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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT