sports education for social change

Our task this week was to build a youth media curriculum using Noddings’ centers of care and spiraling from the self out to the world. One of the biggest challenges in such an activity is incorporating this concept of care and compassion. In other words, getting youth to tap into their personal lives and find what they care about and why – how it relates to the world they live in and the world they aren’t immediately connected with.

Paulo Freire and Myles Horton talk about education and social change in their book We Make the Road by Walking. A key point they touch on is using education and literacy to foster participation and citizenship. Freire & Horton’s main point is that critical consciousness is emancipatory. That when children or adults get to the point where they see a problem and start to create change, they are taking their education to the next level and making it their own. In these youth media projects, sometimes all that is needed to jumpstart this process is asking the question “Is there anything you would like to change?” Afterall, one of the best ways to educate is to ask questions. Keeping the question open so that each kid can answer in a way that is relevant to their lives and that gets them thinking critically about their surroundings.

By learning from others and being interested in what’s going on around us, there will always be something new to explore. Freire & Horton say that a good teacher never stops being surprised, and in the same way a good student never stops discovering new things. The same philosophy applies in sports, the coaches know a certain amount of technique and rules but they will always be learning from the players and from the sports community. If people are motivated by finding ways to be useful and serve, according to Freire & Horton, then sports truly offer a great platform for this need. A coach is a teacher and a mentor and the players are the students. This is an environment of sharing and respecting each other’s knowledge and talents – an environment of education.

Education should be a transformative and liberating process, enabling each and every student to realize their potential and to realize their worth in society. Education doesn’t end with school. It is a process that spans an entire lifetime and adult education can be just as important and emancipatory as youth education. Some things are easier when learned at a young age such as languages but there is never a cutoff period if someone is truly motivated. The same goes with sports. We put a lot of emphasis on youth sports to build character – getting kids involved in ballet, soccer, swimming, anything active. But when we’re adults, we disregard this need for communal and physical activity. It is just as beneficial to play sports as adults as it is when we’re young – because there is always something new to learn and maybe sports is the educational tool that best speaks to you. There are countless examples of organizations that use sports education for social change, check out the links to the left under “Youth Sports Organizations”!

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care for physical self

The problem with education is teaching to a test. This model will never inspire students and will rarely keep them engaged. Teachers and educators need to impart their passions and create occasions for students to care. Nel Noddings writes about this new pedagogical model in The Challenge to Care in Schools. In order to make a difference, the element of care needs to be at the center of any educational/pedagogical model, it needs to replace the static disciplines of the old system. At the end of the day, the school’s goal should be to promote the growth of students as healthy, competent and moral people – not just straight As and high SAT scores.

The challenge then is to teach kids how to see the magic in everything and the value in life, to incite an intellectual curiosity. So how do we get youth to care? We start with their personal lives, their inner-circle. We need to capitalize on what students are passionate about. We need to figure out WHAT students want to learn, and help them to find their talents. This alternative curriculum focuses on allowing students to actualize their uniqueness and their talents, to foster these capacities, rather than force them to learn subjects they have no interest in. In other words, we need to match the education to the student, not the other way around.

The idea of “care” is key in all of this. Students need to feel cared for. They need to care about themselves, their neighbors, the world they live in, and the ideas they think about. Among these centers of care, there’s an emphasis on care of the physical self. In a school context, this comes in the form of physical education which should be presented as an open discussion on issues of fitness, health, exercise options, etc. Noddings writes that “It is important for all young people to discover what refreshes and renews them. A well-integrated life includes intervals of activity that energize and make us feel whole” (89). The physical development of a child can’t be overlooked as less legitimate than intellectual development. Sports engage the power of the community for support, with parents and fans attending sporting events and friends playing together in an example of healthy competition.

Youth also need outlets to show the world what they care about. Media provides an opportunity for youth to tell their story, it provides a platform to disseminate the story of their lives and what they prioritize. In the movie Chain Camera, we see Winfred, a high school boy passionate about football but struggling to practice the sport he loves because of poor grades in math. Through this edited video, Winfred uses the camera as a stage to express his desire to be accepted and his identity as a football player. As media educators, we can then take the issues that youth care about and expand them to fit into the larger system and make them relevant to the rest of the world. Caring about sports and physical development is so much more than just a hobby, and it should be given equal weight in youth education.