More tinpot dictators in the schools

Some educators think the point of school is to get students to do their own thinking.   Others, not so much: the little Caesars in Bucks County seem to think their school is about sports and (for example) the school newspaper is there to gin up pep rallies so the high school players can do their job, which is to amuse ignorant white grownups.

Seriously, how messed up is this: students learn journalism by having their copy dictated by racist administrators?  Who obviously haven’t read a newspaper in twenty years?

More generally, there seem to be no limits to the degree that sports, especially football, can corrupt a community and degrade its culture (can you say Steubenville?) if the grownups go infantile; the good people of Sayreville seem to be more upset about missing a season of football than an epidemic of sexual assault (though in that case the school leadership is on the ball).

School team nicknames have many strange conventions, especially the taste for war and predation. A game isn’t a war, or a fight!  I always liked MIT’s choice of a beaver (your cougars or whatever may occasionally have a beaver for lunch, but they will end up working for them after graduation).  More mysterious to me is all the Trojans; why would you name your teams after history’s most famous losers?

Florida State (and Tallahassee) have plenty to work on about football and bad behavior by players. But the school took care to get the Seminole Nation to OK their team name.  I think that’s OK, especially as the Seminole are local to the institution, and Seminole is not a derogatory word.  As to Neshaminny, while the logo itself doesn’t have the particularly vile quality of the Cleveland pro baseball team’s, the idea that it has some aroma of local pride only demonstrates that the district’s curriculum doesn’t have much of a unit on Native Americans. He’s wearing the headdress of people who live a thousand miles away, a ludicrous inconvenience for eastern forest people trying to get around in trees and brush.

Oh well, seen one Indian, seen ’em all, and there’s a game Friday night.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

21 thoughts on “More tinpot dictators in the schools”

  1. A friend told me a story of the Oklahoma football team beating Texas in a stadium of tens of thousands of people. The game ended, but no one wanted to leave. With everyone still in the stands someone started singing "Oklahoma!" from the musical, and the whole crowd joined in — a moment of transcendent human communion that my friend and his little boy treasured forever.
    I could have given a hundred other examples, but offer this one anecdote to explain why I do not accept the premise that the influence of college sports on communities is always a consistently horrible thing that all right-thinking people should oppose.

    1. (1) I don't assert that premise. And I love college (and high school) sports; I wish my own college had not starved the program in which lots of students actually play sports in favor of one in which they just watch professionals do it. Pro football and basketball corruption soak downward.
      (2) Nice story. But I think it has more to do with music than sports: here are tens of thousands of people singing together, but in honor of a victory in a real battle of good over evil, not a contest between teams with no moral differentiation whose outcome has no larger meaning.
      There's nothing either good or bad but context and purpose make it so: there's no problem finding videos of crowds singing the Horst Wessel Lied the same way.

      1. From your post: there seem to be no limits to the degree that sports, especially football, can corrupt a community and degrade its culture (can you say Steubenville?)
        Pretty damning. Is there no admissible case when sports have an unusual power to provide uplift to communities? In your response to me you question even that sports can provide even a single positive moment — a shared song….given your "love" of college football, where in your analysis would I find anything positive? That's a sincere question, I don't read every post so if you have links where you praise its virtues, please send them along. Mind you, I am not saying there is anything wrong with hating college football, everyone is entitled to hate it or love it or not care about it. I do think though that Chait was correctly recently when he said football has become a culture war issue.

        1. Having grown up in Oklahoma and spent my share of school band days at various college football games, I do get this, but I don't find it to be football-specific, any more than members of Congress spontaneously singing "God Bless America" after 9/11 was specific to their being members of Congress*. That said, I do see a certain amount of prissiness in some liberal sniffing at sports, to which I find the sections on sports in Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets a useful corrective from the left.

          *I'm not sure what Gal Costa and Dori Caymmi singing "America the Beautiful" after 9/11 was specific to, but I'm open to suggestions

  2. "More mysterious to me is all the Trojans; why would you name your teams after history’s most famous losers?"

    On the moral ambiguity of music, this.

    1. That to me is the most powerful scene in the movie. However, are we going full Godwin now, such then even a Rodgers and Hammerstein song becomes Nazi-ish if associated with college football? Maybe hating college football has become a thing now….but I don't personally relate to it.

      1. My point – I can't speak for Mike – is that the mechanisms of art are amoral. The Devil has some of the good tunes, not all. A friend of mine in Strasbourg organised a major exhibition on "The art of the dictators" in the 1930s. Both Nazis and Communists went for the same heroic-realist style. Realist artists, good and bad, got the commissions; abstract ones went into exile or the camps. When they needed propaganda, the democracies used the same style (Rosie the Riveter). We would like to believe in Keats' "beauty is truth, truth beauty", but it ain't so. "The Merchant of Venice" is a good play, "Battleship Potemkin", "Jüd Süss" and "Birth of a Nation" are widely held to be good films, but none of them are good.

