20 June 2011
I guess that anyone who has spent a little time as a teacher knows that the inability of students not to concentrate is a problem for them and for us. For some it seems typical and for others intermittent. Thankfully there are some students who seem simply to have a never-challenged capacity to concentrate. What a joy they are!
Just back from the US and I am wondering whether it is not only students that lose their concentration but entire education systems.
The USA has all the education issues of any English speaking country with many scaled up by quite a degree and with huge numbers of students dropping out and so on. What was the big issue facing the system last week? Well, it was whether or not the athletic programmes in colleges would go broke. The athletic programmes include college football (gridiron that is), basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. Make no mistake about it, these programmes are huge business.
USA Today was able to collect information on 218 colleges and those tertiary institutions spent $US6.2 billion (let me repeat that – $6.2 billion) on their sports programme. And the shock of last week was that some of the budgets just weren’t going to be large enough. Sports budgets have been subsidised to quite an extent and these subsidies have increased by 20% since 2006. This at a time when state budgets are in extreme difficulty and expenditure on education is being cut generally and seriously.
It’s all a bit crazy – mind you this is happening in a sports system that can pay a college basketball coach over $3 million dollars a year and one college’s football team ran up over $13k in parking tickets that were paid for by the college.
The University of Oregon spend about $78 million on its sports. It is big business but what is more important, the business of sports or the business of education? What matters, getting the indicators heading north instead of south or the ball games? When there is great disparity between communities in terms of educational achievement, should college sport be allowed to capture the concerns of the community or is it acting to obscure real issues?
So I get home and discover that ball games are at the top of public discussion, not for the first time but certainly at a level of seriousness that seems to be escalating. Have we only the tragic consequences of excess among a few to concentrate on? When I hear that schools report with pride that at their school ball, sniffer dogs and breathalysers and security guards will all ensure that something can proceed safely – I know that we have taken our eyes off the ball that matters. A detox room at a school ball? Have we at last gone mad! We rail against the picture of schools in the US with security guards and detection devices at the school gate in order to make education safe while we surely are no better!
If this is what it takes, then let’s abandon the balls without hesitation. And if parents want to put on booze-driven events, let them. No-one is coming out of the current parlous state with either credit or peace of mind, what is meant to create pleasure seems simply to be creating pain.
There was a time when once the school ball had purpose. Dancing lessons would precede the event and young people would be treated to an event that was for most, well in advance of that which they could hope to enjoy in the ordinary course of their daily lives. That is no longer true. School balls as an event are now something of an anachronism – adults don’t even go to balls these days. Charity black tie dinners might be the closest thing and they bear only passing resemblance to a ball.
There are a lot of other things that the community should be invited to be worried about in education – it requires no catalogue from me for readers to know this. Instead by our own actions we invite the community at large to be distracted by these awful events.
On the one hand, we are asked to believe that there is tragic pressure on football and baseball in one system in which the disengagement of many and the failure or more should be the top priority. While in another system the tragic consequences of ghastly social behaviour obscures the fact that most students exhibit sound values and behaviour and perform as required to by their schools to such an extent that we can hold our heads high in international company.
In one system, state and federal governments struggle to direct the money to the things that matter in education. In another system, ours, we struggle to keep the focus of the community on things that matter.
In both instances, the ball season encourages us to inflict damage on ourselves.