Go do your homework while I watch the game

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Do you remember that expression? It’s stuck in my memory from childhood days. Lately it has been popping up in my head because of contradictory news stories and political happenings. Maybe it’s because I’m so dismayed at the attention being paid to a dead baseball player. Okay, Stan Musial was “the man,” but really?  The St. Louis Basilica?  Naming a bridge after him? Seriously?

We tell kids to study hard, do well in school, get good grades in college and choose a career with strong potential for financial success. Or at least choose something worthwhile to advance the progress of human civilization.  But then we spend hundreds of dollars to attend sporting events, buy all the apparel and memorabilia and practically worship the players who make the most touchdowns or hit the most home runs.

We argue about funding for education and talk about how kids need to learn math and science so America can compete in the global marketplace. But how often to do we have parades honoring a hero of science? We not only ignore their amazing successes, we allow politicians with a hidden agenda to bad mouth them in public without so much as a whimper of protest.

Look at the local news. Sports heroes from tiny tykes on up make it on the big screen. Okay, once a year the winner of the national spelling bee also gets a few minutes of fame. But really, think about how much air time is given to kids who do well in sports and how little attention the scholars get. Obviously this is what the viewers want to see and hear about or the networks wouldn’t send reporters and camera crews out to hobunk high school to interview athletes and their coaches.

I read recently that one St. Louis area school lets their middle school students out earlier than they used to because most of the middle school teachers are coaches and need to get to the high school for warmups and practice. No, I didn’t make this up. And it’s not because I was turned down for a job teaching history at a local high school because I wasn’t able to coach a sport. That turned out to be a gift because I then landed a job teaching at the college level.

Don’t you ever wonder about those athletes who travel to so many away games and how they have time to study? Or maybe I’m totally out of touch,  thinking they should be studying and working toward an academic degree.   Yes, I know there are some very bright athletes who take their studies seriously. Wouldn’t it be of some benefit to younger kids if we honored those student athletes for their scholastic accomplishments as much as we shower them with attention for doing well in sports?  Imagine a society where the “heroes” are not just good at running, jumping, hitting something or somebody but are also praised to high heaven for their genius at math and science. If this is what we really want young people to aspire to, shouldn’t we offer them chances to see how much we value those pursuits?

Imagine the parking lot of a local high school overflowing with families coming to watch science in action. Imagine booster clubs for math teams and closed circuit TV parties celebrating the winners of scholastic contests. Imagine a parade down Market Street for the researcher who breaks the genetic code identifying the most common form of cancer.

Imagine climate scientists drawing huge crowds eager to learn more about how “Six Degrees Could Change the World” a video produced by the National Geographic Society. And then imagine those huge crowds demanding that we speed up the shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. And ending subsidies to Big Oil. And stopping the Keystone Pipeline.

What do you think the chances are that these things will ever happen?  Maybe we’re too far down the path of celebrity intoxication to recover our senses. But there was a day when inventors, scientists and geniuses were our heroes and celebrated across the nation, so I know it’s possible. There’s probably a lot more to this whole question of our society’s priorities. At the very least, we should be honest with our children and not  tell them one thing and do another.