U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed a bill that would require universities who want to participate in the hallowed NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to produce graduation rates exceeding 40% for their student-athletes. This has outraged many in the sports world and has taken a lion’s share of radio time from actual basketball banter as we welcome another heart pounding tournament to our tubes later today.
There are some who regard the proposition as a foolish attempt by a politician, once a Harvard basketball player, who lacks an understanding for today’s student-athlete. Earlier this morning on ESPN’s flagship show “Mike & Mike in the Morning” guest host Doug Gottlieb (former collegiate athlete at Oklahoma State) spoke to the global issue of athletics and education. Gottlieb stated that the majority of current college basketball players are not accustomed to college life, expectations, and need for higher education. He further opined that many of these athletes come from homes where college was never discussed or experienced by previous generations. So…how can we expect these kids to understand the value of an education when all they have been told is that their athletic ability is the ticket “out?”
Of course Gottlieb didn’t say it…but I will—His statements are really about race and resources and culture…and the commodity that is the student athlete. Should graduation rates be up? Absolutely! The mere fact that 12 out of 65 teams in this years tournament would be home watching instead of playing (University of Tennessee, Kentucky and others…I’m talking to you!) should say something about priorities of BOTH the student AND the institution.
Who is kidding who? All children begin their educational careers as commodities. Sorry if that doesn’t sound p.c. enough for you, but it is true. Last week I wrote about the Kansas City school district that is closing nearly 50% of their schools to save $50 million dollars and slash 700 jobs. Just yesterday Detroit announced the closing of 45 schools by the end of the academic year. This continues a string of closings (100 since 2004) in a system that has over 50,000 open seats.
This country doesn’t know which end is up or who to ask for help. We are throwing spackle, I mean tax payer dollars, at a dam that is in disrepair. The current topic on the hot stove may be athletes and graduation rates, but that is all that it is. The ball will be tipped up in mere hours, fans will plop down, and the networks and marketers will be salivating. Nobody truly cares whether or not these kids graduate. They just want them to stay out of trouble in the future so that the university can leverage their legacies to garner other prospective athletes and alumni dollars.
Maybe what we should do is bring in Temple Grandin to herd our educational system in the right direction. Or, maybe…and I know this is a novel thought…maybe we should look at our neighbors across the pond. Maybe we should adopt similar approaches to education realizing that not all children want to go to a classic college setting…maybe some would be better off at a trade school. That is precisely how we should view the student-athlete. If we think that raising the academic bar will entice better performance we are truly in stuck the sand. The goal at that point would be grade driven. Knowledge would be left on the kitchen counter just like your cell phone as you race to get the kids ready and the day started.
Cultural shifts are not easy nor entirely necessary if the intentions are not well thought out. Raise the standards of the educational providers, the environments we call educational, and move the needle away from stats…and you just might uncover a special talent in each child. If we fail to change our perspective, then all we have done is maintain the status quo so that terms like tenure, election, and tax base proliferate our communities. Get the system on track THEN communicate student expectations. Driving reverse at 80 mph only endangers the rest of us.
All the Best!