Follow-Up: Separating Out Issues of Collaboration and Sports
My post on a teacher’s view of the Olympics generated some fascinating discussion and responses, including this one from my colleague Ian Bogost. My post had several different issues mixed together, and I think it’d help to separate them a bit. So here goes:
Collaboration Versus Competition
Our cultural rituals both reflect and create who we are as individuals and as a culture. I don’t at all think competition should be eliminated. I just think the balance is off, and we would all benefit from more rituals that celebrate collaboration. As many people pointed out, team sports are a great example of collaboration and a nice integration of collaboration (within a team) and competition (between teams). We need more pastimes and cultural rituals that celebrate collaboration. Sure competition has value. But so does collaboration. Competition is easier to weave a narrative around, and we are inundated by it every day. I would love to see more Wikipedias and more cultural rituals that celebrate collaboration in all its forms.
Youth Sports and Life Balance
Some people probably choose well when they decided to obsessively dedicate themselves to one pursuit, whether that’s gymnastics or the violin or winning the Intel Science Talent Search. I get that. I’m glad my kids and I aren’t among those people–folks that focused give up a lot (and get a lot). For most people, a more moderated participation is wiser. Sure you need to play the violin every day to get good at it, but not everyone needs to play 8 hours a day like someone prepping for a symphony audition. Ideally, there should be a spectrum of possible degrees of participation, and individuals should be able to choose a level of intensity that is appropriate for them.
Here’s the problem. It’s not logistically possible to provide lots of different degrees of intensity–we can’t have ten soccer leagues and let you choose on a spectrum from totally laid-back to pre-professional. Our institutions that support youth sports are pushing large numbers of kids towards the super-intense end of the spectrum. For some people, sport should be a quest for true excellence at all costs. Some people are aspiring professional athletes. For others, sports are a recreational activity that is part of staying healthy and achieving a balanced life. Our youth sports institutions are pushing too many kids to take the super-intense path. Our culture is so focused on excellence in all things that a recreational “the kids are here to have fun” philosophy is getting harder to find.
If you want to be a professional athlete, you should go try out for a minor league sports team. If you want to get a college education, it should be free if you work hard and keep up your grades (like Georgia’s Hope Scholarship). Free for everyone. The system that tries to shoehorn these two things together is hopelessly broken. Right now kids of less economic means dream of earning a free college education through sports. And if they get there, may not actually get the full benefit of that college education because their sports are so time consuming. Does this make sense?
At some point in history, we made a decision that education should be free through high school and compulsory through age 16. The demands of our knowledge society are such that I believe it’s time to make college free, for those who work hard and take advantage of the opportunity being given them. And if you happen to choose to play sports when you get there–fantastic! But those sports shouldn’t be so demanding that they prevent students from getting the full academic benefit of their college education.
More to come on winners and losers, grading on a curve, and forcing populations. Thanks to my friends and colleagues for such a super discussion–wow!