, for having sports as part of American high school education.

A healthy length of the article focuses on the Premont Independent School District in Texas, whose superintendent shut down all sports last year to help manage a financial crisis that had already claimed the closure of the Middle School, the sealing off of all science laboratories, and 8 employees being laid off. Yet, while all this was happening, the district was still able to have football, baseball, basketball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and volleyball teams.

Before sports were cancelled in the Premont District, the cost per football player was $1,300, while only $618 per student was spent on math.

This being small town Texas, where high school football is a way of life similar to the way futbol, or soccer in America, is followed fanatically in countries like Brazil, (so fanatically in fact, just last year a referee stabbed a player to death, and was then beheaded and quartered by angry fans…and they say don’t mess with Texas!) residents in the Premont district were unsure of this change. Many thought this experiment would be a failure.

In fact, as Ripley writes in her article:

…most American principals I [Ripley] spoke with expressed no outrage over the primacy of sports in school. In fact, they fiercely defended it.

There is the common idea that sports can give students certain benefits of learning teamwork, cooperation, positive competitive spirit, etc. But, honestly, what do sports offer that the robotics club can’t?

Ripley also notes many American principals believe school sports offer an outlet for students who are not interested in school. Perhaps by playing sports they realize they must be academically eligible, and hence work harder to keep up their grades. It seems, however, this only causes a student to be interested in sports, and not school.

From preliminary data, howewver, it seems that Premont’s rather rational solution to its budget issues is paying off. According to Ripley’s article:

80 percent of the students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall. About 160 people attended parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before.

Each Monday morning I ask my students about their weekend. The majority of students polled this week spent their weekend at the football game Friday night, homecoming on Saturday night, watching pro and college football all afternoon on Sunday, and cramming homework in late Sunday night.

It’s no wonder they have no idea about gravity. No, seriously. Once I was finished polling my kids about their weekend, they asked about mine. I mentioned I had seen the new space movie Gravity. “Has anybody else seen it?”, I asked. A student shot up his hand and said yes, and then mentioned he thought it should have been called No Gravity (a la NDT), because there is no gravity in space. I laughed, and blurted out, ‘Well of course there is gravity in space!’ Crickets. They had no idea what I was talking about.

My art class then took a detour to briefly discuss orbital mechanics and how Sir Isaac Newton, like Ron Bergundy, is kind of a big deal.

Having just read Amanda Ripley’s article, I was struck by my students ignorance of a basic scientific concept. Perhaps a little less focus on football in their lives could have saved me a science lecture while trying to teach them about the Colosseum (which seems strangely connected considering the above story about Brazil).

As a coach myself, I would happily put down my whistle and focus on the classroom. Our school is very sportscentric, and I can only imagine how this marginalizes students who participate in other activities other than sports. The best way to get students interested in school is not with sports, but with engaging teachers who make learning exciting. After all, we just celebrated World Teachers Day, not World Coaches Day.

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Richard

Richard

Richard teaches art at a Catholic school, and spends most of his days coloring and pretending he is not an atheist. He likes vintage furniture and french bulldogs.

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