I'm heading home from Columbus, Ohio, on a fine, clear summer morning. I am in a window seat on the plane, as always, and on takeoff we fly right past downtown, en route to Cincinnati. On this flight path I get a wonderful view down into the Ohio State football stadium, where the word Buckeyes is emblazoned across the end zone, bold white text on a crimson background.
This impressive structure gets me to thinking: Why is it that if a school needs a set of lights for the soccer field or new uniforms for the field hockey team, it will happen? Once a sports-related need is identified, you can, in the majority of cases, consider it done. Contrast this almost-guaranteed outcome with what I hear from teachers about needs for technology resources going unmet, or of learning opportunities at off-campus sites that never get tapped because the money for a bus cannot be found.
So, what is the difference? Why is $60,000 for lights to make nighttime games possible not a problem, while $3,000 for a laptop and a projector that could transform a classroom's access to and use of world-class resources remains a pipe dream? (For more on how a projector can be used in a classroom to enhance teaching and learning, see an earlier posting of mine on the topic.)
Sure, I understand that sports are a component of a healthy school community and absolutely worthy of support. It is the consistency with which sports-related requests find funding and other needs that are perceived as not being core academic go wanting that interests me.
I think I know some of the reasons, but I want you to chip in your thinking. Here is why I think sports are a relative easy sell, and what your innovative program might learn from them:
Sports are a near-universal experience; we all see ourselves, at some level, as players. Maybe it was touch football, ultimate Frisbee, or Saturday-afternoon Whiffle ball, but I have to believe you have played a sport. And because you played, you care.
My suggestion is that to implement your great idea -- whether it be a laptop or some other device that could mean giant leaps in learning -- you hook it to something people already care about. Say you want to get digital voice recorders for your social studies class so you can do a local oral history project. Consider the fact that you could also use those recorders to interview the athletes stepping off the field following the Friday-night game and create podcasts.
And what if you make the podcasts available on the school's Web site within thirty minutes of the final whistle? A fellow I work with in Maine, Rob Munzig, did just that, and community interest in his work with kids around audio and video production soared.
What do you think about this strategy? Have you or someone you know sought help from a booster club outside of athletics? Please share your thoughts -- and check out part two of this entry.