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EdWeek Commentary Weighs Value of Football vs. Arts Programs for Schools


John R. Gerdy, the founder of the nonprofit educational organization Music for Everyone, argued in a recent Education Week Commentary that arts programs provide more educational value than football for schools.

Gerdy conducted a return-on-investment analysis "of the effectiveness as educational tools of football and music," seeking to identify which provides "students with learning experiences most suited to the 21st century." As he discovered during this analysis, both shared a few critical similarities:

There are several areas—student engagement; development of positive character traits such as self-discipline, teamwork, and personal responsibility; and capacity to bring people together to build community—in which both football and music have similar positive impacts. There is little, if any, difference, for example, between the sacrifices made, lessons learned, and effort required as a sports-team member whose goal is winning games and a band member who is working to achieve a particular "sound."

However, Gerdy quickly concluded that one had more educational value than the other:

But from there, the similarities mostly end. When considering the broadest impact on education over the longest period of time, music programs are far superior to football programs in return on dollars invested.

Consider music's pluses: the capacity to be a lifelong participatory-learning activity (football, for all but a select few, ends after high school); the fact that music is a universal language (football is uniquely American); its gender inclusiveness; a far lower cost-per-student ratio; the potential it offers as an essential platform for international and interdisciplinary studies; and its effectiveness in strengthening the brain's neural activity and development (versus the possibility, if not the likelihood, of sustaining brain trauma). Finally, the effectiveness of sports as an educational tool has been steadily diminishing as athletic programs have become more about the end result--winning--and less about the process (learning).

It's worth noting that many of Gerdy's critiques about football don't necessarily apply to other sports. Had he compared basketball, swimming, track, golf, or tennis to arts programs, the "lifelong participatory-learning activity" and "sustaining brain trauma" arguments would both go out the window. Likewise, while winning undoubtedly commands a great deal of attention for any athlete, it's not as though coaches forgo teaching proper techniques for their respective sports. Allen Iverson's "practice" rant need not apply to a majority of high school sports teams.

Gerdy also left out one critical detail about football—and all sports, for that matter: the beneficial impact of physical activity. Study after study found a positive correlation between physical activity and academic success, and with a number of schools cutting back on physical education and/or recess, after-school sports may be students' best chance of obtaining the recommended amount of daily physical activity. A 2012 study published online in the journal Pediatrics suggested getting students involved with team sports was the most effective way to prevent childhood obesity.

If and when schools are forced to choose between sports and arts programs, dropping either will have negative ramifications for some students. While arts programs may provide schools with the more educational bang for the buck, sports—including football—likewise help engender lifelong lessons in those who participate.

Photo via iStockphoto.

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