I read an article this week about parents in a Florida school district who were protesting because their children were not being given enough recess during the school day. Families were standing outside the school holding signs demanding more free time for their children to play. It should be noted that, instead of standing around holding up signs, the kids could have been using that time to play.
This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner is Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban after refusing to back down in her fight for the right to an education. After being notified of the award, Malala returned to the playground at her new high school in England, where she and her friends finished up their game of dodgeball. Oops. Sorry. I read the article incorrectly. Actually, after being notified of her award, she went back to her chemistry class!
Do you see the difference?
Terrorists are afraid of girls absorbing academic knowledge. Knowledge is power. I suspect the Taliban would be more forgiving towards young girls who demand more recess.
Out of curiosity, I Googled "Florida Parents Protest Lack of Math Education." Nothing. Then I Googled "Florida Parents Protest Lack of Science Education." Nada. Although after a more extensive Internet search of Florida, I have learned it's pretty common to find an alligator in your backyard swimming pool and post the clip on YouTube.
There's a reason why American kids are so good at Instagram. It's because when they're on Instagram, their number one priority is Instagram. There's a reason why American kids don't know that the square root of nine is three or that i comes before e except after c. It's because the top priority in school is no longer school- it's leisure. Or liesure, though that doesn't really look right.
When school is in the news, it's about kids who want to pray during pep rallies or teens suing their principal for the right to go bottomless or, oh, I don't know, a girl being allowed to compete on the boys' cheerleading squad. And that's fine. I understand that school is a complex social environment.
But, at its core, the point of school is to learn academic essentials: math, English, social studies, science, and for how long exactly you're supposed to microwave the Tostino's pizza rolls so that you don't undercook them but also so that the cheese gunk filling doesn't start oozing out.
As a society, I wish we would do more to celebrate the boring stuff. The boring stuff is important. Math is important. History is important. English is important. Do you know what makes us better than ISIS, I mean aside from their evil homicidal insanity and derivative sense of fashion? We can read!
School is supposed to be about education. Everything else is just the wacky sit-com neighbor. Yeah, he adds a few laughs to the show. But he's not necessary to the plot. Unless his attractive sister is in town for the weekend and he really needs you to show her around town, but... What?! You slept with my sister?!
Yes, it's terrible when music programs and art classes and free-condom day are cut from the budget. That money is taken from any part of a school is pretty insane. But it's not the worst thing in the world. No, the worst thing in the world is when children don't know math and English and science and social studies. This is what school is about. When a society strays from its core academic subjects, then what it means to be "educated" loses its power. Incidentally, my high school had a budget surplus. Hence, we were forced to bring back Color Guard.
You may have read about the high school football scandal in Sayreville, New Jersey, in which the team's upperclassmen allegedly sexually assaulted the freshmen players during locker room hazing rituals. The school's superintendant cancelled the remainder of the season. And some local parents protested... not about the sexual assaults, but that they cancelled the games! I mean holy motherf**kin' f**k! What the hell has to happen for these parents to let it go? Where are your priorities? What if the team's quarterback kept his offensive line in a meat freezer and then ate their dead bodies? Would that be enough to put the season on hold for a little while? (note to Hollywood producers: I'm working on a fantastic found-footage horror movie script about a quarterback who murders his teammates and eats them. It's called Pass InterFEARence. Give my agent a call.)
Meanwhile, student test scores in math and science and English and social studies continue to drop faster than acid at a Charlie Sheen barbeque. But nobody's protesting. Oh, there is constant debate about how these subjects should be taught, how grades should be calculated, etc. And these are reasonable conversations, I suppose. But these arguments are meaningless unless there is a general agreement about school's basic purpose- to impart a grasp of principle knowledge. Hundreds of years ago, high schools didn't have a tennis team.
This is not to criticize high school sports, which are probably not as mind-numbingly boring to parents as they are to the rest of us. But rather, it's to recognize that the purpose of school is to educate, to teach children the academic essentials that are the root to not just a future of intellectual curiosity, but of the basic biological process of learning. When an adolescent asks, "Why do I need to learn this?" an honest response is, "Because this is how you learn how to learn." Or, you can just say, "Because if you don't, I'll take away your texting privileges for an hour." That'll work, too.
When did unnecessary extra-curricular activities take precedence over math class? And, yes, all of these activities -- fun and constructive as they may be -- are indeed unnecessary diversions. Your son doesn't need to be on the basketball team. There are high school basketball players who, in a few years, will be making millions of dollars in the NBA. But not your kid. He's not that good.
And school sports and clubs do take precedence over the actual purpose of school. Every high school in America has something in common; students are allowed -- expected! -- to miss class, without question, in order to participate in a game, to travel to a game, even for a practice. No school sports coach has ever uttered this sentence. "The game is at the same time as your biology test. So after you finish your exam, don't forget you still have to take a make-up game sometime next week." Do you think that Malala Yousafzai risked her life to attend chemistry class unless she had a field hockey game that afternoon?
People- not the lunatic loser parents who live and die by whether or not their kid's soccer team makes it to regionals, but regular people- say that academics are important. And regular people say that sports aren't really that important. But I've never heard anyone ask why, when it comes to school, it's readily accepted that a student's sporting event takes precedence over class. It's a reasonable question to ask of the regular people. No? ?
And this warped sense of priorities has extended into America's colleges, a world where there are still people defending Joe Paterno. In my other secret life, I'm a college professor. Really. I am. And when a student athlete has a game that interferes with our exam, he or she always supplies me with the proper documentation so that their absence is "legitimate." This is the way it works. The reason that students are in college is to work towards achieving their highest possible GPA. This is what potential employers will ask about during job interviews. But, yet, lacrosse practice supersedes mid-term exams. There's a logical inconsistency somewhere in there. Sometimes, on a whim, when a student gives me his or her "I won't be here for the test because I play a sport" documentation, I'll casually ask, "Why not just take the exam and miss your game instead?" The student is left dumbfounded. They don't know how to answer. Then, of course, I say, "I'm just kidding." Then I slip the student an envelope with the answers to the test in exchange for pot.
True story. Recently, I received a fundraising letter from Binghamton University, the fine school from where I earned my master's degree (in juggling). The letter starts out this way, word-for-word. "During her freshman year, Demi, a Binghamton University softball student-athlete, found the demands of balancing practice and study time to be especially challenging." The letter goes on to ask me for fifty bucks to support academic counseling for students like Demi. I'm serious. This was a real letter. So here's my question to the Director of Athletics at Binghamton University. Why the f**k do I give a s**t if Demi can't balance her study time and softball practice?! Here's an idea... skip practice! Or, better yet, quit the f**cking softball team!! Jesus, when I was in college, I had trouble balancing my study time and getting hammered four times a week. But I didn't expect people to give me money for it.
I love sports. I haven't missed a New York Jets game since I was nine-years-old. I know. Pity me. And I "get" big time college sports. Nobody on the Clemson football team is in school to become a dentist. And that's fine. But it's different. It's not school.
Real school has sports. Real school is not about sports. Real school is about making you smarter.
Society's attitude about college and sports is dependent on our attitude about high school and sports. And that stems from what we expect of our elementary schools.
School is supposed to be about learning math and science and writing and social studies. Either respect the academic process or pull your kids out and home school them. And you can give your children as much home schooled recess as you want. But I should warn you; I've seen home schooled kids. They're really weird. (source: 19 Kids and Counting, that creepy reality show about the Duggars)