The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

Are Sports Ruining High School?

In October’s cover story, Amanda Ripley suggested that all the money, time, and energy invested in high-school sports would be better spent on boosting academic performance.

Ripley’s idea—uncouple sports from educational institutions—is well worth consideration. But one puzzle also worth consideration involves the robust finding that—even when controlling for other outcomes, like earning a college degree—former high-school athletes tend to earn higher salaries at mid-career points than people who didn’t play a varsity sport.

There’s no reason to assume that this correlation hinges on sports’ being administered by schools. But it’s important to note that the same costs that Ripley specified for equipment and travel would need to be borne by students and families if interscholastic competitions were uncoupled from schools. Barriers would then emerge for students whose families are not able to bear those costs.

Kevin Kniffin
Ithaca, N.Y.

It’s time for parents who want their kids to play sports to foot the bill. Taxes are meant to support education—not sports. If parents want their kids to play, they pay.

Sue Brooks
Houston, Texas

It seems that the primary culprit Ms. Ripley identified as “ruining high school” isn’t high-school sports; it’s high-school football. While I love professional football, it is increasingly clear that 21st-century high-school football is expensive, dangerous for the participants, and potentially fatally distracting from any school’s goals of academic excellence.

But that is simply not true of softball, wrestling, cross-country, swimming, gymnastics, or any other sport where spectators are mainly parents, and kids are competing mainly for the thrill of competition, the enjoyment of the sport, and the desire for self-improvement.

Tennis keeps my daughter in shape and teaches her about teamwork and mental toughness on the court, while encouraging good time-management skills off the court so homework gets done and grades stay up.

Surely Ms. Ripley can draw a distinction between the monster that high-school football has become in many schools and the appropriate role that many “lesser” sports play in a well-rounded education. Strong bodies, strong minds!

Peter W. Groeneveld
Narberth, Pa.

Interscholastic athletics is a positive addition to the life of a school and the community. The value of an education is to expose students to a wide variety of offerings, be it academic offerings, clubs, cultural activities, or, yes, even athletics. I have seen firsthand, as a parent and an athletic administrator, what an athletic program whose mission aligns with that of the school district can do for participants. There are many students who stay in school or build their confidence by being involved in athletics, theater, music, or any other club. Eliminating athletics will not guarantee academic success and will certainly not guarantee improved test scores. Our education system also values students who have creative talents in other areas of school, be it art, music, or writing. Should we take those away too?

Steve Young
Former president, New York State Athletic Administrators Association
Riverdale, N.Y.

Ripley notes that in the Texas district that serves as her case study, eliminating football could free up enough funds to hire a full-time music teacher. The logic is clear: music is more important than athletics. Even if you accept, as Ripley does, the tired premise that American schools are lagging behind South Korea and Singapore in human-capital production, surely neither music nor athletics can claim to be economically relevant. The only difference, it seems, is that music has been anointed as desirable by middle- and upper-class culture, while the plebian interest in sports is purportedly ruining our children.

Ethan Ris
Stanford, Calif.

To Amanda Ripley’s excellent but sad essay let me add another culprit: local media. In my city and, I suspect, many others, athletics and especially football and basketball athletes are continually extolled. On local television, the minutes devoted to high-school sports almost amount to the time spent on local news. Athletes and their coaches are treated like gods.

In contrast, nary an inch of print space nor a minute of airtime is given over to the academic scholar or to the outstanding member of the drama club, foreign-language club, glee club, or student council.

While sports are ruinous for schools, they are ruinous as well for the young participants whose self-importance, enhanced by the schools and the media, will not serve them well when school days are over.

Gerald Bazer
Toledo, Ohio

The Homework Wars

In October, Karl Taro Greenfeld worried that heavy workloads are ruining young students’ sleeping patterns, and doing little to prepare them for the real world (“My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me”). Many readers wrote in, including more than 50 juniors from Mrs. Sims’s English classes at the Cleveland School of Medicine and Science (nearly all of whom agreed with Greenfeld).

The debate about homework should not be “how much?” but “what kind?” and “what for?” Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills. Independent reading is also important. There are many more rare and unique words in even relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates. Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, keys to mature reading comprehension.

Robert Pondiscio
Excerpt from an online Atlantic debate

Mr. Greenfeld asks readers whether they can imagine a profession in which employees spend all day at the office, work four or so hours afterward on homework, and still have work to do over the weekend. I suspect that if he posed the same question to his daughter’s teachers, they’d have no trouble coming up with an answer.

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