Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Do We Value Soccer More than Math?

A question the 500Jerk Spouse originally raised and one I've been pondering recently is why it's acceptable to push kids to excel in sports and other extracurricular activities, spending weeknights and weekends at the ball field or pool and sending kids to specialty camps in the summer, then perhaps to specialty schools if the child is really talented, but it's not acceptable to push kids in the subjects they learn at school. Can you imagine if Knoxville parents spent the same time on math with their kids as they do on soccer? Some of it, I understand, is just a matter of a child's interests. But interests are nurtured by parents, so why do we nurture the athletic and the peripheral (apologies to Louis Armstrong, but trumpet lessons come to mind), rather than core learning: math, science, literature, geography, history? Is it anti-intellectualism? Is it to give kids a break from the "boring" job of learning? Is it in the spirit of being well rounded? (On this last, if you've seen some of the rabidly competitive parents at kids' sporting events, you'd know that well-rounded is not the goal.)

Although our children attend a school that is accommodating, we've had a job convincing the administration that academic advancement isn't about us or our egos. It's about nurturing and supporting our kids' interests and abilities. That's important, especially when those interests--math, reading, science--are laudable and should be encouraged.

So why the bias against academic achievement? Against early advancement? I'm going to take a stand here: I really think it boils down to misplaced priorities. In the spirit of being "well-rounded," we avoid encouraging kids to achieve in school, subtly (or not so subtly) teaching that school and its subjects are something to be endured, rather than a path to greater discovery. Parents send kids to soccer, or art, or swimming, or gymnastics, sometimes for many hours a week, but working through a math textbook with a child after school is almost completely unheard of. And where are the elementary school math clubs; science discovery clubs; and literature and history camps? Where are the weekend games involving geography and history? Where are the parents volunteering their time as math coaches, reading coaches, writing coaches? Look around, there's plenty of extracurricular support for baseball, soccer, and swimming, but almost none for anything academic.

Kids need the message that class work is only the beginning--that there is reading, math, science, history, and geography to be learned and, yes, enjoyed outside the classroom. Just like making sure they get enough physical exercise and learn the value of teamwork, we need to focus on and encourage their academic achievement. But voicing that sentiment isn’t popular. It's as if there's some common opinion that academics should be marginalized, that schoolwork is best taken in small doses, with lots of repetition and breaks. That it's OK to encourage and cheer your kids on at soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and figure-skating, keeping them up after bedtime to compete at regional meets and events, but it's not OK to encourage and cheer your kid on for working through a math or science textbook so he or she can move ahead.

There’s just something wrong with that.

No comments: