Reflections from personal experience remind this writer that high school principals too often are first and foremost jocks or wanna-be jocks while the academic-minded among their number are small in comparison. Those memories were most recently brought to mind by a local turf battle between he who seeks to spend a whole lot of precious school dollars on an artificial football playing surface and another who’d like to see spending on activity interests for youth in the community more equitably disbursed.
We currently have a principal advocating for what must be high on his pet projects list which is to change the school’s football field from natural grass to artificial. He argues his supporting points in a Keizertimes May 16 opinion piece. They do not convince the skeptic because they add up mainly to speculation about how the changed field will better serve everyone in the community. Since those of us who know how tight and possessive the Salem-Keizer School District is with its tax-supported public property, it would come as a huge surprise if, upon installation of a new playing field’s surface, all comers were welcomed and liberally allowed use of the field outside of school-scheduled activities.
As public facility a district’s high school is, it now narrowly serves the near-exclusive use by the school. Why the administrator there continues such perceived exclusionary controls, one is left to guess. It occurs to this opinion writer that it has to do with the prevailing culture in our local high schools where the chief-in-charge sees his role as securing and maintaining a tight grip on everything he “owns.”
What this society of ours needs more than artificial turf on local high school football fields is a reform of high schools, training its administrators to serve as exemplary leaders who address the needs of all students. Bestowing inordinate delivery of goods and services on football jocks who represent a distinct minority of any high school’s population is not dealing with the issues and challenges of our time which should be to prepare every youth to whatever extent possible in this new American century; thereby enabling each one to compete with youth in those countries that have chosen to modify traditional practices for enlightened reforms.
It is a well-established fact that whenever a comparison is made between the effectiveness of learning conditions in U.S. high schools with those of modern nations in the world, the American equivalent comes up pathetically short of their overseas counterparts. Yet, it seems, whenever there’s a spare dime or dollar to be spent on improving what we do and how we do it in our classrooms and schools here in the states it is with exasperating frequency that it goes to some sports’ venue with the local principal and his hand-picked supporters ready to run over any financial cliff in an attempt for a football championship.
The objective of providing a level playing field opportunity to make all our kids competitive with learners in Finland, Norway, Switzerland, and so many other nations that are ahead of the U.S. in all things educational, would seem important enough for these folks to address. If only district superintendents would get a grip and cause appropriate change it would be so very welcome; yet, most of them turn out to be politicians instead of educators trying their hardest to help our youth prepare for their futures.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)