Sports in Democratic Education
At Summerhill School there is a sports field. The older kids use it to play football; the younger ones hardly at all. There is also a tennis court that has seen better days and there are occasional days in the summer when you can hear people batting a ball around. Aside from this there is a basketball hoop, but nowhere to play a match, and there was a temporary vogue for working out, which means that in the Green Room of the theatre there are some weights.
With the importance given to sport in the curriculum nationally, Summerhill does not seem to be doing its part, does it?
In many private schools sport is seen as a “Good Thing”. It builds character, they say. It also keeps you in good physical shape, helps you to learn teamwork and gives you the opportunity to get behind your school in competitions and sporting events. I wasn’t much taken with any of these justifications as a kid and rapidly sidelined myself into the easiest sport at which to cheat in: cross-country running.
As an adult I can, in theory, appreciate the call for more sport in schools. I’d just like it to be optional, just as I want other classes to be optional. In theory I can see the benefits of a physical education, I just can’t stand the hectoring tone of sport teachers and I don’t go along with the rationale that it has to be compulsory so that we can find the next Olympic medallist to idolise.
“We Won, We Won!”
I realise that this makes me seem like an obstreperous kill-joy, but there it is. I would rather that people did the sport they wanted. I am not at all fond of national sporting events and even less so of international ones and the lives of the competitors have no interest whatsoever. But then I don’t read either the sporting pages or Hello magazine.
I think it is honest to say this so that you can take my ideas about sport in
schools in the right way. You see, I think when people watch some sporting event on the television and come away all dewy-eyed saying, “We won” I want to say, “Who exactly are you including in that we?” Flag-waving is a load of baloney, isn’t it? Do we have to encourage it at school?
I was walking back from the cricket field with a friend when I was fourteen.
“That was a waste of time,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, what is the point of it?”
“To win of course! Where were you born?”
“OK, fair enough, but why would I care whether my team wins or not. We make up the teams at the beginning of each match. That team means nothing to me and I can’t see why it should.”
“But if you take away the winning, what have you got? You are just batting a ball around.”
“Who is batting the ball around? We have a couple of hours to play the game. An hour for each side, say. We have fifteen per side. And we want to win, don’t we?”
“Yes, of course,” he said.
“So we put the best batsmen in first. Since they are the best, you never get to the last ones on the list.”
“No, because the best ones get the most runs, of course. And everyone gets to play a part when the other side is batting.”
“OK, when we are fielding all the best people bowl to try and get their best batsmen out. The best fielders are the ones that see the action and the others are out on the boundary watching the daisies grow.”
“That’s just the way the game works. What do you want to do about it?”
“To be honest I’d rather do almost anything with my time other than play cricket!”
Ah for Summerhill!
I still can’t see the merit of insisting that all the kids in a school should play the games. Give people information about sports and health and let them make their own choices. Anything else just does not make any sense to me.
What do you think?