|picture from Evelien Heijselaar, from article posted on The Queen's Journal|
If you have been following any of the sports hysteria that has swallowed our country, maybe you have had a chance to read about Cam Newton (Auburn's current quarterback) and the Sports Illustrated article by former agent Josh Luchs. As a parent of a ninth grader and someone who is highly influenced by media and commercials, he and I have many interesting conversations about the influence the sports has on our culture. When looking at how much Jordan gear he has amassed or seeing him browsing Bauer's hockey site for the latest and greatest gear, you realize just how much our sports culture translates to making money.
There is a lot of controversy around the amateur status of college athletes. Personally, as much as universities are making off of these "athlete students," I think athletes should be paid. If we start paying college athletes, this is only going to further corrupt high school programs. Our culture has gone sports crazy. It is funny how sports controversies like this, much like steroids in baseball, eventually have these revelations that we all knew were taking place the whole time... Why? because they are apart of the culture of American athletics.
What am I getting at? We need to get sports programs out of high schools. I am not saying get rid of sports, I am saying, they need to be pushed into a community program. Reading this old Minnesota Public Radio story "Are High School Sports a Luxury?" I want to answer a couple of the common objections:
- Argument - High schools sports are a part of the community fabric. This may be true, but this does not mean that sports could be run on a community level. If community pride can only be developed by sports in the town, your community has a much bigger problem on its hands. In the Twin Cities, were I reside, the recruiting and student transfers has gotten out of control. What sense of a community is there when students continue to switch schools who never grew up in that area? Have a community run program would more locally focus activities, which in turn, would actually inspire community & neighborhood pride. Rural schools often consolidate for athletic reasons, which is really about consolidation about trying to create better sports teams.
- Argument - High school sports teaches students good lessons outside of the classroom. While I don't disagree with this, I also think that having high schools and athletics tied so closely together has a major effect on school culture. Top athletes are the top of the social ladder in our schools. This begins to reinforce the perception that being an athlete trumps developing both personal and academic skills of this developing youth. Schools often say they won't "be parents" for youth, yet they have no trouble helping and insisting that athletes continue to develop their athletic skills. If schools don't have a problems developing athletes, why then should they not be responsible for developing the "whole child" of all students?"
- Argument - Eliminating high school athletics (although I don't want to eliminate, but rather get them into a different sector) would have an impact on student fitness. I disagree with this claim as well. Such a small percentage of students, especially at the larger schools, have a chance to participate. If we took a more intermural approach, which would be better run in a community program, more students would get to participate. This would be better worth the money being spent. As someone smartly posted on the MPR article referenced above, schools cannot complain about funding and then go and build new sports stadiums with the latest scoreboard technology. Seems a bit of a contradiction or at the very least, misplaced priorities. I would still personally like to see how much of per pupil funding goes towards athletics. Since we are talking about public schools, if you look at the budget, you should be able to ascertain this information.
- Argument - High School sports generate money for school districts. This is in fact true, but the money generated is much higher in affluent districts, like the suburbs. The suburbs already have a built in advantage money wise, since schools are funded in MN using property tax (higher value properties means more funding). Again, a community organization could use the revenue generated by these sporting events to fund itself as a nonprofit.
These are a few of the arguments that I feel could be dispelled or remedied. The bottom line is, students should not be choosing a school based on on athletics. If a kid wants to go to a school that doesn't offer sports, they should still be able to participate, since their parents pay taxes. Schools should focus on child development and improving student academic skills, rather than be mall schools, trying to amass state championships (i.e. Eden Prairie). This does not serve students well, whether they are athletes or not.
Lastly, which will assuredly be unpopular, teachers should not go into teaching to be a coach. While I know that there are coaches who do amazing things with students, teaching life lessons beyond the field or court, teachers need to be hired outside of considering what sports they coach. I cannot be any more blunt than that. I am generalizing, but some high school coaches need to take a stab at existing outside of the high school environment and live in the real world. Adults should not try to continue to exist in this realm of high school athletics forever, just because they were a good athlete. Unless a coach is there to make the athletes he/she is coaching better people holistically, they should hang it up. Winning championships should not be the focus of high school athletics.
While I am not naive to think that the possibility of athletics leaving high schools will happen anytime soon (since the MN State High School League would cry "murder"), I think that economics is going to require us to come up with creative solutions. Many communities would be better served planning for how they can move sports into a community run program now, rather than having to make the decision of "what to cut" in the near future. These cuts are rarely equitable and "what's best for the community."
I welcome your comments, in a respectful way. I am personally trying to throw "crazy ideas" out there more hoping to spark some discussion and thought on education. The way things have always been is not serving our students or our communities well. I am looking for equitable solutions, rather than to continue to use public dollars to fund disparity among our youth.
I leave you with this... If parents/teachers/community members spent even half as much time developing a passion for learning in kids, as they do in developing kids to be athletes (in which only .03% go on to play pro-basketball), maybe we would actually have better communities...
What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave comments.