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The Ebert Solution

I agree with Roger Ebert: he has a suggestion for how we can improve American education.

What I think we need are smaller classrooms, better pay for teachers, and an emphasis on fundamentals rather than frivolity. Although I am in favor of physical education, I believe most school sports foster a flawed culture. The news that Allen, Texas, has constructed a high school stadium costing $60 million filled me with incredulity. What does that have to do with education? I was much cheered by the new documentary “Brooklyn Castle,” about how a team from an inner city junior high school won the national high school chess championship, and didn’t need a stadium at all. They were coached by a couple of great teachers.

Defining “frivolity” is tricky: are geometry and basic writing skills serious, while teaching Shakespeare is frivolous? I think there should be an emphasis on acquiring essential skills like reading and arithmetic before graduation, but there’s also a place for enthusiastic teachers communicating the joys of a specialty. Of course, I think that would naturally emerge if we had adequately funded and staffed schools.

As for the $60 million high school football stadium: there are some school district administrators who ought to be fired for irresponsible behavior, and a lot of parents who voted for that monstrosity who ought to be ashamed. But they’re probably too ignorant because of their deficient, sports-soaked educations to be aware of it.

Comments

  1. dianne says

    I have another idea: Fund schools in such a way that teachers are well paid, have adequate support, and can teach both “fundamentals” and “frivolity”. If we run short of money, the Pentagon will just have to hold a bake sale to buy that bomber it wants.

  2. says

    about how a team from an inner city junior high school won the national high school chess championship…

    Uh, not quite. According to the segement I saw on The Daily Show, students from that school have won more chess torneys than any other school in the US.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see Brooklyn Castle.

  3. kevinalexander says

    There’s no way that the good people in Texas voted to spend 60 mil without first asking Jesus.
    Jesus didn’t say anything so they took that for yes.

    Anyway, the whole point of education is to give concussions to teenagers and so their dads in the stands can relive their glory days.

    It’s not like a concussion would have any effect on a Texas education anyway.

  4. georgemontgomery says

    $60 million high school football stadium

    But advanced academic programs are elitist, right?

  5. latsot says

    Seven or eight years ago I played a small role in getting a new science building funded and built at our university. I managed to pull in quite a few million pounds in projects and other people did a *lot* more. And we ended up with a building to do some awesome interdisciplinary stuff: biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, sociology, other stuff. It had some very nice labs and some brilliant office space.

    The entire project cost less than £15m from scratch. Brilliant work is still being done there.

    How can a big science building cost so much less than some grass with a circle of seats around? How can a university get its priorities so completely wrong? What could we have achieved with $60m?

  6. Chuck says

    How can a big science building cost so much less than some grass with a circle of seats around? How can a university get its priorities so completely wrong?

    The answer to both? Because TEXAS

  7. chigau (棒や石) says

    What could $60 million have accomplished if spent on programs to increase physical activity for all students?

  8. sanford says

    I tend to disagree about sports. But when you talk about Texas it is just another animal. I would like to know where the 60 million is coming from. If from the tax payers, then I would be just a bit upset. But I assume that there are a lot of rich boosters willing to give a lot of money. I do think they have their priorities a bit skewed when it comes to athletics, but that also happens in big time college football and basketball as well. There was as story on 30-30 on ESPN where a booster paid 4 million dollars for the original rules of basketball. They were written by James Naismith while he was coaching in Kansas. It was felt the rules should be housed at the school. Four million would have paid for some scholarships for some students who couldn’t afford go to school.

    Last night David McCullough was on 60 minutes. Near the end of the segment they were talking about education. He mentioned that he had talked to some college students that did not know that the 13 original colonies were on the East Coast. I am not sure what that says about teachers or education, but he thought that teachers needed to study what they were interested in more so than how to teach.

  9. says

    It’s not even a university stadium: it’s a high school stadium.

    Re: defining “frivolity,” apparently it’s been defined as art, music, and everything else that doesn’t lead to better scores on Bush’s Every No Child Left Behind measures.

  10. nathanieltagg says

    What could $60 million have accomplished if spent on programs to increase physical activity for all students?

    This actually got me thinking. The stadium wasn’t built for sports; it was built primarily for those who were excellent at sports. The school teams would probably make good use of it, with spare time being used for occasional gym classes.

    What would it look like if we spent $60 million at a school on excellence in scholastic endeavors.. with occasional use by those students who didn’t care much for academics?

  11. Rich Woods says

    @dianne #2:

    If we run short of money, the Pentagon will just have to hold a bake sale to buy that bomber it wants.

    Or they could have a garage sale and flog off loads of those big missiles which they just store in holes in the ground and never get round to using.

  12. says

    I think the real cultural pathology is around football, rather than sports more generally. OK, maybe basketball, too, to a certain extent, but I don’t think it’s usually swimmers or gymnasts or fencers or rowers who are skewing the school culture.

    I agree wholeheartedly with better pay, smaller classrooms, and emphasis on fundamentals… but I’m cautious about demonizing “frivolity.” Is art class a frivolity? Marching band? Chorus? Drama? Wood shop? Auto shop? Drafting (OK, CAD/computer graphics)? Cosmetology? Journalism? The “3 Rs” back-to-basics crowd probably thinks all those are expendable, yet every one of them was the only thing important about school for some nontrivial number of students, and our society is, IMHO, incalculably enriched by the fact that young people get exposure to, and training in, these areas.

    Even sports is, I think, “fundamental” to the gestalt of secondary education, though I agree that interscholastic team sports (and football in particular) is probably a net negative.

    Football will, I suspect, turn out to be a self-correcting problem over time: 3 NFL quarterbacks had to leave games this weekend due to concussion. With our emerging understanding of the neurophysiology of collision sports, it’s only a matter of time before parents stop consenting to having their sons’ (or, vanishingly rarely, daughters’) brains scrambled for them.

    When I say this to my friends, they say “if that were true, boxing would’ve been dead years ago.” But boxing is mostly dead, compared to what it used to be, and football is an entirely different case. Recall that football, because it requires expensive equipment and large teams, is essentially a middle-class sport. There are lots of stories of kids using football as a path out of poverty, but that’s not the game’s raison d’etre in the way it is with boxing. The parents who send their kids out to play football aren’t, in general, looking to save them from drugs and street crime; they’re looking for a way to reduce college costs… which is moot if the kids’ brains are being disabled in the process.

    If nothing else happens, I think we’ll see most high schools abandoning tackle football within a generation… but let’s not wait a whole generation to refocus on “better pay, smaller classrooms, and [] the fundamentals,” eh? Rather than kill sports altogether, why not refocus on on intramural and individual sports, and only eliminate interscholastic team competition?

  13. says

    I don’t know what good taking away sports would do when the rest of schooling is so heavily based in grading and competition. The same demoralizing lessons remain.

  14. mommiest says

    In addition to better pay for teachers, smaller classrooms, etc., we need to face a simple fact: there’s more stuff to teach than there was 50 years ago, especially in Science. We need extended school days and more teaching days in the calendar year to cover the material.

  15. says

    I’d also be worried about “frivolity” being overbroad in definition, but I’d agree all this sports nonsense qualifies. There’s a place for PE as a means of promoting healthy exercise, but what we’re doing now is absurd and wasteful.

    It doesn’t help that there are plenty of other vices with it. Pep rallies and such promote tribal/jingoist modes of thought. Student players get unearned privileges, sometimes up to immunity from the law, as do coaches. Schools end up sanctioning criminal mischief as rival teams find ways to fight it out off the field. It’s sick.

  16. tmruwart says

    I would suspect that the Texans misunderstood the statement: “What I think we need are smaller classrooms“. They done figured they could make all the classrooms 8×8 feet, stuff 40 kids in each plus a teacher (optional) if’n they get rid of the desks too. All the money they dun saved could go into the football stadium which is what high school’n is fer.

    Brooklyn Castle was truly inspiring and helped relieve some of my frustration with high school football.

  17. Larry says

    Apparently, Allen, Tx is a wealthy district so I’m sure all their academic needs (equipment, materials, salaries, maintenance) were totally covered before they decided to build a $60 million football stadium.

    Right?

  18. magistramarla says

    Latsot @ #8
    That’s a HIGH SCHOOL in Texas, not a university. The universities have even bigger, more expensive stadiums.
    I taught in Texas, and I saw these monstrosities. One district cut a lot of other programs, but built a new stadium, complete with fancy press boxes and some private boxes for fans to rent.
    The news outlets in Texas go crazy over both high school and college sports. Over half of each newscast is dedicated to sports, and there is often time wasted on specials.
    I grew up in Illinois, where each high school had a small stadium with rickety wooden bleachers. When I was last there for a reunion, nothing had changed. The community has a lot of fun, and so do the students, without expensive facilities.
    I now live in California, and I’ve noticed that the schools in the area have small stadiums like the ones that I grew up with. I’ve noticed that the news outlets make a quick mention of local games on Friday and Saturday evenings, but it is nowhere near as elaborate as Texas.
    I would love to see a change in priorities in this country.
    BTW – Latin is NOT a frivolity. I taught Latin, and made connections to many of the other subjects that were taught in the school.

  19. says

    Having read a few comments I missed while tying my previous one, I’d like to narrow the focus to football and basketball as the biggest culprits behind the vices I mention.

  20. says

    What could $60 million have accomplished if spent on programs to increase physical activity for all students?

    It depends on how the money was spent. if the program consisted of forcing students to do physical activity under the threat of a failing grade then you would buy 60 million dollars worth of kids hating physical activity. That seems to be the only way that PE is done in this country.

    I highly suspect that any programs would be co-opted by the fat hating War On Obesity assholes (for an example see the first lady’s “lets move” campaign).

  21. says

    I looked some stuff up. The stadium was funded by local taxes via a bond in 2009 that was approved by 63% of the voters. It’s not just for football (although really it is), and includes practice space for golf teams and wrestlers. And free wi-fi! The bond also included a $23 million arts center and a $36 million service center for the same school (I think). I couldn’t in my very short time of searching find the name/number of the local bond.

