What If We Followed Education Like We Followed Sports?

If you’re like me, you’d say that you value education more than you value many other things. What if, in a parallel universe, we actually lived in a way that reflected that? That is the genius behind this disarming Key & Peele sketch:

 

 

As an educator myself—at a university that just broke ground on a $200 million-plus football stadium, no less—I’ve been exposed to plenty of arguments describing how the American obsession with sports distracts attention from more pressing social concerns, like our investment in equipping the next generation with the skills needed to compete in the global economy. Frankly, it’s a tired refrain. Not that I disagree with the premise (to the contrary!), but at times it feels like if you’ve read one op-ed essay that makes that case, you’ve read them all. Sometimes though, art has a way of voicing a cultural critique that cuts deeper than any New York Times editorial could. A teacher free agent signing? A calculus teacher picked first overall on draft day? Breaking down highlights to point out a play of the day (getting an introvert involved in a class discussion)? It’s absurd.

Which is exactly the point. As hilarious as the sketch is, it also cuts pretty deep. For many of us, despite the high value we place on education, our behavior tells us that we value sports an awful lot, too. Too much, really. That’s certainly the case for me. I track my fantasy team obsessively. I prefer SportsCenter to the evening news. Most days I spend more time reading the sports page than pages of scripture by an order of magnitude. Obviously I’m not unique in this regard, so the fact that Key and Peele’s sketch feels so ridiculous should give us pause. With sports, we care deeply about not only our teams’ performance but also details like trades, free agent signings, contracts, injury updates, quotes from coaches, rumors about front office changes, etc. What if we cared about educators with an equivalent level of detail? We often list teachers among our heroes. What if we paid them accordingly? $80 million over 6 years plus $40 million in incentives for a teacher is insane—but the same contract for a number two starter on a Major League Baseball team would be a pretty decent value. In economic terms, of course, this makes sense. In terms of who contributes most to society’s well-being, hardly.

It’s clear there is a place for sports in a healthy society, but when athletes are valued so much more than educators, something is woefully amiss. This seems obvious—so much so that it probably takes an unsuspecting comedy sketch to make a person realize it.

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