Thursday, July 30, 2015

What We Learn From Football

In the coming days, a million or more teenage boys will eagerly show up at their high school campuses weeks before regular classes start. They will plan to spend their whole day at school, pay close attention to their instructors, and work as hard as they can.

They will spend time in the classroom and time in the field, and they will all be focused on a single, venerable all-American goal: becoming part of a winning football team.

Football is America's greatest game for boys, not only because of the lessons it teaches but also because of the broad range of young men who can play the game and learn those lessons.

In track and field, one athlete faces off against another -- perhaps a teammate. Even the relay teams have only four runners.

In basketball, each team puts just five men on the court at a time.  In baseball, it is nine -- and perhaps a designated hitter.

But, in football, there are 11 players on the field for every play -- and many different types of plays needing different types of players. There is an offensive team, a defensive team, and multiple special teams to handle punts, kickoffs, field goals and extra points.

And there are variations on all these. A shrewd coach might put different men on the field when his team faces a desperation onside kick rather than an opening kickoff -- or when it is fourth and one, not third and 30.

In the 2013-2014 school year, according to the National Federation of High School Sports Associations, 1,093,234 boys played high school football in the United States.

No other sport came close. Only 580,321 high school boys participated in track and field that year, and only 541,054 were on a high school basketball team. 482,629 played baseball and 417,419 played soccer.

When you add together all the boys and girls who played high school basketball (974,398) or all the boys and girls who played high school soccer (791,983), they do not equal the more-than-a-million high school boys who played good, old American tackle football.

The first great lesson boys learn playing football is that great things are only achieved after long hours of hard work. Great high school football teams do not just show up on game day and play. Nor do its players first show up in August when it is time for double sessions. Players on great teams work all year round to develop the strength, endurance and skills they need to win in the fall.

A second great lesson boys learn playing football is that they must play as a team to win. The greatest of quarterbacks cannot save his team if the line cannot block. A powerful offense cannot lead a team to victory if the defense cannot stop the opposition. When teammates work diligently together to prefect their skills in practice and then put them to test on the field, they learn to respect each other, trust each other and rely on each other.

More than any other team sport American boys play, football requires and develops physical courage at the same time it encourages fair play. Opposing football players are supposed to hit each other -- airly, safely and according to the rules -- but, nonetheless, with ferocity. Yet they cannot fail to appreciate the difference between a fair hit and a dirty one, nor fail to respect the former and revile the latter.

A fourth great lesson football players learn is that wit matters. You can study another team's offense and defense and sometimes discover a way to outsmart them.

But the greatest lesson football teaches is really a combination of all its other lessons. It is that football -- like a free society -- functions as a true meritocracy.

The team with the greatest natural athletes does not always triumph. Sometimes the team given less at the start wins more in the end.

If they put in the long hours of work, if they trust their teammates and merit their teammates' trust in return, if they are tough and fair, and if they play smart, they just might beat a team that is bigger and faster and stronger than them, but never mastered the underlying virtues of the game.

That is why football is not just a uniquely American game, but also one that reflects the American Dream.


Healing the Urban Educational Gap

Shante had a lot of things going for her as she finished middle school. She was bright, attractive and talented. Her parents, Glenn and Sheri, had worked hard to ensure she could have a better life than they had had growing up. But both were uneasy with the public high school that Shante was zoned for in Prince George’s County. Although it’s the highest income majority-black county in the United States, it had a high school dropout rate more than 10 points higher than neighboring Montgomery County.

Glenn and Sheri both understood that high school would make or break Shante’s future. These strategic years are when good kids could go bad. They had seen it happen too often to children of friends and relatives: a studious, ambitious kid fell in with the wrong crowd and caved into peer pressure with bad decisions. Shante had a bright future, but like other kids in her neighborhood, her margin for error was slim.

A turning point came when her family attended the Riverdale Baptist High School graduation ceremony for the college-bound daughter of some family friends. As they listened to the commencement speeches, they learned that 100 percent of the senior class had graduated on time, 98 percent were headed to four-year colleges and the other 2 percent to military service. They looked at the students receiving their diplomas: neatly dressed, respectful, and enthusiastic about their futures.