    Here is the article I got this information from:

    http://www.usatodayhss.com/news/article/60-million-for-a-high-school-stadium-with-free-wi-fi–57419910

    There are comments on the article from people in the town. This early one gave a good point of view from a citizen in favor of the bond/stadium:

    Allen resident here – I love reading all of the comments from those who aren’t members of the community about this silly issue. A little about Allen and the road it took to get this stadium built,,, master plan for the community called for all necessary schools to be built prior to this stadium…so over the course of the 17 years I have lived in the town, there has never been a lack of quality schools and facilities for learning. We as a town passed every bond issue needed to make these schools happen, including the new high school (which included a library) in the early 2000′s. So it’s somewhat unfair to say that football is the number 1 priority in the city. The stadium came last.

  22. texasaggie says

    In many other countries high school sports are an extracurricular activity unassociated with schools. They are managed and financed by sports clubs that are not connected with tax payer funds.

    I can remember when my own child was in junior high sitting in a school board meeting where the head of the school board (College Station Independent School District, TX) royally chewed out the administration for allowing an art teacher to resign. It seems she couldn’t continue to ask her students to collect aluminum cans to pay for supplies while the football team had a budget for tape that exceeded her whole budget. It didn’t do any good, but maybe it had an effect the next time they were making up budgets.

  23. says

    mommiest:

    We need extended school days and more teaching days in the calendar year to cover the material.

    ^^THIS^^ I’m not comfortable with totally eliminating summer vacation, as some suggest — I think there’s value in the time off/family time that offsets the need to do “catch up” review at the beginning of each academic year, and teachers need time off for professional development work, not to mention emotional recovery — but I’m definitely in favor of more school days and (especially) longer school days. Given the number of two-earner families, making the school day a closer match to the workday makes sense.

    We don’t necessarily need to increase the total workload on students or teachers: Incorporating “homework” and teachers’ home prep time, in addition to “after school” extracurriculars into the formal school day would have, IMHO, many benefits.

  24. says

    We as a town passed every bond issue needed to make these schools happen, including the new high school (which included a library) in the early 2000′s.

    I was rereading the comment in favor of the stadium I linked to, and this emphasis on the library made me laugh, but he probably means that the school included a public library, not just a school library. There are a lot of those going around in the newer developments of Southern California where I live–the high school is the site for a public library shared by the city residents and the students right on campus. I was just at such a high school this weekend attending a show in the school’s very nice performing arts center with box office and lounge. No football stadium there, though.

  25. says

    In addition to better pay for teachers, smaller classrooms, etc., we need to face a simple fact: there’s more stuff to teach than there was 50 years ago, especially in Science. We need extended school days and more teaching days in the calendar year to cover the material.

    kids aren’t vessels that knowledge gets poured into. You can either aim to cram as many facts as you want into them (facts pre-selected by experts for their importance) and drill them on it, or you can aim to foster the type of person who can learn whatever is needed to accomplish a goal. The former approach tends to produce people who think of learning as a chore and don’t like to do it on their own. I’m sure people who don’t want anything to do with the sciences would really resent being told that they “need” to learn things that they absolutely do not need to know in any practical sense of the word.

    I also really resent the idea that kids aren’t in school enough as it is. They totally are. They are in school the majority of the time and then they come home and do copious amounts of homework, which starts in fucking kindergarten now despite the complete lack of evidence that homework is beneficial to kids. I have seen absolutely no evidence that more schooling actually amounts to more or better learning, it might (again) just make kids hate school more than they already do.

  26. Beatrice says

    While I see how longer school days might be convenient for working parents, I’m with skeptifem in that school days really don’t need to be longer. Besides, don’t American kids already spend a lot more time in school than our budding socialists in Europe? (yeah, yeah, I’m googling already)

  27. says

    skeptifem:

    I realize skeptical is baked into your nym, but you seem to be taking as your premise that whatever we do, we’re bound to do it badly. With that as predicate, the whole conversation is moot, isn’t it?

    ***

    a3kr0n (@25):

    frivolity: Giving every student a $600 iPad.

    Done right (and that’s always the caveat, innit?), I think iPads in schools will be a huge net positive. Perhaps you’re not fully accounting for the cost of textbooks, supplies, and other technology solutions that the iPads (or other personal tablets) replace… nor, for that matter, for the advantages to the students in terms of everything from the simple physical load reduction (lifted a typical student’s backpack recently) to the complex advantage of heightened community interactivity.

  28. says

    From the article here:

    As for the $60 million high school football stadium: there are some school district administrators who ought to be fired for irresponsible behavior, and a lot of parents who voted for that monstrosity who ought to be ashamed. But they’re probably too ignorant because of their deficient, sports-soaked educations to be aware of it.

    I dunno. I was intrigued by this stadium and looked around, and the more I read about this school and this school district, the more I think that this stadium is just sort of the last thing to fall into place. I’m not saying that there’s not a place for a conversation about the prioritizing of athletics for some over the educational needs of many, or the lack of skepticism about sports and economics and the promises people fall for, and the general attitude in society towards intellectual achievement, but I think this stadium at this school in this school district is the wrong one to hold up as an example. I don’t think the kids and their parents are ignorant or should be ashamed of the school system they’ve created for themselves.

    I mean, they have a marching band and a choir that are nationally known. They have a school-run restaurant that’s not a code-word for fancy cafeteria. It’s called Blu, and it serves the community. And it’s true, it’s probably a town full of rich white people doing wonderful things for their rich white children, and it’s sad that they didn’t pass a bond to build school things for kids in other places that need it more, but…

  29. shouldbeworking says

    Wow, 60 million. That could buy a lot of classrooms, teachers, and hot lunches for inner city school kids.

  30. shouldbeworking says

    Oops, in the interests of openness, I should have mentioned I’m a high school science teacher so my post is biased. And I’m a Canadian so I’m a liberal elitist foreigner.

  31. zygar says

    The last thing kids need is more time spent at school. Schools repeat the same boring information year after year, and it doesn’t sink in with most children. What makes people think that you can just add more crap for them to learn and they will learn it?

    Skeptifem is right. Students are not vessels to pour knowledge into, they learn what they are interested in and little else.

  32. says

    skeptifem:

    kids aren’t vessels that knowledge gets poured into.

    I agree with this, but I still think there are good arguments for increasing the length of the school day and possibly the number of school days.

    In part, this is consistent with your concern about the burden of homework: Reading, problem-solving practice, etc., is essential to learning, but I’d like to see more of that stuff accomplished at school so that when the kids go home, they can actually be at home, and not just at de facto school.

    Also, too many kids are “going home” to several hours of daycare, or an empty house. It’d be great to live in a society where every pair of parents could afford to choose having one stay home whenever the kids are out of school, but until we radically reshape our economics, that’s not the majority reality.

    I have a vision of public schools as centers of community. If we believe “it takes a village to raise a child,” public schools are, IMHO, the proper expression of “the village” in today’s world.

  33. says

    As a parent of a middle-schooler, and a member of our small district’s school board, I am in total agreement with Skeptifem. There may be more to learn than there was fifty years ago, but it doesn’t need to happen in third grade (or tenth). School is only one place where kids learn, and they spend too much time at the formal stuff already. My son is in school seven hours a day, and often comes home with hours of homework. He actually doesn’t mind; I guess because he’s used to it. But I think it’s unhealthy. Kids need time to be kids, which means learning through play and developing social skills as much as absorbing knowledge.

    And my kid learns as much away from school as he does in school, because his parents spend time teaching and learning with him. If others cannot say the same, it should call for reflection on how little time parents have with their kids, not on how kids should stay in school longer. I’m quite passionate about this, and would ask for evidence on whether longer hours and/or more days in schools benefits kids overall, regardless of whether it leads to higher formal test scores.

  34. says

    I also work in an after school childcare program. We make sure that, while kids are with us, they are safe and having fun, as well as learning the things that school doesn’t have time for: kindness, empathy, and even critical thinking. We spend more time with some of these kids than their parents do. I don’t like that, but it’s the way things are.

  35. says

    PaulK:

    FWIW, part of my vision for a longer school day involves making the kind of program you describe @38 integral to the public school experience.

    More generally, the notion that more time at school more learning flies in the face of my experience, as student, teacher, and parent: Invariably, the students most interested in learning (in it’s broadest, most generous definition) were volunteering to spend more time at school.

    There are as many stories as there are people, so I have no doubt there are plenty of anecdotes that counter my experiences… but I don’t accept as a generally true proposition that time at school sucks the desire for learning and growth out of otherwise eager young people.

    And in cases where it does, the answer is, IMHO, better school, not less school.

  36. says

    Did anyone else watch “60 Minutes” yesterday? Two sections of the program “Three million open jobs in U.S., but who’s qualified?” and “Journey through history with David McCullough” both presented points pertinent to the above discussion.

    I agree with Paul K and Skeptifem on almost all of the points made. I would hazard a quess that most everyone here has had one teacher, and if lucky more than one, that stimulated the desire to learn. Much of the fire comes from within but needs the care of teachers AND parents not to be snuffed out, which happens all too often. The problem obviously is with the system and all that is inherent in it. Many parents exacerbate this by not being involved in the learning experience.

    The American educational system has been in decline for a long, long time. Spending 60 Million on a high school stadium is obscene but I spent four years in Texas in the late 70′s and early 80′s and high school football is a major entertainment outlet. Still a stupid outlay of money that could otherwise have been well spent.

  37. says

    One thing that might help is to work out how to not have things exist in a vacuum. Math seems to have nothing to do with anything else, never mind history, or language, etc. Almost no attempt is made to even try to tie anything together, until high school, and then… its probably going to only be students taking chemistry, physics, etc. that get “any” sort of cross over. And, while I admit I don’t see an easy way to mix the stuff, in all cases, you can’t generate interest when someone is thinking, “What does this have to do with anything, and how can I possibly need it?”

