To What End Education? Part II

Who Are Our Heroes?

Even if you are not a sports fan, you have to give sportscasters credit for their creative use of language. They have more ways of saying “nothing” than any other media types: “zero”, “zip”, “nada”, “nil”, “zilch”, “nix”, “donut” “goose egg”, “naught”, “blank,” “cipher”, “love”, “shutout”, “scratch”, among others. These are acceptable to be sure. However, when they use the “hero” word as loosely as they do, they cross a line they should not cross. Someone who plays a sport well is to be sure a fine athlete. They may even be “exceptional”, “unique”, “brilliant”, or even “incomparable”. They are not, however, “heroes” because they do.

An amazing, even memorable, and most challenging catch of a ball—football or otherwise—is not a “heroic effort”! The catcher is not a hero. To suggest otherwise, diminishes the truly heroic. Nevertheless, many outstanding athletes do earn the adulation of those who understand and appreciate the challenges any sport presents at the professional level.

Unfortunately, the real heroes do not often get the attention and regard they earn. To be sure, the talents of Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Mark Messier, Dominic Hasek, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, and a host of other hockey players, and their counterparts in other sports, are commendable. We have reason to hail them! They deserve credit for their accomplishments. However, just because the have prowess in sports, they are not heroes. To be heroes they need to earn their stripes in other ways. Let me say right now, that indeed some have done so.

In this sense, the outpouring of emotion at the death of Muhamad Ali, for example, was well earned. He fought a long, difficult battle with racism, political pressure, injustice, and Parkinson’s disease, and emerged triumphant. He fought a fight to which he could easily have surrendered. He could have thrown in the towel at any point. He didn’t! He not only pressed on toward his goal, he also encouraged, assisted, financed, and in other ways nurtured others to do the same.

When sports, media, and others become heroes for their skills and talents, our children learn to isolate these accomplishments as having little or nothing to do with the support they receive from others: teammates, editors, patrons, and the like. Consequently, many of our children learn to withhold their skills, so that their personal success shines at the expense of the necessary related group achievement. It is within the realm of every teacher’s experience that schools similarly over-exploit competition at the expense of group solidarity. That is to say, we teach those who can to exploit those who can’t. Meanwhile, those who can’t, accept their exploitation.

Is this really what we want, or do we want, say, students who strive to develop their full potential in order to serve others? Do we not want people who are satisfied with consuming only those resources that will ensure their survival, in good health, sheltered from the elements, to the limits of which their bodies are capable of sustaining themselves? That is to say, should we not be seeking to develop individuals having a greater concern for others than for themselves, and who consume a minimum of resources, being willing to share equitably their personal resources with others, rather than wallowing in self-indulgent luxury at the expense of others?

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