Sports and Schooling – What is our Priority?


What do you think of sports in school? The Atlantic recently ran an article about this very topic.


OCTOBER 2013 The Case Against High-School Sports (click here to see the article)
The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student—unlike most countries worldwide. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings?
I played sports in high school. I loved basketball, even though my free throw percentage never got above 20%.  I was a member of the track team in high school and college and valued the lessons and experiences I had. I worked as hard as I could, I learned to handle failure, I learned about the value of hard work, and I learned to work well with others. I see all of the benefits of team sports and the lessons that we learn. But, I also see that only a few actually have the opportunity to participate in sports, and it is often the children who already have supportive parents who can dedicate the time and energy to high school sports.
With so many schools struggling academically and financially, are athletics the best way to spend money? Even in schools that aren’t struggling, should the hero’s of the school be the athletes? What would I do if I ran my own school district and had limitless funds?
I’m glad you asked! This is my dream. I would create a mandatory sports program in my school district. Each school would field three teams with an even distribution of talent. Every child would participate in some form. We would pick one team sport that emphasized cardiovascular health, hand-eye coordination, and teamwork. I think soccer might be our best bet but I have soft spot in my heart for basketball. Children would spend mornings learning traditional subjects with their fabulous teachers. Every afternoon, there would be one hour of practice and conditioning in the sport. Teachers would be required to participate as well, of course. I pick the afternoon because that is often when children start to get tired and bored. Getting up and active should help that!
Teams would practice together learning individual skills and team skills. Mentoring programs would be set up to benefit those who struggle. Strategy and play-making would be handled partly by the team, and the analytical and logistical skills would be valued as much as athletic skills.  Points would be awarded to members. You could earn points for working hard, improvement, play-making, coaching, logistics and preparation (such as preparing the field, organizing uniforms, setting up tournament brackets, etc.) Points would also be awarded for winning a game. Then, there would be a competitive tournament with clear winners! At the end, all points would be totaled with a winning team and winning individuals. While athletic prowess would be important, hard work, effort, and smarts would be just as valuable.
After our hour of sport, children would return to their classrooms for reading and homework. It’s my school, so homework would be done in school and not taken home. Children could tutor each other and teachers would be available for assistance. Half the time would be taken in practicing what had been learned in the morning and half of the time would be spent extending earlier lessons. Children would be able to pick, so if they just learned about the civil war, for instance, they might be interested in learning more about Abraham Lincoln. This would be the time to do that.
Then, children would be sent home with a one page print-out of skills, concepts, and ideas learned and practiced that idea. There would be a list of two or three “discussion points” and two or three “extension ideas.” These wouldn’t be mandatory, but they would be discussion points for the family to use during dinner. For example, “I understand you are reading and discussing Martin Luther King, Jr., in class. What would be some of your dreams for the future of our country?” An example for the class extensions would be this: “I hear you are learning measurement. That’s great, can you help me make this cake for your Dad’s birthday? I could use some measurement help.”
I know, it is so easy to come up with ideas about an ideal world if you don’t actually have to live it. I actually think schools are doing a great job right now. They work with a diverse group of kids coming from diverse family environments. Almost every teacher I have met or worked with has been dedicated, intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working. Principals do their best to help every child and to balance academics and athletics and other interest groups to best serve all the children. I’m not criticizing anyone. I’m just dreaming.

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