    Sadly, any attempt to create such a system would probably be torpedoes almost immediately, by people concerned it wasn’t cramming enough into some kids head to pass some test or other.

  38. Beatrice says

    Invariably, the students most interested in learning (in it’s broadest, most generous definition) were volunteering to spend more time at school.

    That’s cool. And there should be programs available for kids who want to spend more time at school.

    For example : In my elementary school, at the beginning of the school year, interested students would sign up for extra biology classes. The teacher was more than willing to give us interesting tasks and give more detail on some things learned in regular classes.
    There were similar extra classes for some other subjects.

    I’m cool with that. I think it’s brilliant.
    But I don’t think more classes should be obligatory for all the students.

    Btw, I’m not for less hours, just not more hours.

  39. unbound says

    There is no generic enemy here. The enemy is ourselves.

    You will see this all the time if you go to your local school board meetings. Cut (or freeze) teacher pay, and you’ll hear silence from everyone. Cut out some fine arts classes, and the same silence can be heard. Cut out some options for higher courses (be it math, science, literature), and you might see a parent or two come out to complain.

    But cut into sports programs? You will see a lot people actually showing up to the school board meetings. In my county, it is one of only 2 reasons people show up (the other reason being to complain about school boundaries being redrawn…which happens a lot in this county – fastest growing in the nation).

    Teachers in the county have had their pay stay the same for over 4 years now. Nothing from the public. When the Board of Supervisors cut the school budget by 15%, we still got nothing from the public (Virginia school boards are dependent upon city or county for their money). When the school board handled that cut by reducing funding across the board for many programs including sports, the school board was absolutely crowded with people who complained solely about the sports programs cuts.

  40. consciousness razor says

    You can either aim to cram as many facts as you want into them (facts pre-selected by experts for their importance) and drill them on it, or you can aim to foster the type of person who can learn whatever is needed to accomplish a goal.

    Those sound like the same thing to me. The goal would be selected by experts for the exact same effect. If there were no specific goal, there’s no way to go about fostering types of people who can accomplish it.

    I have seen absolutely no evidence that more schooling actually amounts to more or better learning, it might (again) just make kids hate school more than they already do.

    I don’t see why we couldn’t have a qualitatively better education which focuses on the most important material (whatever that is), as well as, for example, a longer school calendar which extends into the summer to cover more material. But just saying “some kids might not like more school” leaves out the issue of improving it in other ways at the same time.

  41. says

    Beatrice:

    But I don’t think more classes should be obligatory for all the students.

    I don’t, either: What I have in mind is more a matter of repackaging roughly the same amount of class time into a school day that more closely matches parents’ work days, using the additional time to accomplish “homework” at school instead, and to formalize and enhance all the wonderful things about being at school that happen outside (but connected to) the classroom. It wouldn’t much change the schedule of students who are currently maximizing their opportunities, but it would give more structure to the days of those students who are less self-driven, and encourage them to participate more fully in the school community… but without loading more classwork on them.

    I know folks here disagree with my approach even so, but I am definitely not advocating treating kids like vessels into which we stuff as much content as possible. In my own school experience, the actual information delivered in class was the least valuable aspect of being at school: I can’t, for instance, remember much of the details I learned in Calculus class, nor could I solve calculus problems… but the conceptual realization that mathematical tools can solve problems that seemed intuitively impossible was a nearly religious experience for me, and informs my life on a daily basis even now, nearly 4 decades later.

    It’s these kinds of “metalearnings,” along with memories of (in my case) band, speech/debate, creative writing club, an honors math class in which I learned basic (BASIC) computer programming, etc., etc., etc…, that were the most important aspects of school for me, far more so than any facts I learned.

    I had a generally happy, privileged childhood and home life, and even so, time spent at school (or at school-related activities) was invariably the best part of my day in those years. I recognize that that’s not everyone’s experience in the current system; I think making it so for more people is a noble goal.

    That’s why I’m for more time at school and broadly opposed to eliminating “frivolity” (including sports, which I suspect would be on many people’s lists like mine above) from the school day.

  42. says

    Talk to any elementary/high school teacher, and they’ll tell you that one of the big problems is summer vacation — most kids go home and forget everything they ever learned, every year, so that the next year’s teachers have to start with remedial stuff over and over and over again. So if we’re looking for simple reforms, how about using a Japanese-style vacation schedule, where there’s about the same number of vacation days but spread out over the whole year instead of packed into a lump in the middle?

  43. dorght says

    Do smaller classrooms work? Does higher pay work? Does tenure work? Do sports, arts, and music keep kids motivated enough to keep attending until graduation?

    The answers to these questions may seem obvious but, being skeptical, I want real data. That data needs to structured so meaningful comparisons can be made as to what is working and what is not. That means test scores to evaluate students ability to regurgitate facts, reasoning, and basic skills. It also means there needs to be measurement of both student and teacher attitude and motivation. It also may mean other measurements that may turn out to be even more important.

    There are enough different districts and schools that a wealth of human subject experiments are being run. We just need to tap into that and extract meaningful data and conclusions.

    Teaching to the test is a perversion of the system, brought on by the tying of district finances to test performance. It is not mandated, merely the fallback position of the 50% that are below average administrators and teachers. It also has had the unfortunate consequence of making the pool of educational experiments to find what works much shallower.

  44. consciousness razor says

    It’s these kinds of “metalearnings,”

    Needs a hyphen. I read it as “metal-earnings.”

  45. consciousness razor says

    It’s these kinds of “metalearnings,” along with memories of (in my case) band, speech/debate, creative writing club, an honors math class in which I learned basic (BASIC) computer programming, etc., etc., etc…, that were the most important aspects of school for me, far more so than any facts I learned.

    I don’t like the implication (maybe not one you intended) that people don’t learn anything in subjects like “band, speech/debate, creative writing,” etc. Those just about keeping them interested or motivated or whatever.

    Not true.

  46. says

    The Vicar:

    The reason I’m skeptical about eliminating summer vacation altogether or spreading the days off throughout the year is that I think a lengthy break from school is that there are so many things — family travel, camp, summer enrichment classes, teachers’ professional development, etc. — that are hugely valuable and require more than a week or two to accomplish.

    I get that “catch-up” review is an issue for elementary school teachers (I’ve never taught at that level myself, but, to coin a phrase, “some of my best friends” are elementary teachers), but to lose that alternatively structured time altogether seems too big a price to pay.

    Perhaps reducing summer to 4 to 6 weeks, instead of 8 to 10, would be a good compromise?

  47. consciousness razor says

    Perhaps reducing summer to 4 to 6 weeks, instead of 8 to 10, would be a good compromise?

    Is it usually 8 to 10 though? I thought it was more like 12 to 14 in most places.

  48. says

    CR:

    I don’t like the implication (maybe not one you intended) that people don’t learn anything in subjects like “band, speech/debate, creative writing,” etc. Those just about keeping them interested or motivated or whatever.

    Definitely not what I intended: I didn’t mean to be excluding these things from learning, but including them in a broad category of learning that’s distinct from “cramming facts into students’ heads.”

    For me, band was a class (bizarrely, it counted as a substitute for PE!), while speech/debate and creative writing were extracurriculars (we had a speech class, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule), but they were all about learning.

    My whole point is that learning inheres in the entire school experience, and isn’t just limited to facts delivered in classes: Thus, I think a longer school day can enhance net learning without necessarily increasing the amount of classwork.

  49. says

    CR:

    I think it depends on the calendar: Here in CT, where there’s a February vacation, the school year extends to about the 3rd week of June, and starts up again at the end of August or the beginning of September (i.e., about 10 weeks)… and makeup days for snow can sometimes reduce that by up to a week.

    The TX schools I attended as a kid (in the 70s) ended at the end of May and started up again about the 3rd week of August, so that was probably about 12 weeks (again, depending on the precise calendar).

    Those are my only real data points, but I think they’re relatively normal for their regions/climates.

  50. consciousness razor says

    Definitely not what I intended: I didn’t mean to be excluding these things from learning, but including them in a broad category of learning that’s distinct from “cramming facts into students’ heads.”

    Sure, but that’s how it works in all subjects, math and science included.* By singling out particular kinds of subjects to make that point (the very same ones people often do argue have no real educational value because they supposedly lack “cramming of facts”), I think it’s kind of undermining your point.

    *Granted, you also did mention your mystical experience in calculus and how you learned basically nothing it, so I’ll give you some kind of credit for that. Just not calculus credits.

    For me, band was a class (bizarrely, it counted as a substitute for PE!),

    If you mean marching band, the argument for that isn’t really too bizarre. Maybe just a little bit bizarre. ;)

  51. says

    CR:

    Sure, but that’s how it works in all subjects, math and science included.* By singling out particular kinds of subjects to make that point (the very same ones people often do argue have no real educational value because they supposedly lack “cramming of facts”), I think it’s kind of undermining your point.

    Well, I suppose it’s a case of buying into others’ frame too easily, but I meant to be defending those subjects/activities specifically because they don’t fit into the “cramming facts” model. Similarly, the important stuff that happens in the classroom isn’t “cramming facts,” either:

    Granted, you also did mention your mystical experience in calculus and how you learned basically nothing it,

    Hah! It’s not that I didn’t learn calculus; it’s that the higher-level conceptual lesson has been (and remained, throughout my otherwise non-calculus-using life) the most important thing I learned. Over time, the facts and techniques have fallen away through disuse, but the big idea has remained important to me. I suspect it’s that way for a large fraction of what we learn in high school (and, likely, undergraduate school), when our education is nonspecialized.

    For me, band was a class (bizarrely, it counted as a substitute for PE!),

    If you mean marching band, the argument for that isn’t really too bizarre. Maybe just a little bit bizarre. ;)

    It was marching band, which was the reason it counted as PE, but marching season is only half the year, and even then, marching practice didn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot of exercise, so I stand by my assessment that counting band as equivalent to a full year of PE credit was bizarre. Not that I complained at the time, of course! ;^)

  52. Philip says

    I was another of those that opted out of all Physical Education in High School by way of the Band solution (and you do definitely get a very intense amount of physical exertion during matching season, with a different and more focussed but still existant set of exertions during the remainder of the year just from the requirements of your particular instrument).