        1. James — no argument here. Triumph of the Will is superlative cinema, but I wouln't want to live there.

  3. I have always admired the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs! One of my office pals is a UCSC grad, and I can generally send him into the titters with the cheer “‘Nana SLUGS! ‘Nana Slugs!!”

  4. We are implicitly confusing several separate issues here. One is the intrinsic merits or defects of US football as a sport. I'm agnostic on this: it's fun to watch and people who play it in any form (flag, touch, or tackle) obviously have fun, get to run around, etc. It seems, however, to entail serious risks of brain damage, the play itself is quite violent, which some people don't like, and it doesn't provide very many actual games in a season.
    A second is the conduct of football as a business, which I think is mostly deplorable. The NFL loots taxpayers for stadiums, mistreats its former players, stiffs its cheerleaders, and has offloaded its farm system to institutions (colleges) that are much more important in the grand scheme of things and are seriously damaged by that arrangement. In turn, college recruiting (not just football) distorts the values of high school sports and communities. I'm OK with having this or that cultural institution be the center of small-town society, but not one that women can't participate in, and that harms kids' education in the service of a few game nights, championships that only one team can win, and college scholarship shell games that for most players result in no real college and no pro contract either. Putting aside the concussion issue, a game that's as good as any other has been coopted by big money and greed into a set of institutions that are on the whole noxious.

    It's no defense of "football" that it can trigger the kind of community unanimity and cohesion Keith admires: lots of things can do that, some good, some bad.

    1. As I said, I think it is okay to hate football, so it isn't criticism to say that seems to be your view. Clearly, many people have that view at least on the political left — there have been quite a few attacks on it recently, which I think is why Chait and perhaps our own Don Taylor felt the need to defend it.

      I could be misreading you but when I look at the actual text of these comments and your posts coupled with your protestation that you have nothing against the sport, I strikes me like hearing someone say "I love the Irish, despite their lazyness, stupidity and greed. They are great people when sober, assuming they ever are, which I doubt. I have nothing against those Irish scumbags, moochers and layabouts, their gutter religion and proflgate sexual behavior notwithstanding…."

      Again, it's not wrong to hate football. I hate golf. But I think it helps as a starting point to lay out the animus "I hate the very essence of this enterprise", and then the technocratic details need concern one less, because no amount of fiddling with the rules/norms/policies and no amount of contrary evidence on the benefits and no carefully constructed argument is ever going to make you love football or me love golf.

      1. "Profligate Irish sex" is a new stereotype to me. Shades of George Bernard Shaw's paragraph, I think in the introduction to John Bull's Other Island, contrasting the chilly reserve of the typical Irishman (Wellington) to the emotional flamboyance of the typical Englishman (Nelson).

  5. I grew up watching football and enjoyed attending many games with my family.

    But we had no idea we were supporting brain damage. (Sure, we saw people get hurt, but they could almost always limp away, to cheers. This concussion business is obviously different.)

    Now, we *do* know. So unless Cal goes flag, I don't think another cent should be spent on it, alumni money, or anyone else's, sunken costs be darned! It is a moral question, sort of like climate change or divesting from South Africa back in the day. Think about it. Someone has to step up and be first, and who better than a world class university?

    1. What is the threshold at which concussion rates demand that we no longer spend any money on something?

      1. I think when there is an alternative that preserves almost all the benefits and — at least in theory! quick, someone do a pilot project! – avoids most of the harm — the harm in this case being insidious because it only hits you years later… we don't need to ask that question.

        Whatcha got against flag? Iirc, it's just as hard, really.

        1. I've got nothing against flag football. I am, however, a huge fan of women's ice hockey, another sport that concussions stalk, though not as badly as football.

  6. I think that football (by which I mean tackle football) is, at virtual any skill level, dangerous. If you don't think so, just read this:

    The reason that football exists at the college level is that players are not considered employees and thus not covered by workers comp laws. Once they are classified as employees, the economic costs of workers comp (which, presumably, will compensate for all injuries, including brain injuries) will drive the game from college campuses. As soon as that occurs, the pro leagues will loose there "spawning grounds" and, fairly quickly thereafter, be kaput.

  7. "More mysterious to me is all the Trojans; why would you name your teams after history’s most famous losers?"

    It was originally a nickname for their defense, which was very elastic and could always prevent touchdowns (when used properly) 🙂

  8. I wonder whether American football will centuries from now become the equivalent of Roman leaded wine. For going on three generations, across the country the powers that be have deliberately selected the strongest and most disciplined (or at least motivatable) young men they could find and damaged their brains. Sure makes a facile explanation.

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