About halfway through the fourth quarter of the big game, I remembered that I was supposed to write a piece about the lessons learned from this year's Super Bowl. At that exact moment, I also realized that up to that point, I had been watching it for sheer entertainment and hadn't been "learning" anything at all. In fact, I hadn't even been thinking about anything except the spectacle and my team's poor performance. Oops. So instead of making clever analogies about football plays and education reform, here's what I really learned from the game and the circumstances surrounding it, and what it all means about education.
1. Seize the Moment – This is the only point truly related to the game itself. I've seen my team reach the championship game, have the victory easily within their grasp, and ultimately fail to grab it twice in a row now. While that is disappointing, I think about it more in terms of the individual players who had an opportunity to seize a life-changing moment, but failed to do so. Education is the life-changing moment that we all have to seize.
There is such a diverse world of educational opportunity available to all of us, yet many fail to recognize it as something that can be grasped. At the societal level, we push education to a back burner by underfunding and undervaluing it, and individually, we are not motivated to try our hardest in the classroom, so we end up failing to embrace the educational opportunities available on the Internet and generally live lives devoid of intellectual engagement. Instead, we choose to devote our precious time and effort not to education, but to things like the Super Bowl. This is a problem. We need to critically examine the relative importance of things like the Super Bowl and education in our society and readjust our values to more highly value that which is truly rewarding and valuable to everyone.
2. Focus On What is Really Important – How many hours did I invest in football this season that I could have spent in self-betterment or with my family and friends? The answer is a resounding "too much." And I'm not even a particularly bad offender, but still, I probably spent a hundred hours or more in football-related activities over the course of this past season. What could I have done with that time if I had used it more wisely?
I could have written more, taught myself more computer programming, planned and filmed a documentary, created a video game, or taught my children any number of skills, gone for more hikes with them, or just played with them more. The same applies for those with other interests. In the amount of time that the average fan dedicates to football during the season, he or she could have easily taken an online class instead. In fact, the cost of tuition and books can even be offset by a decreased consumption in beer and snacks! Consumers spent an estimated $5.6 billion on Super Bowl-related food and other items this year alone (Messenger, Feb. 5, 2012). The class you take could be focused on your job and could lead to a promotion, a better salary, and a more comfortable and secure life for you and your family. If not for work, then taking an online course for personal enrichment is another option, or you could engage in some informal learning online about a topic that interests you or your family – all working together on the coursework. There is so much available that finding something to learn is a real possibility for everyone. As an added bonus, modeling this behavior for your children increases the likelihood that they will be interested in learning and will emulate that behavior themselves.
3. Technology Can Connect as Well as Disconnect – I am in awe of the fact that 100,000,000 or more people watched the same event and that so many connected via social media during the game as well. But I'm wondering just how connected we all were? The Internet and advanced telecommunications technologies certainly provide us with opportunities to share with others like never before. Facebook, text messages, blogging, Twitter, and many other outlets can allow us to feel connected to things we really aren't connected to at all, such as which commercial was the best or arguing strategy with people we don't even know. What is disappointing is that we so seldom take advantage of these technologies to connect to things that are really important.
Take education for example. Online learning can be an isolating or connecting experience, depending on the instructor, the course design, and the individuals taking the class. However, learning happens best when it happens socially, and the technology is available to use the power of social networks to help people learn at every level. Connecting individual students to others around the world and taking advantage of the unique opportunities available through those connections is one place to begin. Facilitating group work in an online course is another. Beyond the classroom, consider connecting yourself or your children with real world experts who are willing to share their knowledge. There are millions of people all over the world with similar interests and a desire to share their knowledge, and that sharing doesn't have to be centered on football.
4. Break the Chains That Bind You – The final thing that really hit home about the Super Bowl was the incredible consumerism that surrounds it. This is a day devoted to gluttony of all kinds — food, drinks, commercials, banners, streamers, balloons, paper plates. Everything about this day is focused on the consumption of goods – so much so that the actual sport itself becomes secondary, or even a distant afterthought. In that way, this day represents all that education should not be, should not promote, and should, in fact, actively work against. I think looking at the hoopla surrounding what could be a fun and interesting event provides an excellent starting point to a have a focused discussion about the role of sport, education, and consumerism in our society and the places where they all intersect. There is definitely a place for sports in education, but the exploitative nature of both college and professional sports runs counter to the concepts of freedom, equitable access, and human dignity.
It is time to turn the tables on this event and adopt a critical perspective on the event as a great opportunity to examine the ways in which American society has manipulated sport into a giant consumer monster that subverts all of the notions that we hold dear and essential to a civilized society. Start planning now and for next year's Super Bowl so you can focus more on yourself, learning, companionship, and getting up off of the couch.