    But, some of the things I’ve been reading (still looking for the references, it’s been a while) seem to suggest multiple breaks in the day for some more vigorous form of physical activity are not only good for physiological improvement, but also provide a needed mental break. Merely relocating from a desk in one room to another as subject and classes are changed could be some level of physical exertion, but I do not know if it is sufficient.

    Has anyone seen any good studies showing learning and/or attention-span improvements from physical activity breaks during the day? Or does this go into one of the made up statistics or selection bias categories that indicate that I should update my recollections?

  53. markvinciguerra says

    Roger Ebert is wrong.

    And that is because he doesn’t correctly identify the problem. It’s annoying because he mentions the key items, students ability to read and write and do math. Our education system isn’t actually failing IF you correct for socioeconomic factors.

    In fact, all of the proposed solutions mentioned here will almost certainly fail to correct this issue. They haven’t worked before, so why will they work now?

    If you want to fix our education system, fix inequality and inequity. Sure, you could try to fix them via the schools but that is an inefficient method that has not been proven to scale. The other method has.

  54. Tualha says

    Speaking of “frivolity,” here in Florida, there’s a serious proposal to charge students at state universities more for “frivolous” majors than for the holy STEM quadrinity and other things thought to be in high demand. Humanities? We don’ need no stinkin’ humanities! Hey, you kids thinking of taking classics or philosophy! Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join our nice STEM party! Never mind what actually interests you or what you’re good at; the state government knows best what you should study.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/should-science-majors-pay-less-for-college-than-art-majors/264417/

  55. says

    markvinciguerra (@58):

    If you want to fix our education system, fix inequality and inequity.

    THIS, of course! By far and away, the “failure” of public education is more attributable to economic and social inequality in the community — and the consequent unpreparedness, insecurity, and (too often) poor health of too many students — than to actual poor performance by the schools. In stable, economically secure communities (where they still exist), public schools do a pretty good job.

    That said, the school experience could be improved, in many of the ways discussed here, and the fact that other social problems exist is no excuse for not working on this one. Indeed, I think some of the education changes we’re talking — esp. my notion of making the public school a center of community — about might be part of addressing social inequity. A small part, perhaps, but… “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” eh?

  56. Randomfactor says

    I think the one thing that has been shown to improve schools is to increase the adult/student ratio in the classroom, both through smaller class sizes and more use of classroom aides.

  57. consciousness razor says

    Well, I suppose it’s a case of buying into others’ frame too easily, but I meant to be defending those subjects/activities specifically because they don’t fit into the “cramming facts” model.

    I think I understand. The thing is that they do fit the “cramming facts” model. You learn facts in them. And you get the sort of meta-learning you were talking about: how to learn things, how to develop different ways of conceptualizing them, or however you want to put it. Which you also get in math or biology or whatever it may be.

    It was marching band, which was the reason it counted as PE, but marching season is only half the year, and even then, marching practice didn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot of exercise, so I stand by my assessment that counting band as equivalent to a full year of PE credit was bizarre. Not that I complained at the time, of course! ;^)

    I went to a Catholic high school, so it’s hard to compare; but I think it’s bizarre that I could elect either music or visual art or theater — I could’ve even just taken “general music ed.” which would’ve involved basically zero practical experience in playing music, like learning about math but never having to solve a problem. I took art and music classes, but either would have counted as the only “art” credit I needed. It’s not like I just got 2 “art” credits either; it was probably in the neighborhood of 15 or 20. Bizarrely enough, literature (not English grammar, but literature) counted separately, as effectively “not-art,” in that system.

  58. mickll says

    I’m guessing the $60 million dollar stadium is surrounded by sad little portable classrooms that have been waiting for an upgrade since the 1970′s-or have they been placed out of view so they don’t mar the view of the magnificent stadium?

  59. says

    Also, BTW, better pay for teachers isn’t just a school performance issue; it’s an economic justice issue for the teachers themselves, who are heinously underpaid for the actual work they do. I don’t mean to sound like Norma Rae[1] — plenty of other workers have it much worse — but most people have no idea how hard teachers work, and how much they subsidize school classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

    Plus which, along with a small handful of other sorts of public employees, teachers are people whose pay depends on their neighbors’ votes (at least that’s true in my state), and they frequently get punished for all the voters’ other economic frustrations.

    ____
    [1] Yes, I know teachers are generally unionized in most union states; that doesn’t, in practice, mean they’re generally fairly paid, IMHO.

  60. jacobfromlost says

    I’m a teacher, and I feel compelled to say something…but the list is so long, I’m not sure what.

    One thing that is rarely mentioned is that the students are well aware that teachers work very long hours, and get paid far less than they are worth. Many students only have one example in their lives of an adult with a higher education–their teachers. And when students see, day after day, how teachers are underpaid, overworked, and sometimes (often?) badmouthed by other adults or even leaders…the message is clear. Being educated isn’t *really* valued (or objectively valuable); it’s just a game adults play to keep kids busy until they can graduate and get the same dead-end jobs that parents just assume they will have.

    Any message the teacher may ever have about the value of education is undermined by just about everything else the student sees or hears, including the reality of the teacher’s situation.

  61. darreno2112 says

    I live about a 15 minute drive from Allen, TX… It’s incredible the priority screw up. I commented on the incredible frivolity of the stadium mentioning that I hope no teacher gets laid off or program gets cut… you would think I said blue bell ice cream isn’t that great (Psst, it’s not), You should have seen the firestorm.

  62. darreno2112 says

    I should clarify… I commented on a local friend’s facebook page, who posted about the stadium.

  63. says

    I’m guessing the $60 million dollar stadium is surrounded by sad little portable classrooms that have been waiting for an upgrade since the 1970′s-or have they been placed out of view so they don’t mar the view of the magnificent stadium?

    You are guessing wrong. Look up Allen High School in Texas, and Allen Independent School District.

    And now I’ve posted three times in favor of this high school, and it looks like I’m defending it, and I don’t really automatically take the side of the sports program against the schools, and there are lots of conversations to be had about why the money was spent on this particular kind of stadium versus other athletic venues, but this school has all the basics covered for academics and performing arts and practical arts. The money isn’t taking away from anything else, except the stuff the third of the town voted against because they wanted the tax money to go to other things.

    It’s just bugging me to no end that skeptics would grab onto one fact isolated from context and use it to spin theories about some philosophy or support assumptions they already hold without checking even a single other source. The link above is to an article that is opining on the subject and includes an excerpt to another article that leaves out the part about how there was money in the bond to fund other things for the school/community and how the test scores at this school were, to use the language of the ESPN article, “stellar.” And the school itself that hosts the stadium was built in 1999 and probably doesn’t need upgrades.

    So I don’t know how far you were going to go in your judgment of the people of Allen, Texas and their commitment to their school system based on your guess, but your perception of it based on predetermined sentiments and stereotypes are completely wrong. This is Skepticism 101 stuff. You don’t jump to conclusions based on a blog judgment based on an opinion piece based on an article.

  64. consciousness razor says

    there are lots of conversations to be had about why the money was spent on this particular kind of stadium versus other athletic venues,

    Why isn’t it funding the stadium versus funding other academic programs?

    but this school has all the basics covered for academics and performing arts and practical arts.

    If they only have “the basics covered,” that doesn’t mean they should splurge on some really expensive stadium.

  65. says

    You are right. But they have more than the basics covered. Seriously, folks. Look up the school.

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/texas/districts/allen-independent-school-district/allen-high-school-18562

    http://www.allenisd.org/allenhs

    And here’s the performing arts center that the town also built, which is also the home to the local philharmonic symphony:

    http://www.allenisd.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=17251

    If you can find a school somewhere spending millions of dollars on a stadium while its students and facilities languish, that would make a better starting point for this conversation. But Allen High School is a terrible place to get your object lessons about academics vs. sports vs. the value of non-core subjects. The evidence does not support your conclusions here.

  66. says

    Why is it appropriate for a single school to soak up so much of the state’s limited school funding, exactly? Local funding for schools is ridiculous. It puts suburban, expensive schools up high and ruins poor rural and inner-city schools who have to absorb the kids the suburban schools kick out as well as having their best students and teachers poached.

  67. consciousness razor says

    You are right. But they have more than the basics covered.

    Then why did you imply that’s all they would need to do?

    And why are there “lots of conversations to be had about why the money was spent on this particular kind of stadium versus other athletic venues,” but not (presumably) lots of other conversations?

  68. says

    Why is giving students a $600 iPad (with their books and schoolwork on it) frivolous but giving them a stack of eight $100 books and expecting them to bring their own paper not?

  69. says

    Then why did you imply that’s all they would need to do?

    And why are there “lots of conversations to be had about why the money was spent on this particular kind of stadium versus other athletic venues,” but not (presumably) lots of other conversations?

    I was using “basics covered” more idiomatically than precisely, I guess, which was misleading. And the football stadium vs. Other Stuff conversation was what I referred to, because that’s what the original blog post focused on. I have no complaints about the other conversations going on in this thread about education, but don’t have anything new to add to them so I didn’t say anything about them.

    Believe you me, I have plenty to say about sports funding in general, and football funding in particular (for example, what if the money was spent on a generic athletic complex?). I was not impressed, however, with the way people were jumping to conclusions about this stadium expenditure in this town and the priorities of these voters based on incorrect assumptions (and–dare I say it–straight up biases) about the school facilities, the bond measure, and the mindset of the people living there. Half the funds on that bond measure went towards non-stadium expenditures. Roger Ebert (and PZ Myers) could have made all the same arguments about the new theater and the services building, but I’m not sure we’d use the language “too ignorant because of their deficient, music-soaked educations to be aware of it” describe people who voted to spend $23 million on a venue dedicated to a non-fundamental activity.

