Saturday, January 07, 2012

So What Kind of Citizenry Are We Aiming For???

I feel grinchy, but more and more these days, it feels like we're trying to raise a nation of citizens suited best for hand-to-hand combat, or plowing fields without machinery, or running the Pony Express without the ponies.  I don't know the numbers, but it seems like even our colleges and universities are more likely to award "scholarships" based on athletic ability than on scholastic ability.  Really, folks, let's call these "athletiships" and at least be honest about it.

In our local paper (and in most local papers that I've seen), the sports section is at least as large as the national and international news, if not larger.  Tyler Teenager, awarded a minor football scholarship to a junior college, gets a huge photo and more inches of column space than some major national piece of legislation that will effect our lives for decades.  The public school systems rush to cancel arts and music programs when times get tough, but they sure don't seem to consider sports programs for any meaningful cuts.

I understand that sports are fun.  I understand that some kids do much better at sports than at academics.  I understand that parents and community members like to socialize at sports' events and cheer their kids on. That said, school is supposed to prepare us for adult life, and I just don't see sports programs preparing today's students for much of anything but Sunday quarterbacking.

Seriously, in today's world the ability to catch a football or jump hurdles or wrestle an opponent to the ground and pin them DOESN'T TRANSLATE TO FUNCTIONAL ADULT SKILLS that will put food on the table, buy a house, or help a citizen decide which candidate is helping make our country stronger and which candidate is giving away the farm.  It's these latter skills that the public school system is supposed to be helping our children be able to perform.

We're not going to do anything but spiral further down in the world economy when our community focus is more on training our children's bodies than on training our children's minds.

Personally, I think it's time to take all sports out of public schools and make them community intramural programs, funded by those who choose to participate.  If the local taxpayers want to subsidize part of the expense or give "athletiships" to underprivileged kids, that's great.  Otherwise, let's separate competitive sports from education and make realistic choices about where our money should be going.

Our schools need to return to being focused on academics, rounded out by basic gym classes, music classes, and art classes.  Homework should not be dependent on whether the kids are tired because of sports' practice, but rather on the practice needed to learn the material deemed necessary.  Standardized tests need to be minimized - a once a year per grade level, nationwide exam should be sufficient.  (The key is that the community needs to be aware of the results, especially the trend of the results, and put pressure on the school board accordingly.)  Results of standardized tests should be normed in some way, based on the number of special ed students that a school district is servicing who take the exams.   A child with an IQ of 70 is not going to be able to function on a standardized exam at the same level as a child with an IQ within normal range, no matter how much extra tutoring or special teaching he/she receives.  A school should not be penalized for serving a higher than normal proportion of children with lower academic "hardwiring."

It may be appropriate to award different levels of graduation certificates, ranging from whether a student showed up regularly and tried diligently to those that excelled in various ways.  There are many jobs where simply showing up and performing reliably is more important than being able to memorize a periodic table.    Employers might have a better chance of hiring suitable employees if they had a better way to evaluate their work ethic in this manner.

Let's be innovative and start teaching job skills at the high school level too.  For those who are geniuses with their hands, in mechanical or artistic ways, for example, let's offer appropriate baseline education in those fields.  All of us would do well with some basic mechanical knowledge, no matter what field we end up entering, just like those who become electricians or airline mechanics will benefit from basic history lessons as well.  Graduation certifications could be tailored to show competency or excellence in those specific areas.  Again, employers would reap the benefits of reliable information about the skills their entry-level employees were bringing to the table.

What initiated my rant tonight?  The article in The Wichita Eagle on Friday about more than 15,000 K-State fans showing up in Arlington, Texas, for a rally the night before the Cotton Bowl.  Now some of those may, admittedly, be K-State fans from the Dallas area - but I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of those are fans from Kansas who left their jobs, traveled to Dallas, stayed in hotels, and attended the Cotton Bowl.  No wonder kids think that sports are more important than academics!  Can you imagine any other sort of event - a job fair, an academic competition, a cultural event - that would draw that sort of enthusiastic, committed turn-out?  I'd be willing to bet that, for many "citizens," sports are more important than voting or political knowledge or community involvement or most other things that keep our country running, let alone academics.  And we wonder why our country is beginning to fall behind and spiral down economically?

I said I was feeling grinchy.  I know that the Cotton Bowl was a special time for K-State fans to have a good time, watch their team participate in a national event, and take a small break from their routine.  But my point remains:  this should have been an abnormal break, while the main focus in the day-to-day grind should be the important stuff.  The stuff that helps our lives improve from year to year.  Let's quit playing and start getting back to the real world, people.


Benjamin Vogt said...

