My dad learned percentages by calculating Duke Snider’s and Willie Mays’ batting averages based on newspaper box scores. I learned division by calculating John Stockton and Kevin Johnson’s assist-to-turnover ratios. We both went to college and became reasonably productive members of society.
In other words, the hand-wringing over the NFL’s idea to possibly include fantasy football into elementary school curricula feels just a bit nearsighted.
In case you missed it, NFL chief marketing officer Mark Waller told The Wall Street Journal that fantasy football could have value “educationally.”
“We want to make sure that, at a younger age, there’s a format for fantasy and a way to play that will allow you to engage,” Waller told Steven Perlberg. “But also use it educationally. It’s a complex game, fantasy. You should be able to learn a lot, particularly around math. How many points do I need? How many points does this player get? We’re also trying to work with groups to get the concept of fantasy based into the curriculum of elementary schools. If you love football and you teach them math through football, the chances are you may teach them better math and more quickly.”
We’d all love to live in a world where every child and family valued learning for learning’s sake. If everyone always did their homework, nobody played hooky and every school received exactly the same funding and quality of textbooks, gimmicks like teaching math with sports wouldn’t be necessary. Heck, MCAS tests and Race to the Top wouldn’t exist, either, since everybody would just know that every student was performing to his or her full potential.
So whereas the idea of the NFL sticking its greasy fingers into the education of our little ones might seem unseemly, there’s a point at which pragmatism overrides principle. If it were a choice between kids learning math with football and kids learning math without football, the decision would be clear.
But what if the choice is between kids learning math with football, or kids not learning math at all?
Show me a toddler who can count her My Little Ponies and I’ll show you a kid that has a jumpstart on her peers. Show me another toddler who is taught solely to count numbers on a page, and I’ll show you a kid who is bored out of his mind. We teach stuff to young kids in ways that will keep them interested. Later, we sit them at a desk and expect them to pay attention just because we told them to.
Sorry to sound radical, but there’s no reason to limit the sports connection to math, either. Show how the force of a bat reacts with a baseball to teach physics. Use the cliche “There’s no ‘i’ in team” to teach spelling. Whatever helps the kids get the concepts.
Moralizing is cool in the abstract until someone gets into a classroom with a student who doesn’t give two hoots about numerators and denominators. One bored student is all it takes to distract an entire class. If the goal is to lessen the amount of disinterested students and maximize learning, who cares whether it’s done with the Pythagorean theorum or points per reception?