British Columbia’s schools are facing a new curriculum, but the same old problems remain and will remain. The perennial complaint about schools being underfunded and teachers underpaid will be present no matter the reform. Even if these problems were to be solved tomorrow, the cultural problem o who is attracted to teaching will remain. Specifically, the problem of the sort of male who aspires to teach and lead in schools will remain unquestioned. The majority of men who teach in British Columbia’s schools, at least from my experience, are enamoured with athletics, at the expense of academics.
Let me offer an example from the recent past:
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) was recently replaced by a BC Liberal Supplicant, partly because the VSB were unable to balance their budget. This struggle led the VSB to consider cutting music services to elementary aged children, however, one partial solution remained off the table: The elimination of competitive sports. Elementary aged children may not be able to have exposure to stringed instruments, but the members of the Brittania Hockey Academy are afforded five teachers, paid for with the public dime.
The case for competitive sports in schools is limited. Canada and the Untied States are the most wedded to the concept, as European countries utilize an after and outside of school club model. In a recent paper Bowen and Hitt (2016) attempt to make the case for school sports by noting student athletes perform better in school and earn higher wages after school. These finding would intuitively seem to say that if all students played sports than all students would do better both in school and after school. Can this really be so?
Bowen and Hitt do note that there can not be control group studies because participation in sports is a voluntary activity, so they hypothesize that perhaps student athletes are just “naturally higher-achieving students” (p. 10). Could an alternate hypothesis be that student athletes are naturally more conformist than non-athletes and are thus better situated to receive the good graces of their teachers? Can this conformist attitude not lead to higher wages? Is this what we are trying to teach?
Conform for better grades and higher wages.
I would argue vehemently against Bowen and Hitt on another front: there is no relation that athletics cause athletes to perform better in school and life. Without athletics it could be just as likely that this select group would do just fine in school and life. If a club model were offered with government funding available (perhaps means tested) to allow these students to play games of their choosing, would we be worse off?
The glory associated with competitive sporting events is ephemeral. The central mission of what a school should be – a place where children are sent to learn to read, to write, to think rationally and critically – would not be lost. The installation of a competitive spirit may be lost, but what of it? Is this what British Columbia’s new curriculum emphasizes? The instillation of a competitive spirit amongst those children performing better than other students academically?
The culture of competitive sports is one that perpetuates tribal behaviour and uncritical adherence to authority. Competitive Sports reduce the “fun” of adolescents to the obnoxious attempt to relive the past glories of faded jocks (i.e., coaches) in perpetuity. Run the same plays, try to beat the same teams, and hear the same cheers. This is what draws most men to teaching: a love of playing sports. Eliminate this and you remove a toxic element from our schools and society. Allow it to continue and all the efforts at reform that continually get thrown at teachers will periphery to the central goal of the most powerful men in the schoolhouse: Teaching children who to beat the children of nearby schools at childish games.
Bowen, D. H., & Hitt, C. (2016). History and evidence show school sports help students win: Blaming school sports for academic inattention and bloated budgets is a popular move, but the evidence shows sports have positive effects for students. Phi Delta Kappan, 97(8), 8.