    Unacknowledged prejudice and snobbery is being revealed here.

    If there are educational inequalities in Texas, I’m not sure it’s the responsibility of private citizens to pass local bond measures to pay for other towns. It’s the responsibility of the counties and the state to ensure equity. This is an extra tax to give people something they wanted nearby. They’re paying all their regular taxes, too. Come up with evidence that the voters in this town are voting against statewide measures to improve the quality of education for everyone in their state and then we can have a talk about if they are wasting money. And no, paying for football things because you like football doesn’t automatically count as wasting money, especially if all other needs are met. It’s a personal preference, and it isn’t wrong, and their students are not lagging behind anyone. And no–they didn’t lay off any teachers.

    Here! You can the statistics for their school, based on Texas data collection and standardized tests:
    http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2011/campus.srch.html

    Are the kids at Allen High doing OK? They’ve only reached the 97th percentile in reading by the time they’re junior. Only 95nd in math. Only 96th in science. Would throwing $60 million more at their academic programs get them up a few more percentage points? Is it worth it? Or is it OK to spend the money on a football stadium now, too?

    Fuck, and I don’t even like football, and vote against stadiums whenever I can!

  70. consciousness razor says

    Believe you me, I have plenty to say about sports funding in general, and football funding in particular (for example, what if the money was spent on a generic athletic complex?). I was not impressed, however, with the way people were jumping to conclusions about this stadium expenditure in this town and the priorities of these voters based on incorrect assumptions (and–dare I say it–straight up biases) about the school facilities, the bond measure, and the mindset of the people living there.

    I’m not impressed with spending that kind of money on any kind of high school athletic complex, in any kind of school district. So none of those assumptions (incorrect or not) are necessary.

    Roger Ebert (and PZ Myers) could have made all the same arguments about the new theater and the services building, but I’m not sure we’d use the language “too ignorant because of their deficient, music-soaked educations to be aware of it” describe people who voted to spend $23 million on a venue dedicated to a non-fundamental activity.

    Maybe not, but what the hell’s a “non-fundamental activity”?

    Unacknowledged prejudice and snobbery is being revealed here.

    What the hell does that mean? I, personally, will acknowledge that building a fucking stadium does not teach kids anything and that maybe somehow I’m prejudiced in thinking schools are for teaching kids things. I’ll even acknowledge that I’m a fucking “snob,” if you like. What the fuck is this revealing about anything?

    Are the kids at Allen High doing OK? They’ve only reached the 97th percentile in reading by the time they’re junior. Only 95nd in math. Only 96th in science. Would throwing $60 million more at their academic programs get them up a few more percentage points? Is it worth it?

    Why are we only measuring their education based on their reading, math and science scores on some test or another? If (and how much) those could be increased is irrelevant.

    Or is it OK to spend the money on a football stadium now, too?

    No matter how great the school system is there, when would that ever be the only (or first) alternative?

  71. says

    OK.

    How would you measure the success of students at a school, and what would you spend money on before a stadium? And how will you determine if this particular school has done those things already?

    I’m not looking up anything else about the school, or about Allen, or about Texas. I’m just curious now about what this school–and others like it, but mostly this school because this stadium was pointed at–has to do to convince people that building the stadium was not a waste of what seems to be discretionary income that 2/3 of the town voted to spend.

    I honestly don’t even care about the answers for this specific school. I just want to know what the requirements are for “successful school” and “everything else is covered so a stadium is OK” and how a school would prove it has met such requirements.

  72. says

    I, personally, will acknowledge that building a fucking stadium does not teach kids anything

    This is an unsupported assertion.

  73. says

    I, personally, will acknowledge that building a fucking stadium does not teach kids anything.

    This is an unsupported assertion. Would you also acknowledge that building a fucking performing arts center does not teach kids anything? Because the same bond measure funded one of those, too.

  74. consciousness razor says

    Would you also acknowledge that building a fucking performing arts center does not teach kids anything?

    Yep. Well, it does teach them that someone spent money on it. Other than that, nothing.

  75. says

    CR:

    Unacknowledged prejudice and snobbery is being revealed here.

    What the hell does that mean?

    I think I know what Karen means… or, to avoid putting words in her (virtual) mouth, let me say what I would mean by it: Criticisms of “non-fundamental” (i.e., extracurricular or cocurricular) activities tend to be much more harsh and judgmental when it comes to sports than to other activities that are perceived as nobler or more intellectually acceptable.

    I’ve had this argument before with respect attitudes about college athletes: Imagine two students, one a linebacker majoring in Phys Ed and another a violinist majoring in Music Performance. Each is on scholarship; each attends only the bare minimum of classes outside hir specialty; each spends a large percentage of hir time practicing and training for hir specialty. Many critics (including, BTW, no small number of football fans) would dismiss the linebacker as a “dumb jock”; hardly anyone would make a similarly critical assessment of the violinist. And yet… both are devoted to a primarily physical pursuit whose main social utility is to entertain others, and both are prioritizing their special talent over other/academic pursuits.

    Next, imagine that both students leave school before graduating to pursue professional careers, the one drafted into the NFL and the other hired by a top professional orchestra: Many, if not most, would consider the linebacker an educational failure, but the violinist a success… even though even a marginal NFL player probably earns far more than a professional violinist.

    There’s no doubt this country loves and privileges sports… but at the same time, there’s a very real sense in which we — even, as I said above, many of those of us who love sports — also harbor deep anti-sports bias, such that we apply standards to sports decisions that don’t match the standards we apply to more “respectable” endeavors.

    IOW, the same arguments that are made against spending money on, for example, a new weight room for the football team could just as well be made against spending money on a new band hall… but they never are.

    All that said, I still think the culture of high school football, in particular, is somewhat pathological.

  76. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    All that said, I still think the culture of high school football, in particular, is somewhat pathological.

    Phew, some sanity shown at last.

  77. says

    Nerd:

    All that said, I still think the culture of high school football, in particular, is somewhat pathological.

    Phew, some sanity shown at last.

    That’s been my premise all along, though I don’t extend that judgment to sports generally.

    And, as I said upthread, the game of tackle football is inherently literally pathological: I expect it to be extinct within my lifetime. (Ice hockey, too, unless it bans not only fighting, but also checking.)

    I do not, however, expect schools to give up offering athletics-related extracurriculars… nor do I think they ought to.

  78. consciousness razor says

    Bill:
    I think kids can learn physical education without spending loads of money on a shiny new stadium. A less-than-shiny one is probably more than adequate for that purpose. Same deal for performing arts centers or science labs or whatever you assume I’m biased about.

    Then again, I could have it totally backward because of my elitist snobbery, so maybe the bleachers should be made of solid platinum or something. (You know how snobs are, what with their typical opposition to spending loads of money on unnecessary shit, because that’s obviously what this is all about.) Anything to help the kids learn. Money is no concern.

    Many critics (including, BTW, no small number of football fans) would dismiss the linebacker as a “dumb jock”; hardly anyone would make a similarly critical assessment of the violinist.

    Really? So you’ve never heard people talking about how impractical artists are, with their heads in the clouds, not learning facts or doing anything useful? That wasn’t very strongly implied several times in this very thread? Am I imagining that? Would anyone else have stepped in (if an artist like me hadn’t) to object to the assumption that math, reading and science test scores are a sufficient measurement of the quality of an education?

    There’s no doubt this country loves and privileges sports… but at the same time, there’s a very real sense in which we — even, as I said above, many of those of us who love sports — also harbor deep anti-sports bias, such that we apply standards to sports decisions that don’t match the standards we apply to more “respectable” endeavors.

    I don’t know what you expect, since like you said, sports are privileged in ways many other endeavors aren’t. This isn’t a great analogy, but there’s no bias against white people when we talk about how privileged they are.

  79. chrisv says

    And, with all these educational gyrations and costs, nearly 8 out of 10 American adults believe in angels. I guess teaching rational thinking is a f#%in’ frivolity. Cheech!

  80. cm's changeable moniker says

    [The] football stadium fits in with a strategy Allen, and many other far-out suburban cities of means have employed: take advantage of the community’s suburban wealth and open spaces to transform it into a location with its own image that will allow it to survive and thrive once its population boom settles down.

    Allen is a prototypical fast-growth Texas town [...] The local economic development commission notes that the median household income in Allen is about $95,000 per year, compared with a national median of $49,000.

    Why Allen, Texas, Built a $60 Million High School Football Stadium

  81. says

    CR:

    Same deal for performing arts centers or science labs or whatever you assume I’m biased about.

    I’m not making any assumptions about your personal biases; I’m talking about a societal bias I’ve observed, and that I think is related to the thing KarenX said, about which you asked “what the hell does that mean.”

    Really? So you’ve never heard people talking about how impractical artists are, with their heads in the clouds, not learning facts or doing anything useful?

    Different phenomenon: People criticize the choice to major in music (or acting or art or, as I did, creative writing) as impractical on an economic basis; they do not (usually) denigrate those activities as fundamentally silly and worthless, as they often do with sports. And once a musician or artist or writer achieves some measure of real-world success, no matter how modest, hardly anyone ever laments that they didn’t get a degree in some other field, as folks often do with athletes (who are almost by definition fairly successful by the time the general public has heard of them).

    I don’t know what you expect, since like you said, sports are privileged in ways many other endeavors aren’t. This isn’t a great analogy, but there’s no bias against white people when we talk about how privileged they are.

    Again, different phenomenon: The bias I’m talking about is distinct from reasoned criticism about the privileged place we give sports; it is, instead, a negative and unequal value judgment about the fundamental worth of the activity. It’s no bias to criticize the inequity of white privilege, of course; it would be bias to act as if white people were inherently less valuable than others.

    Now, some folks might want to defend their anti-sports bias on substantive grounds, and that’s fair enough: It’s not impossible to argue rationally that a beautiful violin performance is socially more valuable than a beautiful touchdown pass… but I don’t think most people are making such a thoughtful judgment. I think most of our culture (including, I repeat, most sports fans I know) have unconsciously internalized the judgment that sports is brutish and stupid while music is high-minded and important.

