Monday, December 27, 2010

The value of Athletics, or , “why those art/music teachers are pissy that people like to compete more than blow things”.

I’m sure that I’ve now riled every arts and music teacher with the title of the post, so let me clarify that I find incredible value in Arts and Music education.  To me, the best education is challenging, inquisitive, and all inclusive.  Without Arts and Music, we are a society of robots that can solve an equation without appreciating the real world results we are observing. 

So why is it that many Art/Music teachers don’t say the same about athletics?  Why is it that post like this one at Dangerously Irrelevant (who I love by-the-way) are even considered to be outside of the realm of Education?  The post centered around three questions:

  1. How much money does your school district spend per year on athletics?
  2. How many student/teacher laptops (at, say, $1,400 apiece) would that buy?
  3. Which offers greater benefits for students and/or the district (short term and/or long term)?

The questions garner plenty of conversation about the cost/benefit of athletics, but unfortunately pit sports against technology, as if that is the only solution that is viable.  That is ridiculous.  But for the sake of argument, I’ll try and answer.

1.  If I’m not mistaken, Ukiah Unified basically paid for coaches stipends only this year, or about $75,000.  Understand that the money did not pay for assistant coaches, transportation (a mammoth expense), uniforms, officials, supplies, other anything else.  The rest was raised by Athletic Boosters, fund-raising, and gifts from parents.  At Ukiah High, the sports included (most Frosh/JV/Varsity):

-Boys:  Football, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Baseball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming

-Girls:  Volleyball, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Softball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming, Cheerleading

2.  That question is totally irrelevant because the amount spent on technology is millions more than spent athletics.  When you incorporate the new Apple laptops, modernized classrooms, updated Internet servers-routers-lines, professional development, software, hardware, and consultants, the costs are astronomical compared to the benefit to the student.  Add to that the questionable assumption that simply giving technology to students automatically creates benefit.  Yeah, how’s that working with teachers?

3.  Obviously both create tremendous benefit for students when done correctly.  But to say that Athletics is more or less important than tech, or Arts and Music is plain silly.  Take this comment for a poster on DI.

“….secondary athletics with their exclusionary practices, cut policies, and over emphasis on winning at all costs, do not build character, morals, or ethical values in our students.”

or

“There is no evidence that playing sports, at any level, builds character or self-esteem in students. If anything, our sports obsessed society and the jock culture found in most high schools has led to the exact opposite.”

 or

I have always thought that high school athletics, especially football, is one of the biggest wastes of money in American education. People respond with either the “it builds character” line or about how the programs pay for themselves (which is certainly not true in our district) but neither is a compelling argument as far as I’m concerned.

Music, art, drama, and dance also help kids develop character, as well as their unique talents, and at the same time are accessible to far more students for the money spent. But arts programs are often the first to be cut during bad budget times, while school boards bend over backwards to preserve sports.

Those comments are wrong on so many levels that it is crazy.  First of all athletics is on par with academics with the idea of “exclusionary practices”.  I didn’t get into Algebra 2/Trig, or sing lead in a dramatic production, or play a solo in the band.  Know why?  I wasn’t good enough to simply walk in and say “guess what, I’m the man”.  I would argue that athletics is more like society in that not everyone will be an Advanced Placement level athlete.  And that’s assuming that teams cut.  Many teams at Ukiah High don’t cut, including the football team.  My team has to cut.  I have 13 players on the team now and to think that realistically I can get everyone on the court is ludicrous.

Second, the “jock” stereotype is only pervasive on teams where coaches allow it.  I learned more about good character from athletics than any other walk of life, and I had a fairly stable household.  Kids that don’t have stable households and that don’t go to school to “simply learn” need direction and positive role models.  Athletics teaches not only how to succeed, but to do so with dignity and grace. Athletics also teaches that failure happens often (think about completion rates, shooting averages, batting averages, or simple win/loss) and that it is how one deals with adversity that is important.  All the while a group of young men or women collaborate, execute, and treat themselves and others with respect. 

Finally, the California Interscholastic Federation published a study, one of many on the subject, that showed that any extra-curricular activity helps with engaging students in academics.  It increases participation rates in academic programs, it increases attendance, and plenty of studies show that students in motion (engaging in athletics) are more apt to have healthier lifestyles, including academics.  Every year that I’ve coached I’ve had a North Coast Section Scholar Athlete Team, and I’ve watched totally non-committal students go through tutoring sessions and extra work to remain part of the athletic program.  You may not like the reasons, but the results don’t lie.  Athletics helps academics. 

And for one hell of a price.  For the cost of a single teacher salary with benefits, a school district can successfully pay for the stipends of all the coaches (at all levels) within an athletic program.  On top of that, coaches will usually work during the off-season (for free) to try and reinforce retention of information and enhance skill development.  Coaches will also work with students at lower grade levels to transition them into the secondary level, and assist with students trying to get into college.  All the while coaches will be fundraising and networking with parents, the media, the administration, the league/section, other coaches, student government, boosters, local businesses, and a myriad of other groups that see athletics as a valuable connection between student achievement and the community.  And guess what my take home pay will be.  Broken down over the year….$150 a month.   Sounds like a steal.

So the question shouldn’t be an either/or situation.  It should be, “How can a school be more efficient with its resources to best meet the total needs of the students”.  In the end Arts/Music, Athletics, and technology need to all be considered vital to the successful lifestyles of our children.        

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