People often criticize schools that focus on sports. Why bother, the argument goes? Being good at football or basketball doesn’t mean much after graduating. Even worse, a sports focus tempts many into wasting time on a fruitless career track. Millions of high schoolers dream of playing for the NFL, but only about fifteen hundred actually do (at any one time). Isn’t that a huge waste of youth, hope, and resources?
Yes, it is. However, few ever compare this mess to the classical music classes most schools also have. Classical music seems to be similar to athletics in many respects:
– It’s nearly impossible to get a job as a top professional in the field. Symphony orchestra job openings aren’t like working for Dow Chemical, or even Google – like the NFL or NBA, there are only a tiny handful. “A lot (of openings) is six or seven.”
– You can’t do it by yourself. A few instruments, like the guitar and piano, can be played individually… but most, like the clarinet, flute, drums, etc. are heard as part of a larger group, just like how most sports need a whole team to be fun.
– Because of that, participation drops dramatically after graduation, as it’s much more difficult to find a group. For almost any high school student, it’s easy to find a concert band or baseball team. But what about when you’re 30? 40? 50?
– Both are fun for many people, but are clearly not optimized for fun, at least in a school setting. If schools optimized for fun, they’d have a lot more video games, at least during downtime like recess and after school.
– Both are similar enough to useful things to provide a paper-thin justification, but not enough to actually be useful. Football is taught with the justification of “physical fitness”, but a lot of what it does is tear up your muscles, resulting in frequent injuries. Music is taught with the justification of “learning about culture”, but schools very rarely teach actual culture. Instead, they teach a senseless bouillabaisse of bits of past cultures that seem prestigious. (More on this in subsequent posts.) How many schools teach kids to play ghetto rap, or build a Burning Man camp, or host a dinner party, to name important bits of three real, modern cultures?
So, why (in educated circles) is one praised, and the other villified? My best guess is that sports are generally associated with lower-class culture (the ghetto, rural backwaters), and classical music is associated with upper-class European culture, making it seem superior.