I've taught at Ohio State and Nebraska, and the culture is GOD, for sure. I love how the English building hasn't been revamped since 1960, but the football stadiu, gets bigger, has new workout rooms, new indoor field, etc. And I bet my students wished they got kickbacks from boosters, like, uh, Poe or Hemmingway or Bishop. Yup.

Melanie said...

As a mom of 3 kids in school right now. .I would say that you are pretty correct in your rant!! Unbelievably, is that parents start hauling their kids to peewee sports in the 3rd grade!! The gas money and time involved for them (whether they can afford it or not) is phenomenal. .all for the sake of "being tired of watching the teams lose?!?" There are good lessons in sports. .like how to be a gracious winner. .and how to be a good loser. .and how to be a team member. .but it pretty well ends there. .More students will go on to participate in church choirs than will participate in after college sports. This generation of young folks will be very interesting to watch as adults. .or scary. .whichever your choice of words might be!! Thought-provoking post for sure!!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks for weighing in, Benjamin and Melanie. If "the enemy" had taken away our academic rigorousness and forced us to focus on sports, we would have rebelled en masse. Sometimes we are truly our own worst enemy.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I find it interesting that as our culture focuses on competitive sports (I cannot believe the expense, time, etc. some parents go to for all the "outside of school" sports either.); we as a nation are seeing obesity numbers rise. I did not like PE in school. I had a coach for the teacher. She considered our class more practice time for her teams which I was not a member of. Seems we need a lot more focus on health and wellness and less on winning.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Sherlock, you are exactly right, in my opinion. I think it would be good to have gym class teach and encourage the types of activities that most people can do throughout their lives to maintain their fitness: walking, jogging, weight lifting, maybe some forms of dancing, yoga, tai chi, and the types of games that are likely to be played at company picnics or family reunions. Basic nutrition would be good in gym class too.

teresa said...

uh-oh I'm the bad guy to be. Sports did not become popular by demonizing art, music, literature, etc. I agree that sports in schools is out of control, but you will make 0 headway by trying to end it. Instead we need to find a way to encourage students to ask for art, participate in music, get excited for literature. That will depend on parents and teachers. If our district had 30 more students asking to take art classes next fall, that would bring attention to the program. If 30 more students enrolled in band the same thing will happen. Demand for something is more successful than demand against something.

Most college sports programs have their own fund. The scholarships being offered are paid for out of those funds. Again, they are not scholarships taken away from academics. The real question is why aren't those with the money doing the same for academics? When was the last time anyone went to bat in high school for an average student? Jocks, yes. Special ed, yes. Gifted, yes. Everyone

I absolutely HATE the idea of different types of graduation certificates. A 17 year old is already labeled enough, they don't need another one. That same student doesn't need to be told they deserve college because they got good grades anymore than the kid with "mechanical skills" needs to led off to vo-tech. Both should have the option of attending which one they want and can pay for.

Parents of small children need to step up. School board meetings need to be attended by them. Know what is being taught, refuse to be pushed aside.

One last rant...get computers the hell out of the classroom. Our district is neck deep in them and by high school they are nothing but tools to avoid teaching. Our middle and high school teachers use them to give tests, grade the tests and print off today's idea of handouts. Very very little teaching is done in the classroom these days. Our schools are failing our kids. It's an entire list of reasons, not just one.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Teresa, I'm so glad that you entered the discussion!

You are exactly right in stating that the parents are the ones primarily behind the sports issue. Without parents putting an emphasis on something besides sports, that's what the primary focus of school years will be for many (if not most) students. Fun for Mom and Dad and kids, but not productive for the kiddos getting a job or, truly, being successful in life.

I don't know that I agree with you about demand equaling access, specifically to music and art. I've seen too many art and music programs closed while sports haven't been touched at the high school (and sometimes middle school) level. That's not because there are no students interested in taking them; it's because they're a pretty easy target for budget cuts.

Setting aside different types of diplomas, what do you think about the idea of an "attendance certification"?

As far as kids being "forced" into one type of diploma or another - I'm trying to come up with different options for different kids. Not everyone wants to go to college, but that doesn't mean they should be relegated to flipping burgers either. We desperately need to figure out a way to better serve students with good work ethics and skills, but not typical "book style" learning - some option besides going off to join the military, that is.

I'm not sure that computers need to be totally out of the classroom, but they are a tool, not an education in and of themselves. Having computers available is no excuse for not teaching any more. (And, yes, there are WAY too many of them and there is WAY too much emphasis on them in your schools.) Why are we Americans so willing to put out money for hardware, but so resentful of spending money on teachers who can inspire our kids?

I don't feel like I'm being particularly eloquent or cogent here. Sorry. It's late and my mind is rather mushy right now. It's good to have you join in, though!