Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sports And The Arts Have Always Worked - Maybe The Rest Of School Should Pay Attention


     A number of years ago, a veteran and almost retiring science teacher shared a rather profound thought with me that has continued to provide me great reflection.
      He said, “Why don’t we make all schools like the two things that people care about and that actually work? Sports and the Arts.” For a moment, I thought he was being somewhat facetious. But he was really acknowledging the success of those and wanted the rest of school to pay attention.  
     We both exchanged thoughts on this for awhile and presumed that we were on to something.  It's true. Sports, Band, Choir, Drama and so on have always engaged students and their communities. Why? Maybe it’s not that complicated.


     First of all, they are PUBLIC.  That’s right.  All sporting contests and arts performances have public culminating activities on a regular basis. Both sports and the arts have fans and audiences. 
     In addition to being public, they are REAL.  We talk about real world things like they are so distant, far removed and almost foreign. Well, they’re right in front of us.  Playing in a game or performing at a concert or show are real.  They make sense.  You get immediate feedback and it matters. Sports and performances are big parts of our culture.  Maybe they are fore a reason.  Maybe schools should pay attention.
     Next, they are COMPETITIVE in one sense or another.  In sports, there is a final score.  In the arts, there might be scores from judges or at least reviews, audience responses, etc.  Related to being real, it once again matters.  Someone will judge the outcome.  And it’s beyond the athletic coach or the arts instructor.  There will be a public opinion weighed in determining what the individual and collective performances. Athletes and performers are competing for a variety of things.


    Let’s also not forget that they are COLLABORATIVE.  Yes, there are individual sports and individual performances or solos.  But most of them have larger team or group contexts.  Even golfers and tennis players are part of a team.  Musicians and actors all contribute to a collective performance at some point. 
     Finally, but not last, they are FUN.  Yes, they are hard work, but they are fun too.  Sports and the arts are participatory, engaging and enjoyable.  Probably because they are public, real, competitive and collaborative - they are also fun. Is it imaginable that all learning could also be fun? Do we realize that truly higher level of learning only happen one is fully engaged? And when we are doing things we enjoy, we are engaged.
   If we like the idea of making all school and all learning more public, real, competitive, collaborative and fun, then let’s begin that journey of how to do that. Many of us already have.  I don’t know if all history, math and other core academic classes can be as popular or in demand as sports or the arts. But if we spent the rest of our educational endeavors trying?

(all photos courtesy of Minarets High School) 


  1. In some respects, I like this. But at the same time I was the guy who Sister Mary told to lip synch. In second grade. Then in eighth grade the band teacher marched me down to the counseling office to have my schedule changed because I was not good enough. Can you imagine the English teacher marching a kid to the office and demanding the kid be rescheduled because his writing skills are so bad? Or dropping a kid because they have no rhythm and can't contribute to a winning poetry slam competition?

  2. Mark,
    Good thoughts and I get it. It's not about students specifically doing these activities, but rather why are they successful with kids and how do we borrow, model, replicate? Yes, there are some things that are not applicable. But if we made academics more public (audience, important, etc.), had competitive options like contests, fun and engaging, had performances, etc., don't you think our academics would improve in all areas?