What’s the Educative Effect of High School Sports?

If my neighbors read this ESPN Grantland story about the scientist doing most of the brain research on deceased professional football players, boxers, other athletes, and war veterans, would they allow their sons to play football this fall?

Based on what dermatologists know now, my parents shouldn’t have let me play outside all summer without any protection from the sun. Burn. Peel. Repeat. Skin cancer.

Are public high school principals and athletic directors explaining the research findings to student-athelte parents so they can make informed choices about their children’s long-term health? No. Because if schools did think of football as a public safety issue, like absestos riddled buildings, and were on top of the research, they’d have a very hard time justifying fielding football teams at all.

Many citizens, like global warming skeptics who don’t want to change their lifestyles, will refute the research without carefully considering it. Culturally, there’s too much at stake. Exhibit A. This new $60m Texas high school stadium that seats 18,500. Friday Night Lights. Saturday tailgating. Sunday television. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Most athletic directors are also boosters of sorts so I doubt they’re doing much to educate parents about the known risks of playing football. Principals would probably say they have too much on their plates and have to depend upon their A.D.’s. Hence the silence.

Principals get away with saying they have too much to do to oversee sports because we don’t think of the primary mission of schools—to enhance the life prospects of young people—and the primary mission of football as it’s played by most schools—to outscore the opponent as many times as possible for the sake of school spirit and community pride—as having much to do with one another. Coaches focus on the physical, and wins, losses, league standings, and state titles. Educators focus on students’ intellectual and social growth and future life prospects.

Everyone once in awhile a coach comes along with an educator’s mentality. And sometimes educator coached teams experience on-field success even though they don’t have a win-at-all-cost mindset. They think of their sport as a means towards an end, or ends rather, including the building of character, an insistence on integrity and fair play, and appreciation for teamwork. These coaches are beloved because they have perspective and are far and few between. They think of themselves as educators first, they manage their frustration, and they’re preoccupied with what type of citizens their teen-age athletes will be at age 26 or 36.

Instead of being integral to a school’s mission, high school football is almost always thought of as an add-on. A high status add-on that escapes critical inquiry. Given what we’re learning about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it’s time that changes.

The newest Texas high school stadium. Deadspin, “It looks like a gorgeous place to watch boys’ lives peak before they’re old enough to vote.”


Grade Fog

New and improved.

Props to Tyre for clearly posing the question. “Should students be rewarded for being friendly, prepared, compliant, a good school citizen, well organized, and hard-working? Or should grades represent exclusively a student’s mastery of the material?”

The buzzword is “standards-based grading”.

The better question is whether grades should represent exclusively a student’s mastery of the material or whether more subjective variables such as their attitude, citizenship, and effort should also be taken into consideration.

It’s hard to disagree with the standards-based graders assertion that assessment must rest primarily on mastery of course material. I want master pilots, plumbers, surgeons, and bridge builders. The question though is how far down that road to travel. For example, inevitably some students can demonstrate mastery of course material without attending class at all so why not eliminate compulsory attendance laws?

Related to that, why require athletes to attend practice, or musicians and actors to attend rehearsals if they are gamers who inevitably rise to the occasion once the race begins or curtain goes up? In actuality, the advocates are arguing for “standards-based grading lite”.

Also, everyone of us knows a litany of really smart people who never fulfill their personal or work-life potential because their flawed interpersonal skills and/or anemic work ethic.

Returning to my extracurricular references. Obviously athletes on a swim relay team, musicians in an orchestra, and actors in a drama troupe have to work together to achieve success. Just as it’s preposterous to think about a basketball player showing up at a game and trying to run a complicated offense or an actor showing up on opening night and having the necessary timing down, most students are going to take jobs that require them to be team members.

The standard grade-basers are arguing that as long as the student has the necessary knowledge in her head, she’s good to go. But is she?

Let’s start with the necessary knowledge, but not end there. I’m down with factoring in everything in Tyre’s opening list except “compliance” which is antithetical to independent, critical thinking upon which a meaningful education is built.

School-based teacher teams should identify important dispositions and interpersonal skills and then assess them in and outside of classrooms. Self-assessment should play an integral role. No doubt narrative will prove more useful than traditional letter grades.