    Call it jock-shaming, maybe.

  82. says

    Oh, and…

    Would anyone else have stepped in (if an artist like me hadn’t) to object to the assumption that math, reading and science test scores are a sufficient measurement of the quality of an education?

    Hunh? I have been arguing for an expansive, holistic, more-than-just-3-Rs-and-test-scores approach to education throughout this thread; what could possibly make you think you’re the only one on that side of the ball (if I might dare to use a football metaphor)? The only difference between us, as far as I can see, is that I am more willing than you to include sports (but NOT megabucks football) in the “more-than-just-test-scores” value proposition.

  83. consciousness razor says

    People criticize the choice to major in music (or acting or art or, as I did, creative writing) as impractical on an economic basis;

    And as if they’re studying a different form of education unlike a “normal” education in the “core” or “fundamental” subjects, which are what makes them “real” education, consisting of “factual content” which everyone needs to know. Just like you said (but didn’t really say) before. Because they’re more about entertainment or motivation or even “meta-learning,” but however it comes, there’s always this implication that don’t involve “actual” learning.

    If you want to call it something else because the phenomena aren’t identical in every way, I really don’t give a shit. Artists do get in fact get treated like they’re dumb because they studied art, so your claim is false.

  84. says

    Hmm… I had to got to work after writing my comments way upthread, and I thought I was in disagreement with what Bill Dauphin was saying. I’m now caught up, and find that he has written almost nothing I would not agree with. In fact, Bill, thanks for the clear sense you’ve expressed!

    Kids are people, with at least as wide and varied needs and interests as adults, and we should be trying our best to do what is best for as many of them as we can. Who decides what is best is a problem.

  85. says

    CR:

    I think there’s a meaningful distinction between “that’s a noble and admirable activity, but a lousy way to make a living,” on the one hand, and “that’s a stupid thing to devote your life to (even though I’m pantingly eager to watch you do it)” on the other hand.

    I really think we’re substantially on the same side of the issue, here, but…

    If you want to call it something else because the phenomena aren’t identical in every way, I really don’t give a shit. Artists do get in fact get treated like they’re dumb because they studied art, so your claim is false.

    …I’ve apparently touched a nerve, however unintentionally. I didn’t mean to piss you off; I’ll let it go.

  86. consciousness razor says

    Bill: that’s meaningful, but inaccurate.

    …I’ve apparently touched a nerve, however unintentionally. I didn’t mean to piss you off; I’ll let it go.

    Sure, you pissed me off, but you got facts wrong. Okay? You told this sad, distorted tale about how a linebacker just isn’t treated fairly in the way a violinist is. I am not disputing the part about the linebacker, just the part about the violinist. It is also sad and unfair.

    I think we could substantially agree if we’re not too busy pitting one against the other…. Let’s back up:

    The only difference between us, as far as I can see, is that I am more willing than you to include sports (but NOT megabucks football) in the “more-than-just-test-scores” value proposition.

    Again: building stadiums is just fine by me, because physical education is a good thing which everyone should learn about. A $60M stadium? No good reason for anyone anywhere to do that, until inflation makes that number seem much, much smaller. So I’m fine with having a reasonable conversation about that (or maybe education funding generally); or we could keep having what I suspect will be a fairly unreasonable conversation about “anti-sports bias.”

  87. says

    Well, I meant to let it go, really. But…

    Sure, you pissed me off, but you got facts wrong. Okay?

    What facts?

    You told this sad, distorted tale about how a linebacker just isn’t treated fairly in the way a violinist is.

    I crafted a hypothetical to illustrate a bias I have personally observed (and that I thought was relevant to what somebody else in the thread had said). The only “fact” I offered was that I have personally observed it, and I don’t think you have standing to declare that I’m “wrong” about that.

    I am not disputing the part about the linebacker, just the part about the violinist. It is also sad and unfair.

    I get the impression you’ve run afoul of some arts haters. I don’t deny such people exist — in fact, I seem to recall some hyper-dogmatic science-uber-alles types around here posting to that effect — but my take is that our culture generally respects artists (of all sorts), at least in the abstract, even as we paradoxically fail to value them economically; on the other hand, we typically denigrate athletes as stupid brutes, even as we equally paradoxically can’t wait to shovel money at them. Both attitudes are somewhat fucked up, but they’re fucked up in different ways.

    My father the engineer hated the fact that I switched from Engineering to English in college and then studied Creative Writing in grad school, because he thought I was destined to “starve in a gutter” (yes, he really said that to me). But even so, he thought it was a brainy field, no matter how “impractical,” and he made a pest of himself bragging about me to his friends; most people I meet do not feel a similar kind of respect for college athletes (though I’m sure their dads brag about them plenty). Whenever an athlete turns out to actually be smart (e.g., majors in something brainy, or gets a non-sports award or scholarship), it’s generally reported as a freakishly weird news story.

    Or to look at it another way, from the “audience” POV: My sense is that people sitting in the audience for a symphony concert feel smart and virtuous, even if they don’t actually like classical music and aren’t having much fun; people sitting in a stadium don’t feel especially smart or virtuous, even though they do like sports and are having a bunch of fun.

    But all of this is really ancillary to the point I’ve been trying to make here: Learning takes place across the entire school “space”: core curriculum, cocurriculars, and extracurriculars; traditionally academic subjects, arts, and practical/vocational classes; fact-based, skills-based, and experiential learning modes… all of it. I don’t think anybody here thinks the arts don’t belong in that “solution space”; the only argument is about to what extent athletics do, too.

    And based on what you’ve said, I don’t think you and I actually disagree about that.

    Now I really am out; I’m not going to look at the computer again before bed.

  88. consciousness razor says

    but my take is that our culture generally respects artists (of all sorts), at least in the abstract,

    Yes, but the respect (if any) is often put in terms of emotional or cultural value. People also respect athletes and athletics for various reasons, despite also thinking of them as dumb (and in that sense, they don’t respect them). So it isn’t just that one gets respect and the other doesn’t. What makes “dumb artists” like “dumb jocks” is the “dumb” part: that, to me, means regardless of how much you respect it, whatever value there may be, it is not intellectually valuable. Which isn’t true, but that’s the perspective people have.

    Whenever an athlete turns out to actually be smart (e.g., majors in something brainy, or gets a non-sports award or scholarship), it’s generally reported as a freakishly weird news story.

    The same thing happens if some artist even says anything remotely knowledgeable about something that doesn’t pertain to his or her own subject. It’s reported like some kind of miracle or like it makes them a fucking genius compared to the rest (i.e., all those other musicians or actors or whatever). I don’t really want to talk about news reports though, because those make me cranky.

    Or to look at it another way, from the “audience” POV: My sense is that people sitting in the audience for a symphony concert feel smart and virtuous, even if they don’t actually like classical music and aren’t having much fun; people sitting in a stadium don’t feel especially smart or virtuous, even though they do like sports and are having a bunch of fun.

    What happens when they go to a pop concert? The point is that merely being music isn’t reason enough for people to think it’s “smart and virtuous.” You’re confusing the way some people treat the whole subject area with the way they treat “classical” (or maybe “academic”) music in particular. I could pick polo or something, and people would have the same sort of opinions because of its “upper-class” associations. That wouldn’t carry over into football or ping pong or other sports.

  89. AtheistPowerlifter says

    I hope this isn’t off topic…

    Could someone explain to me what they mean by “the negative culture of the sport of Football”…a statement I have seen a few times this thread. It seems to be an assumed thing, but I’m not sure what people are specifically referring to.

    I admit I may be biased (I am an Athletic Therapist who has worked with numerous High School and University Football programs for 25+ years…I have treated a FEW professional athletes, but have not worked within their system – so I cannot make an informed opinion as to the “culture” of any particular team/organization).

    For the teams I have been involved with, the culture (as I see it) has been largely positive. No hazing tolerated, no abuse of “weaker” team members be it verbal or physical…bullying is not tolerated. Since the 1990′s, athletes have been educated and taught to self disclose injury information…the “play with pain” attitude that myself and my colleagues had to deal with in the 80′s is a thing of the past (the pendulum has actually swung too far in the other direction – athletes are not taking as much responsibility as they have in the past regarding self care…this may be another topic).

    In my experience, the Football environment fosters:
    - healthy competition.
    - veteran athletes supporting and the weaker (physically) athletes so that they are elevated to excel rather than diminished and discarded.
    - academic achievement is as valued and celebrated as physical achievement.
    - self regulating support groups whereupon advanced athletes tutor academically struggling athletes.
    - athletes are taught by Coaches and support staff to report any and all injuries immediately, and are trained to recognize head and neck injuries and the subtle symptoms of MTBI.
    - community involvement is a team requirement that usually takes the form of anti harassment/anti-bullying campaigns.

    This has been my experience. Please understand that this is in the context of 1) amateur sport, and 2) in Canada only.

    My personal experience of a negative team culture has mostly been with Hockey, and Women’s Hockey in particular (hiding of injuries, sexual harassment, extreme hazing of freshman athletes, play at all cost mentality, 4 x the concussion rate of Football, etc).

    I would be interested in your comments.

    AP

  90. consciousness razor says

    I’m still wrapping my head around this, from Bill. I feel like we’ve been speaking different languages recently, so I thought I’d try to clear up how I think about it:

    There’s no doubt this country loves and privileges sports… but at the same time, there’s a very real sense in which we — even, as I said above, many of those of us who love sports — also harbor deep anti-sports bias, such that we apply standards to sports decisions that don’t match the standards we apply to more “respectable” endeavors.

    IOW, the same arguments that are made against spending money on, for example, a new weight room for the football team could just as well be made against spending money on a new band hall… but they never are.

