Friday, May 23, 2008

Sports as Distraction

Yesterday, I said interscholastic sports ate up a lot of money that could be used for actual education and that they did not serve a valid educational purpose (or at the least, not a very cost effective one).

Today, I'll look at the first of three reasons school boards ought to consider dumping them altogether from our school budgets.  First, a disclaimer.  I was a high school athlete.  I lettered in wrestling.  My brother lettered in track, cross country and wrestling -- and he went to state.  I enjoyed those sports as far as they went.

But would my school experience have been better without them?  Hard to say.  After I graduated from high school, I was lucky enough to go to Germany as an exchange student.  Yes, it was in a high school, but Germany at the time had thirteen years of high school, so it worked out fine.  

I noticed three things right away about German schools*.  First, they go from 7th grade through 13th grade.  Second, I noticed the teachers were called "Professor" and accorded much higher respect than in our country.  I found out they also only taught about two classes a day.  Third, I noticed there were no school sports teams and no "school spirit."  I had a hard time trying to explain school spirit to them.

And yet, their school worked.  In fact, German kids still score much higher than American kids.  Now, I was in those classrooms for a long time and assure you, the quality of teaching was no better there than here.

But, one factor is that they were not distracted by the sports.  They did not have rallies to get the student body pumped up to win the big game.  They did not have cheer leaders running around in short skirts (which as a high school kid I did not mind but did find a bit distracting).  They did not have the jocks parading around in their uniforms on game day, or banners saying "Go Generals!"

By the way, didn't you always hate those jocks?  They were popular, sometimes quite smart but just as often dumb as a brick, and could get away with anything.  In the hierarchy of sports, football players were king followed by baskeball, baseball, and track and field and wrestlers.  But all of us got a pass when it came to getting away with things.

They just went to school.  And I'll tell you, it was a happier, more relaxed bunch of kids at the German school than my old high school.  Now, you could argue that because this was a college-geared school, that other schools would do more poorly and have worse behavior problems.  Wrong.  No matter what level, kids performed better and got along better.  

Do I want us to become just like the German schools?  NO!  We're different, and there are some great things we have.  But I do think we should learn from them (and others), and see where we can make changes that work.  When you think about it, it's not just the Germans who don't have interscholastic sports.  Almost nobody else in the world does.  They have sports clubs that are unaffiliated with the schools.  Let's do that here.

I can't say that eliminating interscholastic sports will turn schools around overnight or that they are the only thing that needs changing. But these are SCHOOLS we're talking about, not sports academies.  Their purpose is to teach, to pass information from one generation to another, to prepare the entire student body to make it in life as adults; and interscholastic sports don't do that.  

About all they really do is get in the way of schools actually doing their jobs.

*German schools at the time were divided into three groups.  Hauptschule, which went from 7th through 9th grade and were for kids who wanted to go into the trades.  After 9th grade, they went into apprenticeships.  Realschule, which went from 7th through 10th and were for kids who chose the skilled professions such as nursing.  After 10th grade they typically went to training institutes.  The Gymnasium, which I attended, was for university-bound students.  There was a forth type which I hear is more common now: Gesamtschule, which incorporates all three into one 7th-12th grade school, much like here.