There’s an article in this month’s Atlantic that anyone interested in childhood education should read. Its provocative title is “The Case Against High School Sports.”
Through several failed attempts to introduce it, I realized just how wide a beam the article casts on American culture and reveals priorities I believe are profoundly out of whack. The author, Amanda Ripley, has been making the publicity rounds with her book The Smartest Kids in the World, which looks at education in different countries as a means of diagnosing our own failing system. I first saw her on the NewsHour discussing the book. The next day I heard her on WAMU talking about the article, which grew out of the findings for the book.Simply put, only in America are sports such a big part of the school experience. Dare we ask why? Dare we ask how schools might be different if we de-emphasized sports a bit? Ripley did dare and not surprisingly, hate mail has been pouring in. School sports are so embedded in our culture that you’d think they’re constitutionally protected. Indeed, comments at the end of the article jump rather quickly to guns and the second amendment.
Since my oldest nephew first put on a pair of cleats, I’ve been very interested in (and increasingly disturbed by) the American obsession with our children and their athletic pursuits. My concern turned to alarm and disbelief about five years ago at an ANC meeting when I was Commissioner for District 3F03.
Residents along Nebraska Avenue across from Wilson HS had asked the ANC to consider the potential impact on their homes of the lights from the new football stadium. It seemed a reasonable question. With little advance information and no warning about controversy, most of the Commission was taken completely by surprise by what ensued.
It was the first and only time in my life that I faced an angry mob and I hope I never will again. They were hostile, unruly and called us very ugly names. Who were they? Dozens of Wilson parents, kids in tow, convinced we opposed the lighted stadium and they weren’t going to stand for it. And so what if the lights glared into the homes of those belly-aching neighbors?
I was rattled and intimidated but at the same time I couldn’t get over how absurd it was. Mature adults dressed in high school sports paraphernalia spewing venom at an advisory commission with no decision-making power. Over football. In front of their kids. In many sports – and yes, I’m a fan – they would have been thrown out for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead, it was a dreadful lesson in civic participation for those kids.
I can’t help but wonder what the state of education in America might be if parents expressed that same outrage over what happens inside the classroom.