    It’s like people are complaining about how much we spend on the military, because we need more funding for relatively inexpensive programs like food stamps. Let’s say you really like the military, and you’re happy to pay for food stamps too, because you think they’re both good in their own way. Your reply to the people complaining, if that were the situation, probably shouldn’t be, “OMG anti-military bias! Why do we never hear the same arguments for cutting food stamps?” Instead you should probably say something more like, “yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable: I agree we can cut back on the DoD a little bit to pay for more food stamps.” Right?

    Okay, I admit I picked government programs I liked and don’t like to paint it a certain way because I’m feeling lazy, but the point remains…. Those arguments aren’t made against music programs because it generally isn’t the case that music programs are swimming in cash while athletic programs are struggling. The opposite is almost always what is actually happening in the U.S. That is not a bias anyone has against sports. If we’re going to bring up a sports-related bias at all, it’d show a positive one in favor of sports. But if it’s just a spending issue, we could just talk about that and not try to psychologize it by bringing in lots of other baggage like peoples’ attitudes to different subjects.

  91. mirror says

    Face it. Americans love their sports. They want a high school and college system with sports and are willing to pay for it. You can la-di-da “if we get rid of sports it will unleash the latent power of the education system” all day long and it still won’t change the fact that there are plenty of schools and school systems that balance all facets of their school programs in a perfectly functional way, as was pointed out by a poster above about the very school system mentioned by Ebert.

    Seriously, it makes people who are successful in sciences look like jerks that they want to eliminate everything that doesn’t put people who aren’t interested in science in competition with them, so they can finally dominate the social order

    Finally, it is the height of foolishness to say that the problem with Texas is football. And I hate, passionately hate, Texas football culture.

  92. carlie says

    It’s a public school, right? That’s the most obvious problem with the way public schools are funded in this country. If you live in a rich area, your school has money; if you live in a poor area, tough shit. The entire point of public education is supposed to be that it’s available to you whether or not you can afford what a private education would cost. Texas is one of the places that is all about states’ rights, but when it comes to something like this, it’s all about individual neighborhood fiefdoms. If it has to be property-tax based, it should at least be distributed equitably within the state, which most super-conservatives think ought to be the main level of government anyway.

  93. says

    CR:

    I feel like we’ve been speaking different languages recently, so I thought I’d try to clear up how I think about it:

    Yeah, in the (dim, drizzly) light of morning, I’m pretty sure we’ve been talking past each other. I’ll try to clarify myself, combining responses to 98 and 101.

    Yes, but the respect (if any) is often put in terms of emotional or cultural value. People also respect athletes and athletics for various reasons, despite also thinking of them as dumb (and in that sense, they don’t respect them). So it isn’t just that one gets respect and the other doesn’t. What makes “dumb artists” like “dumb jocks” is the “dumb” part:

    I think part of our trouble is the flexibility of English itself: In that near-mathematical final clause, you’re “factoring out” the word dumb, but I don’t think it’s really a common factor: I think it really has two different values in those terms. “Dumb artists” (a term I’ve never actually heard anyone use, though I don’t doubt you if you say you have) are “dumb” in a practical, economic sense, because (in this view) they’re going to have a hard time making a living… but the people themselves and the things they’re doing, are, in virtually all the cultural messaging I see, considered smart and valuable. The stereotype of the “dumb jock,” OTOH, is about the athletes themselves being stupid, and the thing they’re doing having little real social value, because it’s merely physical[1] and merely entertainment.

    I chose the violin performance major in my earlier hypothetical carefully because instrumental performance (in contrast to, say, painting or composing or poetry) is arguably merely physical and merely entertainment in much the same way that football is… but I have never heard a college violinist called a “dumb music jock” or anything equivalent[2]. Why? Well, because (IMHO) classical music is classical fucking music, but football is just boys playing games, and really, who’re you going to have a marble bust of: Bach or Bear Bryant?[3]

    that, to me, means regardless of how much you respect it, whatever value there may be, it is not intellectually valuable.

    Again, if this reflects responses you’ve gotten personally, I have no standing for arguing with you. But this does not match my perception of the broader cultural messaging, in which artists are treated as presumptively intellectual, and if they’re criticized, it’s likely to be for being too intellectual[4], not for being “dumb.”

    It’s like people are complaining about how much we spend on the military, because we need more funding for relatively inexpensive programs like food stamps. Let’s say you really like the military, and you’re happy to pay for food stamps too, because you think they’re both good in their own way. Your reply to the people complaining, if that were the situation, probably shouldn’t be, “OMG anti-military bias! Why do we never hear the same arguments for cutting food stamps?”

    If the bias exists, and if it’s coloring the otherwise rational discussion about priorities, then yes, it should. The question of spending priorities in a particular case and the broader general question of what we value as a culture obviously are related and interact, but they are also sensibly distinct questions. At various times in our history (though not so much today), there has been a discernible anti-military bias (you know, “babykillers” and such), and to the extent that bias affected the debate over spending priorities, we should say “OMG, anti-military bias,” because regardless of where we stand in the debate, we should want it to proceed in a rational, unbiased way.

    Those arguments aren’t made against music programs because it generally isn’t the case that music programs are swimming in cash while athletic programs are struggling. The opposite is almost always what is actually happening in the U.S.

    Yeah, there’s that paradox I was talking about before: We denigrate sports as “silly children’s games” (mind you, that’s rhetoric I hear regularly from sportscasters; I’m not just making shit up), but because the children’s games entertain us, we spend lots of money and time on them. Lots of Romans went to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators, too; didn’t mean they thought they were smarter or more culturally valuable than poets.

    But if it’s just a spending issue, we could just talk about that and not try to psychologize it by bringing in lots of other baggage like peoples’ attitudes to different subjects.

    But “peoples’ attitudes to different subjects” are precisely why it’s not “just a spending issue”: If Allen, TX, had spent however many tens of millions of dollars on the country’s fanciest high school film studio, I’m sure there would’ve been just as much debate about spending priorities in Allen (as well there should be)… but you can bet in that case it wouldn’t have become a thing in the larger culture, and we certainly wouldn’t have Roger Ebert weighing in on how this was an example of all that’s wrong with education. It’s because it’s sports… and not just sports, but football… and not just football, but football in Texas, which keys into a whole batch of stereotypes… that people outside of Allen are talking about this at all.

    So, in summary…

    * I didn’t mean to seem like I was gainsaying your personal experiences; sorry if it seemed that way.

    * I do believe there’s a broad cultural bias against sports, especially in an educational context, but it is, I admit, a complex issue.

    * I strongly believe that extracurricular and cocurricular activities — including sports — and practical skills-based clases (including in the fine and performing arts) are vital parts of a holistic approach to secondary education, in contrast to those who would focus heavily on traditionally “academic” information delivery/testing class models.

    * In any case, I wouldn’t spend $60 million on a football stadium; my priorities would almost certainly be different.

    S’alright?

    ____
    [1] I’m tempted to say this bias is connected to our larger bias against all things “of the flesh,” and is therefore connected at some level to our puritanical sex-negativity as a culture… ah, but perhaps that’s a philosophical bridge too far, eh?

    [2] FWIW, as a member of my college marching band, I got to know more than a few music majors, so I’m not talking entirely out of my ass here.

    [3] YMMV if you live in Alabama.

    [4] Anti-intellectual bias in U.S. culture is a whole ‘nother subject; its existence, though, does not (IMHO) refute the existence of anti-sports bias.

  94. says

    AtheistPowerLifter:

    Could someone explain to me what they mean by “the negative culture of the sport of Football”

    I started to mentally draft a response, and then I got to the end of your post…

    Please understand that this is in the context of 1) amateur sport, and 2) in Canada only.

    My personal experience of a negative team culture has mostly been with Hockey, and Women’s Hockey in particular…

    …and maybe I can save some words: Football is to the U.S. as hockey is to Canada. Except, of course, it’s more sexist, since women’s football is virtually nonexistent.

    SRSLY, I like sports, and I like football, but football — especially high school and college football, especially in certain states — has gained a quasi-religious social status[1] that can obviate many of the positive things you quite rightly attribute to sports and team sports.

    _____
    [1] No, this doesn’t contradict my earlier comments to CR: As I see it, we worship the game as entertainment, but don’t think it’s important; we worship the players as entertainers, but don’t think they’re smart.

  95. says

    Carlie:

    That’s the most obvious problem with the way public schools are funded in this country. If you live in a rich area, your school has money; if you live in a poor area, tough shit.

    DingDingDingDing!!! And it’s not just rich/poor, either: Other aspects of demographics can adversely affect school funding, too.

    In CT, schools are (generally) funded through towns, and town budgets are (generally) subject to popular referendum. This means that, in an aging town like mine, the school budget is at the mercy of voters who don’t see themselves as stakeholders in education.

    I would argue, of course, that everybody is a stakeholder in public education, but in my experience, many people without children in the schools don’t see themselves that way. I have more than once seen citizens stand up in town meetings and say “why should I pay for other people’s kids to go to school?”

    Somehow, I have always managed to refrain from violence.

  96. says

    I can’t, for instance, remember much of the details I learned in Calculus class, nor could I solve calculus problems… but the conceptual realization that mathematical tools can solve problems that seemed intuitively impossible was a nearly religious experience for me, and informs my life on a daily basis even now, nearly 4 decades later.

    Interestingly, calculus is one case where crossover, like I mentioned, is plausible. One big feature of calculus is “functions”. Its also, basically, a more formalized version of what you do when writing programs. A crossover between them would allow for an understanding of not just how functions work, in both, but how you break things down into discrete steps, in the case of calculus, to manipulate the equation, until its in a form you can more readily handle, and in the case of programming, breaking those same sort of steps down into discrete acts, so the machine can understand them. Now.. The school that thinks “using computers” consists of learning to type your reports up in Microsoft Office… it won’t help at all, of course…

  97. says

    Again: building stadiums is just fine by me, because physical education is a good thing which everyone should learn about.

    The only thing I ever learned from P.E. was a) don’t bother trying, since you are never going to be as good as the coaches “stars”, and b) all the stuff they are teaching is damned stupid, especially since 99% of it was geared not towards physical health, but sports, and unless you happen to have some place to play them, and actually play well enough to give a crap, it won’t help you keep physically fit in the future.