That night, Glenn and Sheri agreed that even if they had to eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day for the next four years, they were going to send Shante to Riverdale Baptist. And while they did end up getting a break from PBJ now and then, it was a sacrifice. They put off buying new furniture, and drove used cars that sometimes didn’t have heat, all while reminding Shante to make the most of her education.

Cell phone video gave their family and the nation a real window into the chaos that reigns in many of our failing public schools. In May, a video surfaced of a substitute teacher in Prince George’s County beating unruly students with his belt. The same month, an unnamed female teacher was fired from her Detroit high school for trying to break up a violent brawl that threatened to turn deadly. In another widely circulated video, a student in a Chicago high school shouted at her teacher above the deafening commotion: “I want an education! You get paid, don’t you?”

As I have written before, my father made a very similar decision to Glen and Sheri when he decided to send me to the most rigorous private school in our area instead of the public school I was zoned for. In that spirit, my wife and I sacrificed considerably to send our daughters to private high school as well. For us, the quality of the education our children received was always more important than the kind of car we drove or the square footage of our house. But many other parents don’t have that option.

The important things kids learn in school go far beyond academic markers. They refine their vocabulary, learn to relate to authority figures and subconsciously absorb a multitude of behavioral norms. These skills are not only vital to succeeding in college, but also to obtaining and holding down a job.

In fact, a study published in the journal Education reveals that ninth grade may be the most important year in determining a student’s future. As psychoanalyst Dr. Linda Stern told The Atlantic:

“Students entering high school—just at the time brains are in flux—still have the propensity to be impulsive and are prone to making mistakes. They are therefore experimental and trying to separate and might try substances that interfere with the normal developmental process. Put all that together with raging hormones the normal academic pressures, and meeting a whole new group to be judged by.”

Shante not only graduated sixth in her class at Riverdale Baptist, but was offered full-tuition scholarships to seven different universities. After earning her degree in psychology, she was accepted to a fellowship at George Washington University where she obtained a master’s in special education. After marrying and having children, she obtained her second master’s degree in applied psychology.

How can we ensure that all parents can make the choice that Glenn and Sheri did for Shante? This summer, Nevada became the first state to offer universal school choice: it allows every single public school student in the state an education savings account so that parents can customize their children’s education as they see fit. I hope other states will follow Nevada’s example and put all parents—regardless of income—in control of their children’s future.


A politicized public school in Australia

A poster mocking Obama would never even have been thought of

A POSTER erected on the streets of a small Victorian goldfields town has sparked a war of words about democracy, censorship and public art.  The poster was plastered on hoardings opposite the public library in Castlemaine, not far from Bendigo, in March. The artwork was commissioned by the local council.

It features a black and white photograph of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the words “Australia Needs an Abbott Proof Fence”.

It was put there by art students from Castlemaine Secondary College who had been studying the film Rabbit Proof Fence, the Bendigo Advertiser reports.  The students expected it to create some discussion, but never expected it to lead to calls for teachers to be dismissed.

“Education needs to be apolitical,” Mark Jackaman wrote on a petition labelling the artwork “disgusting” and demanding a formal apology.  “Shame on your teacher and your school!” Kat Molnar wrote.

“It’s a disgraceful act and any teacher that has allowed this should be dismissed immediately. This is the leader of our country,” David Hawkins wrote.

“Schools are not for POLITICS ... Teachers need to keep their own views to themselves. It’s no wonder that we have hordes of young people leave school still not knowing proper history and correct spelling. Shame,” Shirley Cameron wrote.

Joshua Thom used the phrase "leftist scum” to drive home his opposition.

But the school has been quick to defend its students and its reputation.  Principal Mary McPherson told she was shocked and surprised by the level of vocal opposition. She said the school encouraged students to think critically.

“We want our students to have opinions and be critical thinkers and to understand about the world. We want students to be prepared to make a difference. We don’t want them to come out compliant, but to challenge and question.”

Ms McPherson said the Abbott Proof Fence poster will not be coming down any time soon.

“In a democratic society, it’s important to question the (government’s) policies,” she said.  “It’s part of our school culture. It’s about having your opinions and listening to other opinions.”


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