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Focusing too much on the gods of football, baseball and basketball

09 Jan

I agree with a post I read at the quiet voice that there is too much of an emphasis in America’s public schools on sports and not enough focus on academics. But is that the fault of the public schools or the fault of the parents and the English speaking culture?

There is a vast difference between the US public education system and other countries such as Finland, China and Singapore. Because of those differences, to be fair, we cannot compare the results of US students with those countries unless we separate the genetically modified chaff from the organic grain and also compare apples to apples.

As a public high school teacher in California for thirty years (1975 – 2005), I taught four periods of English and one period of journalism for several years in addition to being the advisor of the student run high-school newspaper. One year, my journalism students were invited to write a series of pieces for a European magazine called “Easy Speakeasy“, headquartered in France.  “Easy Speakeasy” expressed interested in the sports programs in US schools because we were told that these programs did not exist in France and other European countries. Sports in Europe were mostly outside of the public schools sort of like Pop Warner Football in the US.

Pop Warner was founded in 1929, continues to grow and serves as the only youth football, cheerleading & dance organization that requires its participants to maintain academic standards in order to participate. Pop Warner’s commitment to academics is what separates the program from other youth sports around the world. In fact, studies show that kids involved in sports that require them to maintain their academic grades above a 2.0 GPA graduate in higher numbers than students that do not participate in sports.  Europe has programs similar to Pop Warner and I understand this is the only place students in Europe may participate in organized sports because these programs do not exist in European schools. In Europe and most countries, the focus in the public schools is academic and vocational—no sports, drama or music programs as in the US.

I can only guess that “Easy Speakeasy’s” editors invited my journalism students to write for their European publication because the high-school newspaper I was adviser for had won international recognition several years in a row from Quill and Scroll out of the University of Iowa.

In the English classes I taught there was a lot of chaff and only a little grain but in that journalism class, I taught the organic cream of our high school—students willing to be at school as early as six in the morning and stay as late as eleven at night to produce the high school newspaper—while many of my English students did not bring textbooks to class, do class work or even consider doing homework. Instead, there were students in my English classes that waged an endless war against academics disrupting the educational environment as often as possible.

Who do we blame for this educational environment in the United States?

Quill and Scroll offers academic scholarships. There is another organization called JEA (the Journalism Education Association) that also awards academic scholarships related to writing/academics. I know this because one of my journalism students earned a JEA scholarship. I required my journalism students to compete at the regional, state and national level in JEA academic writing competitions.

In addition, in most of the world there are two tracks in high school:  academic and vocational and students in those countries may graduate from high school either with a degree earned in the academic or vocational. For that reason, comparing graduation rates in the US with other countries does not count because in the US we only graduate through academic programs but still graduate a higher ratio of students through the academic track than any other country on earth.

Then there are children in the United States that cannot read and are functionally illiterate. When we compare the US to all other English speaking countries, the rate of functionally illiterate children is about the same telling us that this is more a product of a culture that does not value learning and reading as much as countries such as Finland where the majority of parents start teaching his or her children how to read at home by age three so those children can already read when they start school at age seven.

But in the US, many parents leave it up to the schools to start teaching children to read at age five or six and only those children that were taught by his or her parents start out on track and move ahead.

Then there is the fact that the US may be the only country on the planet that mandates children stay in school, no matter what, until age sixteen to eighteen.  In China, for example, there are about 150 million children in the grade schools but only about 10 million that remain in high school at age 15.

When the International PISA test is given in countries around the world, that test is given to a random sample of fifteen year old students. That means in the US, because almost every fifteen-year old is still in school, America’s students are being compared to the very best in countries such as China where students that are not the best academically have left the system by the time the PISA people show up.

However, when we filter out the chaff and leave only our most proficient students—for example: the journalism students that I taught—and compare them to the most proficient students of other countries, this being apples to apples, the US students beat every country in the world in every academic area tested. You will never hear these facts from the critics of public education in the US.

Discover The Legacy of the British Empire on Literacy

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga.

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