    So, no.. I don’t think that building a stadium, never mind “emphasizing” sports as the core of physical education, is something that is either useful to the majority of students, **or** something they need to learn.

  98. says

    and it still won’t change the fact that there are plenty of schools and school systems that balance all facets of their school programs in a perfectly functional way, as was pointed out by a poster above about the very school system mentioned by Ebert.

    ‘balance’ doesn’t mean paying titanic amounts of money more on sports than on academics, arts, or other valuable points of education though.

    Seriously, it makes people who are successful in sciences look like jerks that they want to eliminate everything that doesn’t put people who aren’t interested in science in competition with them, so they can finally dominate the social order

    You have no earthly idea what the fuck this is about.

  99. Dhorvath, OM says

    I am troubled by the difference between prioritizing the action of performing physical activity and prioritizing the witnessing of physical activies as performed by others. A field is necessary to play football, a stadium is necessary to watch it. What message then about participation is sent by a large investment in the passive side of sport?

  100. Dhorvath, OM says

    I would also like to put forwards a vote for more frivolity in schooling. Exposure to the wider spectrum of human endeavour is something that I think of fundamental importance in educating our young. A narrow schooling is an ill start to growth.

  101. consciousness razor says

    If Allen, TX, had spent however many tens of millions of dollars on the country’s fanciest high school film studio, I’m sure there would’ve been just as much debate about spending priorities in Allen (as well there should be)… but you can bet in that case it wouldn’t have become a thing in the larger culture, and we certainly wouldn’t have Roger Ebert weighing in on how this was an example of all that’s wrong with education.

    He (or PZ) may not have, but I don’t know or care. I would have. There’s no reason to spend that much on a high school film studio either. Or a performing arts center. Or a science lab. Or a computer lab. Or a library. Or any high school building project in particular. I think it probably would’ve gotten a lot of attention if any of that had happened (no way to tell), but there’s probably a very obvious reason why we rarely hear about that sort of thing: because they rarely happen. Giant megabuck educational projects are usually athletics-related (especially football). If anything, that’s because we over-value sports (especially football) in our educational systems and in our society generally. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable and shouldn’t get any resources. It only means they get too many resources.

    It’s because it’s sports… and not just sports, but football… and not just football, but football in Texas, which keys into a whole batch of stereotypes… that people outside of Allen are talking about this at all.

    No, it’s simply an outrageous amount of money. That does not change because people also have unfairly negative opinions about athletics or athletes.

    * I didn’t mean to seem like I was gainsaying your personal experiences; sorry if it seemed that way.

    Thanks. I hope it’s clear I wasn’t trying to do that either. But from my perspective, you put it in terms of what “hardly anyone” would ever do though, which doesn’t sound like it was just supposed to be a personal experience to me. That sounds like it was supposed to be a general, objective statement about people in our society. (Granted, you must have meant only some people, but I don’t think you could’ve meant only those you’ve encountered).

    * In any case, I wouldn’t spend $60 million on a football stadium; my priorities would almost certainly be different.

    They’re not too different from mine then. I’m pretty sure the reason we agree on that is not because you’re biased against sports too. It’s because it’s too much money: there are many more ways of spending that much money which would’ve been more beneficial to the students or the community as a whole. I think that could’ve included a less-expensive (or renovated) stadium if necessary, because however biased I may be, I realize that’ll be a fairly large expenditure schools will need to make sometimes which makes physical education possible. But that doesn’t mean “go hog wild spending however you want, and if people don’t like it just talk about how biased they are.” That’s not going to work.

    The remainder (if we assume there must be $60M which must go somewhere) could’ve gone to many other educational buildings, programs, teachers, materials, etc. Some of it could’ve gone to educational programs for the community at large, because really you should never stop learning — those could’ve included sports programs too if that’s really what they need. Or it could’ve gone to other communities which needed it even more, for their own reasonable and not-completely-ridiculous projects. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

  102. says

    CR:

    I haven’t been ignoring you; I’ve just been (fairly slightly, it turns out) ill. Anyway…

    There’s no reason to spend that much on a high school film studio either. Or a performing arts center. Or a science lab. Or a computer lab. Or a library. Or any high school building project in particular.

    On first blush, I agree… except that “that much” is a bit of a slippery concept. Over the last several years, I’ve been serving on a town board whose mission was to oversee a bond-funded project to renovate all 7 public school campuses (5 elementary schools and one each middle school and high school) in my town. The total budget was about $68 million (though we’re not going to end up spending quite all of it), of which the largest fraction was (IIRC) roughly $20 million for a new auditorium/theater at the high school.

    I’m quite proud of that building — it’s modern, attractively designed, and highly flexible — but it is by no stretch of the imagination frivolously extravagant for a high school auditorium. Another big chunk of our budget (though admittedly not tens of millions) went for brand new bleachers at the existing football stadium… not because the team needed or wanted new facilities, but because part of our brief was to make all the public school facilities (with the exception of the oldest elementary school) 100% ADA compliant, and the cheapest way to make the existing bleachers (and press box) compliant turned out to be to replace them from scratch.

    The point is that when you’re building new, modern school structures that comply with ADA, local building and fire codes, and all the other programmatic, safety, and security requirements that apply to public buildings, you get into tens of millions pretty quickly… waaaayyyy before you get into gold-plated-bathroom-fixtures territory. Any one of the buildings you listed, if it were a new-construction standalone structure, might easily get into the double-digit million range without being unnecessarily luxurious or extravagant.

    That said…

    No, it’s simply an outrageous amount of money. That does not change because people also have unfairly negative opinions about athletics or athletes.

    …here, I think, we just honestly disagree (which is fine, of course): I think a significant component of judging that amount to be outrageous is a judgment about the inherent value of the underlying activity; I think large segments of our culture hold (often unconsciously, perhaps) negative judgments about sports, as compared to other arts, entertainment, and non-”fundamental”[1] activities; I think those negative judgments have to do with a cultural bias for serious intellectual and emotional activities (science, engineering, literature, fine arts, certain performing arts, etc.) over merely physical ones (sports, sex, etc.); and I, personally, judge that bias to be unfair.

    I grok that you disagree with some or all of that; I imagine our disagreement is largely owing to our different sets of experiences; I still think what I think; and I think disagreements like ours are what makes conversations like this one interesting.

    …which doesn’t sound like it was just supposed to be a personal experience to me. That sounds like it was supposed to be a general, objective statement about people in our society. (Granted, you must have meant only some people, but I don’t think you could’ve meant only those you’ve encountered).

    Well, I was talking about personal experience, in a sense, but not “just” personal experience: I was talking about my observation (a word I carefully used multiple times) of “cultural messaging”… by which I mean opinions broadly, publicly disseminated in a variety of national media. In particular, I’m thinking of sports journalism and commentary, which, despite obviously being inherently pro-sports, often carries deep undertones of apology and self-deprecation, the likes of which you never hear in arts journalism and commentary (not even from the alternative weekly newspaper’s death-metal columnist).

    It’s sports journalists, primarily, who most readily criticize college sports for bad grades, poor graduation rates, etc.; I’ve never heard that kind of criticism of music or engineering departments, even though I knew plenty of music and engineering majors who got bad grades and failed to make “adequate progress toward graduation.” To the best of my knowledge, no college actor has ever been ruled ineligible for the spring Moliere production because s/he got a bad grade on the Chemistry midterm.

    So I’m certainly not talking about only those [people I]‘ve encountered, but I’m also not talking about only some people, if by that you mean some tiny subset. I’m talking about an attitude broadly shared by a nontrivial segment of the population… but I’m talking about my perception of that attitude, which is no claim of objectivity: If I had data, I’d’ve quoted it; instead, what I have is my observation, which is necessarily subjective (and I never suggested otherwise)… but it’s not ignorant or thoughtless.

    I’m pretty sure the reason we agree on that is not because you’re biased against sports too.

    Actually, I was (unconsciously) biased against sports, until a few years ago, despite being a lifelong (albeit not too rabid) sports fan. At some point, I had an epiphany and started questioning the negative messaging I had accepted uncritically up until then. It’s a thing I’ve learned about myself as I matured, similar to (though clearly nowhere near as consequential as) learning about my straight white male middle-class privilege.

    I think the reason we agree about this stadium is that rational discussions of spending priorities are — or at least should be — distinct from the kind of bias I observe. In any case, I never suggested that you personally were speaking out of bias; only that the bias exists in the culture you and I are both swimming in.
    ____
    [1] I understand, and share, your objection to this formulation; hence, the scare quotes.

  103. says

    Afraid, not just due to personal bias from my own experience with a teacher that was a complete ass, that I have to, to an extent, side with the, “Why are we wasting money on sports?”, side. The problem, as I see it, is utility. Just about every other pursuit, including art, can be directed to some cause, other than its own propagation. And, even when someone is willing to expend absurd amounts of money on it, outside of schools, its a tiny wobble in total sum of what people spend money on. No one is using sports to do anything much more than **just** sports, we spend idiotic amounts of money on it, none of which generates anything at all, at least directly, other than more sports, what is generated indirectly… well, its a fairly narrow range of things, and, finally, the only thing more obscene than the expense of going to see someone play, and the money they make, and the amount of money spent in the US on them, is how little half the rest of the country is paid by comparison. I would side with the Coch brothers are being more “valuable” to society, from the perspective of jobs created, and usuable items produced by their companies, than some over paid football player, and I think they should be strung up and their pockets slit, so the money those two assholes rob from other people’s paychecks can be given back.

    When we don’t just over hype sports to the point of pure idiocy outside of schools, but we also have supposed teachers, who are more concerned with the 2% of students that might make them indirectly famous at some point, than the long term health, and supposed understanding of the value of exercise, they are supposed to be instilling in other students, it goes from obscene in “real life”, to absolutely unconscionable in schools imo.