Thursday, May 01, 2003

Football and education

Brian Micklethwait has some thoughts on a British government program to involve professional football clubs in schemes to teach children the three Rs. Brian focuses on the fact that a large amount of government coersion has apparently been applied to football clubs and a lot of government money has seemingly been put into it, but also talks about the scheme itself, which he is generally in favour of. I'm not so sure. to In my native Australia, sports clubs are far too busy sledging the opposition, attempting to humiliate the opposition, and getting drunk afterwards to be too concerned with things like helping people learn to read. (See here for an example that admittedly even Australians find extreme and bizarre).

When the Soviet bloc collapsed, much of the very best of the scientific elite went to the United States, where they are working in scientific institues on the next tecnological revolution, no doubt. Australia, however, recruited the very best of the sports coaches, and these people are now in Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport, using the same semi-sadistic training methods they invented in East Germany to help Australia win lots of Olympic gold medals in future. This has been highly successful at winning Olympic gold medals, but it costs a lot of public money. I personally think that funding elite athletes is an outrageous way for the government to spend my money, but it is something of a sacred cow in Australia. Australians love their sport, and they love winning. If the government is going to spend public money on sport at all, then I would much rather see it being spent on the encouragement of mass participation. I am still not sure if this is something that government needs to get involved in, however (other than through providing playing fields in public parks and other such infrastructure, which is largely a job for local government).

I am still slightly cynical about the idea using sporting jocks to encourage people to learn to read and write, and to study and get an education, because quite honestly this is not something many sporting jocks have done themselves, or indeed that they really care about. Sure, people who have succeeded at sport often have certain good habits: determination, focus, a tendency to work hard; but often then have worked hard solely at sport and have rejected a more general education but have succeeded anyway. However, the sad fact about professional sport is that a great many other people who have worked equally hard at it have fallen aside along the way. In many other fields of human endeavour there is scope for a much larger percentage of people to succeed, and such people might make better role models.

(Of course, getting children to have enthusiasm for such role models can be harder, and the argument is probably that this new scheme is for people who do not find any such other role models).

I don't know, I think I just see sporting culture as fairly fundamentally un-academic. Perhaps England is different to Australia. (And certainly some sporting cultures in Australia are less un-academic than others. Certainly rugby union and rowing, which tend to be organised around posh schools and universities, are less so than Rugby League and Australian football. Perhaps I just had the wrong experience). Perhaps the argument is that this is the point and you can use it as a way of getting un-academic type people to be more academically inclined. Lot's of people might argue that it is still worth a try. They may be right. Possibly.

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