To Strengthen America's Public Education System, Cut School Sports


The debate rages on about “why” America’s public schools lag far behind much of the developed world in education, but there isn’t much meaningful conversation about “how” to get America’s public schools back into the game.

Inarguably, education is primarily about students’ academic well-being and public schools must be even more resourceful in these austere times. When a quarter of a million teachers nationwide face lay-offs and academic programs are on the block, extracurricular sports programs should go first. In fact, because you could never definitively determine if school budgets truly allowed for fiscally sound sports programs without taxing academics through all the administrative hoodwinking, extracurricular sports programs should not be in public schools period, austerity or not.

Finland consistently ranks number one in education among developed countries and they do not sanction school sports. Actually, school sanctioned sports is much an American phenomenon. So why are extracurricular sports such sacred cows in American education?

Sport encourages spirit, work ethic, and competition in a highly competitive world, and spirited hard work and competition is an American ethos. We built a military practically overnight in answer to Pearl Harbor because we understood there could only be one winner. After World War II, that same ethos created an American industrial and military super power that has lasted until today. And if millennials have anything to say about it, that ethos will be preserved. However, that same hard work and competitive spirit can also create private sports ventures for youth that will not tax public school academics — but will, in fact, benefit the community in terms of jobs, revenue, and community esprit de corp. Little League and Pop Warner Football are proven successful models.

Many public high schools are defined by their time-honored sports traditions with their past heroes’ names chiseled into hallways and on campus buildings. No one would argue that legacies of excellence in sports are significantly more nostalgic and have more staying power than legacies in physics. However, if those sports legacies are worthy of enduring they will survive if their names and games are displaced to other venues. More importantly youth, especially, and the community will see another American ethos demonstrated: the ability to re-invent and to change with the times. America is still new and still refuses to bog down in the mud holes of tradition and status quo.

Extracurricular sports in public schools can be an invaluable stepping stone for gifted athletes, especially for students who have little or no resources at their disposal to get into college. First of all, people gifted with any talent that typically comes packaged with “drive” will manage the obstacles. However, moving extracurricular sports to the private sector in no way endangers gifted athletes’ chances of getting into college since college scouts will obviously have to go to the athletes “Field of Dreams.”And, if you are of the ilk that asserts private is more efficient than public, then students will have an advantage that could open even more doors.

Extracurricular activities coupled with academics gives students that priceless “well roundedness” that students need in the wider halls of life and what colleges want to see on applications, and, of course that diversity will not abate if extracurricular sports are moved outside the school. What is more, students getting involved in community organizations take far more initiative, responsibility, and independence than signing up at the school office.

The only reasons I can come up with why extracurricular sports programs in public school can’t be moved into the private sector for the sake of scholarly well-being is complacency, laziness, and defeatism, reasons that are “antithetical” to what sports teaches.     

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons