Sports V. Academics
This week let’s talk about schools. We’re fortunate to have a better school system than most rural counties in South Georgia. Our buildings are newer than most, our faculty is better trained than most, and community support is usually fairly high.
In many communities, the tax base is too low to properly fund their schools. This makes it harder to attract qualified teachers, offer certain programs, or keep their facilities up. There’s an obvious difference between rich and poor counties. And yet, sometimes the differences are more about choices and priorities than money.
Usually those priorities break down to sports versus academics. Some schools put millions of dollars into stadiums and artificial turf fields even as their science departments wither on the vine. Extra money for coaches far outpaces academic supplements. Hiring decisions often favor an athletic need rather than an instructional one.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge supporter of sports in school. The life lessons learned through sports can be valuable. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Using our own system as an example, there could be as many as 300 kids involved in the nearly three dozen competitive athletic teams. While good, there’s always room for more. But what about the other 2,500 students?
There is a wealth of competitive academic activities available. I attended a technology contest for third-graders this weekend where students entered various projects, including homemade video games—by 8-year-olds! Spelling bees, Quiz Bowl, math Olympics, and more. Non-competitive activities like National Honor Society and the International Baccalaureate program are out there too.
In rural Georgia, one of the most active non-athletic competitive activities is FFA. In addition to the traditional cow shows and the like, the club offers contests in public and extemporaneous speaking as well as other events. Sadly, these programs are also dwindling in some schools due to funding decisions.
In my own field, band programs are suffering in many schools. Scheduling and funding priorities have left their marks, despite research showing music programs actually help raise test scores. The same is happening across the state with chorus, art, and drama programs.
And yet, there are positive signs. A tiny school south of here has arguably the strongest band program in the area, and also is a permanent presence in the football playoffs. Last year’s middle school state quiz bowl winner offers more than 30 sports teams. Striking a balance between the academic and athletic needs of students is indeed possible. It doesn’t have to be an either-or kind of choice.
Sports V. Academics