Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Bold Proposal That Wasn't

With the subtly of a WWE tag team, Argus Leader editor Patrick Lalley and K-12 beat reporter Josh Verges suggest that schools should eliminate sports. Lalley blusters into the ring first, asserting that high school extra-curricular sports are "killing us" by "distracting us from the vicious creep of intellectual mediocrity that will be our undoing."  The personal pronouns apparently refer to all Americans.

Today, Verges tags himself in to report that "[t]he state’s 152 districts combined spent a total of $38.2 million on co-curriculars and $515 million on instruction – a 1-to-13.5 ratio.  According to Argus Leader math, "[t]hat’s $309 per K-12 student and $46 per South Dakota resident."

The idea that South Dakotans pay $46 each for something that Lalley admits "knit us together in ways we scarcely comprehend" and "gives us identity and a social framework" is a weak finishing move, totally unworthy of the Lalley's opening bluster.  One can hear sarcasm dripping from the Lalley's keyboard keys as he types the words "identity" and "social framework," but the analysis, sardonic though it may be, is still accurate.

In fact as an effort designed to "fundamentally change how we view public education" and "rethink the [education] debate  Lalley's suggestion reminds one of a recycled Hulk Hogan "Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you" rather than a Jonathan Coachman Sports Center report.

Let's start with the simple stuff first.  Neither Lalley nor Verges offers any proof that eliminating high school sports will help students learn more. 

Neither proves that schools will have more money to develop academic programs if they eliminate sports.  In fact, If public schools save $309 per student by cutting extra-curriculars, the legislature will cut $309 per pupil from the state aid formula.

Further, Lalley maintains that these club sports will be conducted "without the bureaucracy that now surrounds high school activities."  He may be right; the South Dakota High School Activities Association will no longer exist.  Instead, there will be a basketball association, a football association,a volleyball association, a wrestling association along with the same soccer, baseball, and hockey associations that currently exist.

Let's get to some inconvenient facts.

Students view what happens in the classroom as an interruption from the major activities of their day: texting, Facebooking, socializing, and working a minimum wage job to pay for a crappy car.

Students will expend the same effort, if not more, on club sports that they currently spend on co-curricular activities.

Eliminating sports will lead to the elimination of other extra-curriculars like music and debate.  The former has been shown to help develop math skills; the latter helps develop critical thinking.

Eliminating sports will do nothing to change the testing for the sake of testing focus that Pierre has adopted from Washington.

I suspect that Lalley and Verges proposal will have at least two bold effects.  Small towns will find ways to close down "public schools" and create education development commissions that fund private schools with sports programs.  Larger communities will see parochial or private schools proliferate while public schools die.

Lalley correctly asserts a successful future depends on the ability to think critically.  Unfortunately his proposal doesn't exemplify critical thought.  Focusing on way to change the culture so that it values education instead of devalues it would be a good place to start.


Anonymous said...

Verges here: Don't mistake my math for an endorsement of Lalley's idea.

LK said...

Point taken.

I had just seen a WWE ad and the image stuck, so I went with it.

Thanks for the clarification.