Education Thirty Years From Now (Super Bowl LXXVII)

Feb 1, 2013

Andre Perry, Ph.D.

Remember when football was king. Governments and their fanatical residents used to invest so much time and money just for a chance to say, “See, I won a championship. I live in the best city.” When you look back, you have to ask, “What were we thinking?”

Remember when we revered quarterbacks like four-star generals and paid them like our retirements adjusted to their records? There were no out of bounds in the corporate game. Teams regularly tested cities’ loyalty by threatening to move. Like juiced linemen, football and business traditions drove American culture. To rear a son who became a doctor, lawyer or engineer was certainly noble, but to raise a quarterback, now that was the ultimate sign of fatherly and corporate achievement.

Boundless revenues justified the means. The team with the highest net won.

Then concussions came into light. We learned that team physicians were virtually extensions of coaching staffs. Initially, our dismissals of playing football as “personal choices” confirmed that Americans accepted violence as entertainment. Brain damage was just included in the cost of the ticket. But it was when players and coaches refused to send their children into the pit that we started to ask, “What were we thinking?”

Thirty years ago, remember when test scores were king. Governments and reformers invested so much money just for a chance to say, “See, our scores went up. I live in the best city.” We spent more time proving educational growth through test outcomes than by proving success by hiring graduates or not having to incarcerate young men.

To compel families of private and parochial schools into transferring in public ones would be good, but to raise LEAP or ACT scores, now those were the ultimate ends of academic achievement. Football and business values drove our educational systems. Society revered CEO principals who didn’t care about making friends or closing schools. We actually believed cold competition brought out the best in public schools.

Escalating test scores justified the means. The school with the highest score won.

Then other life outcomes came into light. Mass firings crippled locals’ economies. Principals realized that suspensions and expulsions temporarily helped their schools while they compromised a city. Youth resorted to violence to resolve problems. Law enforcement incarcerated young men at unbelievably high rates. The sheriff warehoused black boys in inhumane prisons that city officials lost the will and resources to reform.

We learned that educational researchers were virtual extensions of reformers. They hid influences of poverty, neighborhood conditions and unemployment on educational outcomes. We dismissed non-cognitive factors as well. However it was when reformers refused to send their children into their own schools, we questioned, “What were we thinking?”

Educators fight like the 49ers and Ravens to show the world who’s the best. The difference is that it’s the public that’s getting concussed.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.