Monday, March 21, 2011

High School Sports and the Budget Axe

It's as if the only work out being done in some school systems today is the budget axe. Sadly, it is the kids who get cut out of the picture.

I taught high school for seven years --- rather, I should say, I handled high school discipline for seven years. Seriously. In School Suspension. It is not a position many aspire to do, but I loved it. Truth is, if it weren't for the awful politics of a school system and the low pay, I would have loved to have retired from what I consider a noble and worthwhile post. My job in the school system deserved hazardous duty pay some days; other days, I couldn't believe they paid me to do the job. Helping kids on the margin --- those who get into trouble --- means being (often literally) a lifesaver.

Many kids need a parent, a teacher or someone to just tell them No. Honestly, that word is unheard by many students before high school. Others need that one-on-one help for a short while they can't get in the classroom. A lot of teenagers are just teenagers and do teenager stuff. These kids --- the majority of kids --- need a gentle (or tough) reminder that they have to / can / must get it together. They can do it with just a little by someone.

For a good number of students, it is an athletic coach that fills that void. For others, it is the art or music teacher. A few need the language instructor. Then there are the marginal 5% that need that tough disciplinarian.

Unfortunately when schools have to make deep cuts, it is art, music, drama or language. These "soft" disciplines are viewed as secondary to the hard sciences of math and science. The cry is to increase the requirements for math and science; implied in that is less focus / requirements in the areas that make society work for all of us.

The not so subtle message is that the things of beauty, culture, emotion, meaning are not needed. Watch out, for tomorrow it is the Humanities that will be cut next. American culture --- even humankind culture --- will be the lesser for that.

But none of that is the real reason for this post. It is the sports programs that get the axe now. After all, do we need to teach students to play when the rest of the world is passing us math scores?

Well, the answer is a resounding Yes! We need sports more than ever.

The truth is that increasing the required math or science courses to graduate is not helping the kid who simply is not a wired to think in that area. I'm not saying we don't teach basic cell biology or leave out the Pythagorean Theorem, but we can't afford to abandon art, drama, music, language or history either, for it is those subjects that give us the glue for our society. Very few kids will ever need to solve quadratic equations when they are 32 years old for a job application, but every student will one day be voting and making decisions how our government will relate to the rest of the world.

Some students --- make that MOST students --- need those subjects and sports to even have a reason to get through high school. And let's not forget that high school sports, namely football, is a huge money maker for the schools. Cutting the very thing that gives pride to a community, adds money to the budget and gives a good number of kids a chance and a reason to go to college is not good management. If a CEO were judged based on how many BOEs are reacting to budget cuts, the CEO would be an ex-CEO in a matter of weeks.

Frank Deford has a wonderful article on the subject of budget cuts and high school sports. If only the people in charge of our kids' education knew how to analyze the cost of the social impact instead of just the cost on a budget sheet.

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