Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Education and Sports Analogies

Education can rarely be made analogous of other institutions or industries, because I believe education to be neither an institution or an industry. Education is life, or life is education. Take your pick. And yet I find myself hearing about and reading about how some creative (and some not so creative) people have come to reduce education to a sports analogy.

For example, I occassionally referee basketball on evenings and weekends. Tonight one of the players found himself in a bad defensive position, and rather than allow his opponent to score an easy two points, he decided to take the foul. I found none of this particularly thought provoking. If you watch sports (or play them) then you know that many sports such as hockey and football have similar instances. So we lined up for two foul shots. The foul shooter promptly missed his first shot, and one of the defending player's teammates turned to him and said 'good foul'.


Think about that for a second.

Why did he say that? And why did he wait to say it then?

For those unfamiliar with basketball, let me explain: by taking the foul, and not allowing the player to score two points, the fouled player gets two free throws - each one counting for one point each. If the shooter misses one or both shots, they will have scored less than the original two points - had they been left unfouled.

Honestly, I am not okay with any analogy that comes from a sport that's rules openly encourages players to sabotage others to personally gain. Seriously, can you think of one instance in a child's learning where you would propose that it would be morally comprehensible to teach a student to sabotage another student's learning so they may gain personally? I would hope that we would encourage students to see their peers as caring allies in a collaborative endeavour, rather than competators who are forced to play a zero-sum game where there must be a loser fo every winner.

This is also a fantastic example of how Behaviourism can poison our interactions with others. The issue isn't whether it is right to foul another player - rather it is about the risk of punishment versus the risk if reward. How many of the important rules in life can you think of where you would feel comfortable with your child doing this kind of risk analysis? I would hope we aspire to a more reliable moral compass than that.

I'll admit that some sports analogies are good. For example, David Berliner does a fine job here, but for the most part sports analogies for education are typically baseless, too subjective, overly simplistic and misleading.

more to come,

Joe Bower

1 comment:

  1. Concede that analogies are never exact, so whatever analogy is offered, it will fail in one or more respect. They simply inform us about aspects of our focus of interest. An unfortunate point of comparison between sports and learning in public education might be competition. Competition exists because of the scarcity of opportunities: post-secondary opportunities and scholarships for example. These competitions will lead to good fouls I suspect.

    I think your point is that the analogies we select help to shape our behavior. That is true, so we need to select our comparisons carefully.


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