School Athletics

Making sure athletes in college are maintaing an adequate grade point average has long been supported by tutors employed by the athletic department. Now it has been reported by EdWeek that a school district near Cincinnati has followed the college example for high school athletes. It might be hard to object to this extraordinary effort to win football and basketball games if every D and F student in the district is afforded the same level of support. The trouble is that every student does not have a “coach” looking after their success in the classroom.

Students in a school district, large or small, face on a daily basis a long list of challenges and become dependent on district resources to deal with adversity. For some that is obtaining a daily meal. For others it is finding a path toward an aspiration. Athletics is often an opening for aspiration. That opening is to the school and community environs a way to establish or expand a sense of belonging and esteem.

The Cincinnati district has a program called Academic & Athletic Accountability Pathway. Years ago the State of Texas established a “no pass, no play” rule for school athletic programs. This has expanded to a majorty of states; and, some add conduct measures as well as attendance to the infractions that can block participation in athletics and extra curricular activities.

This later interfaces with my prior writing about the juxtaposition oof curricular and extra curricular elements of the school environment. I have suggested that schooling may have inappropriately inverted the importance of these elements. For some students, the whole reason for being in school is to participate in the extracurricular activities including but not limited to sports. The evidence does show that when extracurricular activities are withheld pending satisfactory performance on academic subjects the scores or grades on those academic courses improves. Algebra becomes an essential achievement to continue as a superstar wide receiver. Education is always challenged to bring the intensity of the strupped green grass to the green board of an algegra classroom. Maybe education has the cart before the horse.

There comes a point in every students life where they begin to see their own self efficacy in terms of relating to adults in their lives on a more equal status. This is born of respect for the adult and of self-respect. The adult may be seen as critical to the future succes in achieving an aspiration. Asking the adult for support is not often an easy step for many students. This may be particularly so where students do not have an adult role model – most often afforded as a father living at home. Teachers and coaches can never replace that but they can make a difference. Unfortunately that is easier with a small team than a large classroom.

Athletics are indelibly embeded in our system of education through schools and schooling. As one interested in school reform this may be either fought or accepted. A middle ground is the embrace athletics but to place sports in a context or balance . The extracurricular placement is one way to do that but the designation of “extra” creates a less than image. Algebra and team performance is not recognized in anything resembling equal status by the system, yet for an individual student the team contribution of scoring a touchdown may be much more important that solving an equation correctly. Sometimes, of course, both are accomplished with ease. In adult life one knows of the dentist who is also an amateur champion golfer. Obviously an achievement of balance in a good life.

Life, it is said, is not a destination but the journey. Athletics in school can be a journey toward achieving balance.