Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why do school sports start before classes do?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
Starting sports practices well before classes begin shows schools' confused priorities, LZ Granderson says.
Starting sports practices well before classes begin shows schools' confused priorities, LZ Granderson says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: High schools start sports practices before classes even begin
  • U.S. students lag behind many other countries in math, science and reading, he says
  • Unemployment high, yet population lacks education, skills to fill available jobs, he says
  • Granderson: Schools should be making academics, readiness for jobs a priority

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

(CNN) -- The first "cup" was used in hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

That joke's been circulating on the Internet for years. And while it is funny, it's also an embarrassing observation about our past carelessness. But before we start congratulating ourselves about how "advanced" we are now, we should make note of this one little factoid: For much of the country, high school football practice started last month, and for much of the country, high school classes start next month.

Given where our high schoolers rank globally in reading, math and science, that is essentially putting the cup before the helmet in the 21st century.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Here again are the numbers: 14th out of 34 nations in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Again -- 25th in math. No wonder we keep saying we're No. 1; there's a chance many of us can't count much higher than that.

Opinion: After Mars landing, is science cool again?

I don't enjoy writing about how dumb our kids are. But the truth is we live locally and are competing for jobs globally. Once upon a time, our high school students could skate by and still secure a good paying job later. That's simply isn't the case today. Part of the reason why the unemployment rate is 8.3% is because many Americans don't have the technical skills necessary to fill some of the 3.5 million jobs that are available.

And that's not me shooting from the hip or apologizing for President Barack Obama's economic policies. John Engler, a former Republican Michigan governor and president of Business Roundtable, wrote in a June op-ed for U.S. News & World Report that "even with more than 13 million Americans unemployed, the manufacturing sector cannot find people with the skills to take nearly 600,000 unfilled jobs, according to a study last fall by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte."

Jeff Weiner, CEO of Linkedin, a networking website with millions of resumes on its database, recently said that "at least one major driving factor (for the 3.5 million unfulfilled jobs) here is ... the pace with which technology and innovation is now accelerating. We are outstripping our ability to educate and train the existing work force."

The first step Weiner prescribed to correct this problem: fixing our education system. And by fixing, I would start with our dogmatism. Studies as far back as 1906 have indicated that over summer vacation children forget significant portions of what they learned during the school year, and yet we keep using the same academic calendar that was instituted in the 19th century -- before schools were air-conditioned or teachers certified. That would be like us using leeches to cure diseases -- something else we used to do in the 19th century.

And high school sports starting before high school classes literally screams misplaced priorities. Many parents as well as students are against year-round school, noting the lessons that can be learned during summer vacation. I'm fine with that rationale, but why can't the first sign of fall be classrooms opening instead of team practices?

My son's first track meet is in less than two weeks away. His first day of school is after Labor Day. Something just seems wrong about that, especially in Michigan where 48% of the state's school districts did not make, what the U.S. Department of Education calls, "adequate yearly progress."

Even worse, more than 82% of the state's students did not meet the ACT benchmark for college readiness.

But hey, who's ready for some football?

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT