WE DON’T WANT TO KNOW YOU

Apr 15, 2012 by

Will Fitzhugh The Concord Review

Will Fitzhugh The Concord Review –

Three times a year, The Boston Globe (in the Athens of America) has a 14-16-page Special Supplement celebrating local “scholar-athletes” with pictures and brief write-ups. These are high school students who have taken part in soccer, tennis, golf, football, swimming, baseball, basketball, softball, wrestling, and what-have-you, and done well by various measures. Their coaches, too, get their pictures in the paper and sometimes a paragraph of praise. In addition to these supplements, hardly a day goes by during the school year when some high school athletes, team, coach or event doesn’t get “covered” by The Boston Globe. A local philanthropic group has recently raised several million dollars to promote sports in our public high schools.

As we all know, sports involve students, parents, boosters and the like, and they build teamwork, discipline, character, equality (of a sort), ambition, competition, and attendance. Parents do not need to be dragged to games the way they do to school meetings or Parents’ Night to talk to teachers. In many cases, they pay fees to allow their youngsters to participate in sports, and some even raise money as boosters for trips to games, tournaments, etc. Community involvement is fairly easy to get in sports, and there are very few edupundits who find work advising schools and communities on how to get parents and other community members involved when it comes to school sports. I know of no new initiatives or workshops to teach parents how to get involved in their children’s sports programs. Athletes also enjoy rallies, cheerleaders, and coverage in their high school newspaper as well.

Recently a young student basketball player in Massachusetts, 6’10” and very good at his sport, “reclassified” himself (changed from a Junior to a Senior?), so that he could choose among the many colleges whose coaches want him to come play at their institutions. His picture not only appeared several times in his local school newspaper, but also showed up several times with stories in The Boston Globe (the Sports Section is one of only four main sections in the paper each day). Apparently we want to know who our good high school athletes are, and what they are achieving, and what they look like, etc.

There is another group in our high schools, which might be called not “scholar-athletes,” but perhaps “scholar scholars,” as their achievements are in the academic work for which, some believe, we build our schools with our taxes in the first place. But we tell those “scholar scholars” that we really don’t want to know them. Their work does not appear in The Boston Globe. Their pictures and stories do not appear in the three-a-year Special Supplements or in the daily paper (there is no “academics” section in the paper of course), or even in their local high school newspaper.

Whenever the subject of students who do exemplary academic work in our schools comes up, our cliché response tends to be that “they can take care of themselves.” But if we don’t seem to feel that good high school athletes should have to get along in anonymity, why do we think that anonymity for our best high school students will serve them (and us) well enough, in our education system, and in the country, which is in a serious fight to stay up with other countries who take their best students and their academic achievement very seriously indeed.

Sometimes when I mention that it might serve us well if we gave some recognition to our best high school “scholar scholars” people say that I must be “against sports.” I am not. I am just critical of the huge imbalance between our attention to athletes and what we give to scholars at the high school level. 100 to zero doesn’t make the best balance we can achieve in recognizing them, in my view.

Of course, I am biased, because for 25 years I have been publishing exemplary history research papers by high school students (so far 1,022 papers from 46 states and 38 other countries) in a unique quarterly journal, and none of them ever gets mentioned for their history scholarship in The Boston Globe. Folks tell me this practice is not limited to the Athens of America, of course.

If we are worried about the performance of our student athletes, then the relentless coverage of their efforts might seem justified. I know we are worried about the academic achievements of our public high schools, yet when scholar scholars in the high schools get published in The Concord Review (and then go on to Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton (as about 35% of our authors do), or get to be Rhodes Scholars (as several have), they don’t get mentioned in The Boston Globe. Actually one author, Jessica Leight from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, did get her picture in the paper when she got her Rhodes Scholarship, after being named Junior Eight Phi Beta Kappa and graduating summa cum laude at Yale, but no mention was made of her Emerson Prize-winning paper on Anne Hutchinson, which was published in that unique international journal when she was still in a local public high school.

So let’s do continue to praise our local high school athletes and their coaches. But isn’t it time at long last now to think about the message such publicity sends to our diligent and successful scholar scholars and their coaches (I mean their teachers—who are also ignored) about what we value as a society? Why has it been so important all these years to send them, when they are doing not only what we ask them to do in school, but well above and beyond what we have expected, the message that, sorry, but “We Don’t Want to Know About You”?

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