Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learning Priorities

My son works with the youth group at his church outside Houston, and mentioned that some highschool players are indeed told by their coaches that football should be considered more important, and the higher commitment, than their class work. This seems appalling in our subculture; shameful, even. Certainly, it is damaging to teach children such things. Football is transitory, learning is forever. A coach whose priorities were out of whack might think such a thing, but even he would never say it. There are pieties to be observed.

I do like to reverse things and ask if they are really true, however. In my own case, I arrogantly did little class work in highschool, rather sneering that doing well on the test was sufficient. People must have said that there were other lessons that came from homework, studying, and the other boring parts, but I would have waved this off. Yet they were right. There are other lessons, and I didn’t learn them. What discipline I learned came from the performing arts and part-time jobs. A sport taken seriously might have done me good. Benjamin Spock claimed that getting up early to row crew, whether sick or well, in fair weather or foul, developed his character more than any class. “Crew made me.”

Especially now, as we wonder how efficiently our schools are teaching academic content*, we should look also at how well it teaches the other virtues one will need as an adult: showing up, completing tasks, duty to others, pursuit of excellence, finding alternative methods, keeping your temper. Sports do teach some of those things. So do Destination Imagination, building a stage set, and playing in orchestra.

Break it down to crisis, but not apocalypse terms. Civilization collapses temporarily. We have all these kids to instruct, we have some buildings but little money, and a functioning technological culture – not a subsistence agriculture society from massive destruction - we need to rebuild. All educational statutes at every level are now disregarded, for good or ill. What do we teach, and who does it? I don’t think football is rising to the top, but I’m pretty sure school classrooms look pretty different as well.

*Better than ever, contra conservative criticism. Yet still not very well.

6 comments:

james said...

I'm not sure about the "better than ever." Geometry is less rigorous, and there seems to be much less writing than when I was in high school.

But, I think it was Twain said that he never let his schooling get in the way of his education. For a long time the education of European nobility featured dance as an important component. (I guess poise is important if you want to convey the impression that you are superior to the rabble.) And there was the Grand Tour that was popular for so long.
Or there's XKCD's observation.

Texan99 said...

Charles Murray claims that we're doing somewhat better for the average student but shortchanging the ablest ones.

I'd like to see students learning lessons about commitment, perserverance, and duty, and sports are one of the good places to learn them. I'd prefer a coach to tell them they've got to choose between a commitment to his sport or getting off the team altogether. It's up to them to figure out whether they can keep up with their studies while continuing their commitment to the sport, no excuses. But if they can't do both, it's the sports they should quit, not the classes. A coach that says otherwise is just myopic.

The same goes for the athlete's duty to be a good son, husband, father, or citizen. Being a football star doesn't excuse him from these duties, but his team has a right to expect him to fish or cut bait if the conflict is intolerable.

Wyman said...

I was talking to someone today, and they told me that all the coaches at these schools say that, even the coaches for the highsteppers. I think your argument would start to fall apart a little if you applied it to highstepping.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

What's high-stepping? Like, band?

jaed said...

People must have said that there were other lessons that came from homework, studying, and the other boring parts, but I would have waved this off. Yet they were right. There are other lessons, and I didn’t learn them. What discipline I learned came from the performing arts and part-time jobs.

Perhaps because those were the areas that actually required discipline. I'd guess you were one of those who didn't see the point of studying because the material wasn't challenging enough to require it.

Imagine if high-school football were played the way academic subjects are commonly taught, in a way that poses no challenge at all to the top N%. Why practice when you can get the highest possible score without it, and when every cue you get about your performance says it's at peak even if all you do is show up for games? That N% wouldn't learn discipline from sports either.

Gringo said...

To a degree, sports can enhance academics, as they enable a student to let off steam and settle down to study. Running and soccer were an integral part in my getting through an engineering course which required 60+ hours of study a week.

But there is a difference in spending an hour a day, and the 4+ hours a day that a lot of big time college athletes spend on sports. This would apply to high school also.

My senior year in high school an experienced history teacher new to the school took over the duties of coaching the track team. Some seniors on the track team chose to go with their English classes to an out of down (Shakespeare?) play on the day there was a track meet.

The track coach kicked them off the team.

This was an academically high achieving school which except for basketball, did well in sports. The track coach had some difficulty in adjusting to the ambience at the school. He didn't remain a track coach long. [but as he got minimal extra money for the extra time, one can't blame him]