It’s the first day of the 2013 college football season, next week is the first week of the NFL season, and so it is for high school football, too. Every other commercial is a Nike vignette of a high school football practice telling the players to commit totally to their efforts to win. If you’re not giving your all, you’re a loser. And the players buy into it wholeheartedly. Wouldn’t it be great if our schools (and society) celebrated and revered academic performance like it does sports performance, and motivated students to perform academically like we do athletically?
Academic performance is seen as something to drag out of students, while sports performance is inspired. What if we motivated students in their academics just like we did for sports? Instead of making them take onerous standardized tests, they competed against other schools in their districts and state for academic honor and glory – “Bob’s All-State in English.”
We should have serious academic leagues where schools go head to head (literally) against one another in student competitions of math, science, English, history, and social studies, just like football, basketball and baseball, and starting in grade school. And parents should be on the sidelines, cheering on their teams. What if we paid the best elementary, secondary and high school teachers who coached these teams like we paid football and basketball coaches?
The local paper would put the pictures of the best academic players in the paper and describe the games of knowledge – “Brenda Lehman made two amazing saves last night in the algebra competition, countering and then crushing the competition with a stellar display of polynomials.”
When I was in school, I played football, baseball and basketball, and I loved the competition. I rarely got to compete academically. The only real academic competition I ever had was in 7th grade in Coach Clark’s (the junior high football coach) civics class. Each week the entire class would divide up in to two teams, and we would compete in a current events competition. It was spirited, and students seemed to take it seriously – I know I did. Such competitions are what motivate people. Throughout school, I was always secretly proud every time I knew something that someone else didn’t. That’s no different from being proud of making a great catch for a 10 yard gain, or hitting a smooth jump shot.
Competition energizes people to succeed. Obviously, not everyone will compete at the same level. However, we shouldn’t make the academic competitions for the few at the top (think debate team or quiz bowl). Imagine competitions between schools in various disciplines, and at various levels (Varsity, JV, Club, and intramural academic competitions), where school pride and school spirit are based on these academic competitions. Academic games would make learning valued.
But how do we get there in this country of ours, where hitting people until you damage your brain is more valued than using that brain to succeed? Every day I see Nike commercials of guys sweating and struggling to prepare for making “the” hit in the big game. I want to see Nike commercials that also show guys and gals struggling to understand natural selection for the big game.
P.S. I’m talkin’ about Are You’re Smarter Than A 5th Grader? The problem is that most of us would starve if playing that game was our sole source of income.