Football vs. Libraries


I had a Facebook conversation last week with my favorite Georgia Peach, Buffy “the Unquiet Librarian” Hamilton about an article she’d posted on Facebook. In a nutshell, the Sports Illustrated article dealt with the fallout around an Ohio public school district’s decision to cut ALL extracurricular activities. No band, no afterschool clubs, and, most shockingly, NO SPORTS. Ms. Hamilton point out how she wished communities would get in a comparable uproar over shutting down library programs. I had a response for her that we discussed via chat.

Peaches understood my response, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make me any friends here. Of course, y’all know I shoot straight and call them like I seem them. This is no place for the squeamish or hopelessly idealistic. I told her that outcry over libraries would never reach the levels of outrage over canceling sports simply because sports are more important to schools and communities than school libraries.

Libraries can’t begin to compete with the importance of sports to a school, especially in impoverished urban or rural areas. How many high school students do you know who wake up chomping at the bit to get to the library? Sure, some are out there, but compare that to the number of students in your school who willingly shell out money to sit in the stands on Friday night. Sports are the ONLY reason many, many students attend school at all. Take away sports and attendance at high risk schools will decline because the former athletes — often among the lowest socio-economic class — will have no reason to get up and come to school. They will have no reason to get up and come to school because . . . well, hold that thought because that’ll be tomorrow’s post.

To keep in this vein, however, football is big business. Nothing galvanizes a school like a winning team. When’s the last time your school held a pep rally and devoted “prime instructional time” to a new shipment of books or new computers for the media center? When’s the last time your library produced revenue for the school? Instead, our institutions are a drain on revenue. When’s the last time, other than a faculty meeting, that the entire district population was “encouraged” to attend a library event like a bookfair? Never? But I have known superintendents and principals who “strongly encouraged” everyone in the district to attend a crucial Friday night fight. Oh yeah, and don’t tell me they can’t do it because I and a lot of my three regular readers live in the South where football is king and we don’t have unions to hide behind so if an administrator tells you to do something or be somewhere, you’d best do it or be prepared for consequences and repercussions.

Now I figure those educators who are still reading are pretty bent by now, so let’s just keep on bending. Football and other sports serve a legitimate purpose as an outlet for energy and competition. They get kids moving and involved and moved and involved kids want to come to school and want to learn. What does a library have to compete with that? Very little.

Now I know someone out there is going to comment on a Keith Curry Lance study or some such nonsense about “libraries raise test scores through the roof.” Before you get on that soapbox, let me go ahead and say, nope — I don’t believe it and I’ve read the same reports you have. The typical high stakes standardized tests that are used to evaluate students’ AND TEACHERS’ performance have no component that would be increased by time in a library. We have all proctored enough of those tests to know they are not overflowing with HOTS, no matter what the DO and the curriculum experts try to sell us. They are read and regurgitate and if you want students to blow those tests away, you skill and drill them until they want to cry and you want to join them in the sob-fest.

Sports and other ECAs give kids a reason to live after surviving a week or two of those tests AND the mind-numbing weeks of preparation that goes into them. Sports reach the whole school while libraries only reach a small portion since most teachers can’t afford time away from test prep to actually engage in a worthwhile lesson and can’t afford to “waste” precious planning period rest time to engage in meaningful collaboration.

Call me a fool, call me a traitor to my profession, or call me a dirty footed scoundrel, but prove me wrong first. Until education is revolutionized rather than reformed in this country, football and sports in general will be more important to schools and communities that school libraries.

Sorry to upset y’all. It’s just the way it is.

6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Thing 5: Libraries vs. Sports | White County Technology

  2. I LOVE this posting. I totally agree that football (or any sports program for that matter) will always win the battle against the books. That’s why homework gets sent in in the form of a note- “We had football practice so we didn’t have time to do the work.” Um… since when is not having time the same thing as not MAKING time? Keep preachin’!

  3. You always make me laugh and you always make me think. As for the first half of your post and sports being more important to schools and communities than school libraries–that seems so self evident that to argue against it would be absurd. Most local papers have a huge section on the local HS sports. This is the first time I’ve heard about sports being cut, but I’m always hearing about media specialists and programs being cut.

    As for the second part, about libraries not helping test scores, I think you’re mistaken. Yes the specific test items may not be covered by the media program, but the reason those reports you mention show better scores at schools with better library programs is that these programs increase reading, which happens to increase test scores. You can kill and drill and have high-scoring sad students, or you can encourage reading and have happy life-long learners who also happen to test well. I prefer the latter.

    The thing that gets me about the SI article is the funding issue. I’ve always wondered about using property taxes for ed. Now with it being an SI cover story, maybe people will start to rethink the wisdom of that practice.


    • Jim,
      When you talk about choosing between kill and drill and life-long readers, I totally agree. Unfortunately, in many places — including some districts around here — it’s not a choice. Tests have become so important, especially for schools in their third and sometimes fourth years as “unsatisfactory” on AYP, that just about everything gets sacrificed on that bubble grid shaped altar. Until testing is abandoned — not changed, abandoned — we won’t see any real progress on that front. What’s tested is what is given time. I don’t feel optimistic about that change coming anytime soon because the people who care in general aren’t high enough up the food chain in large enough numbers to make a difference.

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