“‘I actually believe that sports are extremely important,’ Olga Block, a Basis co-founder, told me. ‘The problem is that once sports become important to the school, they start colliding with academics.'”

-Amanda Ripley, “The Case Against High-School Sports”, The Atlantic

The above quoted article gives an interesting overview of the often cited conflict between sports and academics in schools. While the author demonstrates a poor understanding and elucidation of the value of athletic activity, and gives a detrimentally abbreviated historical account of athletics, the understanding that much duress is the consequence of our current marriage of sports and academics in schools is nonetheless effectively conveyed.

Still, “what to do” about this problem requires a deeper understanding of the problem than the author gives. If the evidence is available that sports actually take more money away from schools than they give, and distract more students from academic work than they motivate, then why are they still being so heavily promoted?

Furthermore, the article relies heavily upon statistical rankings of America versus the world in academic performance- numbers which rely heavily upon standardized test scores. For those people who realize that standardized testing is fundamentally flawed in its ability to truly test its students- what value do such statistics really have? And assuming that such statistics are true and correct, are nations with higher test scores really “succeeding” if they can churn out more effective academic robots? Shouldn’t the goal be to humanize our students in addition to training them? If we give kids academic work simply because it will help Americans “get good jobs”, what kinds of Americans will we soon have?

The article tells the story of Ernest Singleton and the virtual elimination of sports in the Premont Independent School district. It is the story of a school district which was performing so terribly that it was threatened with being shut down by the state entirely. Singleton’s decision to slash the sports program is portrayed as being instrumental to the scholastic reform which ultimately saved the school district and its students. It is a dramatic and interesting story, no doubt, but the question remains: although Ernest’s methods helped “stop the bleeding”, should we then conclude that sports were indeed the originating problem which threatened the district with being shut down? If a doctor stops the bleed of a cut leg, one might take away from the experience that “cuts are to be avoided”, nonetheless, a better observation would be “the irresponsible usage of knives is to be ameliorated”. We must ask: was Ernest Singleton’s dissolution of the athletic program a causative treatment or a symptomatic treatment? (It is this author’s opinion that the greatest efficacy of Singleton’s decision lies in its strength as a “wake-up call”, a “slap in the face”, or a public spanking.)

It seems undeniable that modern athletic programs in U.S. public schools are being utilized in a manner which is detrimental to the academics of American students. What is more difficult to discern is “why”, and “what now”? We also experience alot of brokenness within families in America, but the answer is not to rid ourselves of the concept of the family unit- we need to reform how families behave. Similarly , public school sports ought to be reformed, but their radical minimization will only serve to cause new problems- though they may stop the bleeding in academics (for a while).

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