Confession Time: My Guilty Pleasures and Secret Heresy Revealed!

Confession Time: My Guilty Pleasures and Secret Heresy Revealed! February 16, 2012

Confession Time: My Guilty Pleasure and Secret Heresy Revealed!

Wednesday evening is my “television night.” It’s time to put aside all the books and writing and laugh. They say that laughter is the best medicine. Well, I should be very healthy at about 8:30 CST every Wednesday night. I don’t laugh out loud very often (I’m Scandinavian), but from 7:00 to 8:30 you could probably hear me a block away.

It beings with the television show “The Middle” which is both hilarious and bittersweet. (And at least on this show she doesn’t slap or kick or punch her husband like she did on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”) Funniest are the kids. Anyone who has raised children has to love it. This is a very ordinary family (rare on television!) with ordinary problems and very funny situations. It continues with “Suburgatory” which isn’t always funny, but occasionally (like tonight) is screaming funny. It’s pure satire on suburban life in America. Cartoonish, yes, but very funny anyway. More about that later. Then comes my wife’s and my favorite situation comedy, “Modern Family.” These people are both real and weird at the same time. It’s a great comedy of errors. Extremely funny without being cartoonish.

If you didn’t see tonight’s (February 15th’s) episode of Suburgatory, I think you can watch it on the internet at ABC TV’s web site. It was about America’s absolutely insane love of sports and the way it overshadows everything else including what education is supposed to be about—education.

Now comes my confession of heresy. (I’m glad I have tenure.)

America’s education culture has gone absolutely off the deep end with sports to the detriment of academics, which is what education was supposed to be about. There. I said it. Now I may go into hiding.

Suburgatory tonight was about a suburban family that worships its high school son for his athletic prowess. They treat their high school daughter like dirt, all the while smiling, because she’s not into sports. That’s just one piece of a very excellent satire about high school sports.

How true is it? Does it deserve such sarcasm and ridicule? Very true and yes. A couple miles from where I sit there’s an enormous  new high school football stadium that must have cost several million dollars. The school district is talking about shutting down schools to save money. The city’s public libraries are tiny. There is no public swimming pool. (My city councilman says the city simply can’t afford it.)

As I drive around town I see billboards featuring the smiling countenance of a university football player who won a major trophy. When have I ever seen a billboard or even a little sign congratulating an academic achiever? Never.

The university where I teach is planning to build a huge football stadium on campus. (The present one, which is pretty big and nice, is off campus.) I hope they do. But why can’t we have a new library? Ours is okay, but it could certainly use some updating. Come to think of it, we could use a whole new one.

About a block from the seminary where I teach stands a sports museum. A sign inside says “This is not just a museum; it is a non-denominational house of worship.” Someone told me it’s a joke. It might be meant as a joke, but I don’t think it really is just a joke.

My wife and I visited a small town church a few miles from here. It was Sunday morning, the day after our university’s football team won a home game. The worship leader had the congregation stand and sing the university’s signature song (with motions!) at the beginning of the service.

Something’s wrong with this picture. University education is supposed to be about learning. Why don’t we highlight the achievements of our outstanding scholar students just as much, if not more, than our outstanding athletes?

Is there any relationship between the absolute mania for high school and college sports and the billboard that stood on a major thoroughfare near our home advertising a local business? It read “Our competitors’ prices are our prices or lower.” Could there be any relationship between the sports mania in schools and the fact that everywhere we look in advertising and signage punctuation is wrong?

Now, if I don’t say this, someone will correct me for it. The university athlete so proudly congratulated on billboards is a really nice guy and a good student, a very good student. I’ve heard that said so many times. But my point is, why then not put his GPA (which is very high) on the billboard next to his smiling handsome face? With his permission, it should be there.

I think this is one of those situations where people have simply gotten so used to things being a certain way that they don’t even bother to ask “Why?” And, of course, there’s a lot of money involved. (What sense does it really make that a football coach makes twice or more than his university president? Oh, right, he brings in a lot of money. But what I’m challenging is the culture that makes that the case.)

As a theologian I have problems with this culture that values sports more than academics. Sure, sports can also bring glory to God (I guess). But academic achievement brings invention, progress, creativity in the arts, the betterment of humanity for the common good. Or have we given up on that idea?

What I’m saying is that our values are skewed. They’re off kilter. And values should matter to us as Christians. Winning a football game or having a winning season is nice, but it doesn’t change the world for the better.

I would like to challenge education administrators to mandate that for every sports hero promoted publicly as evidence of the university’s greatness, a student scholar be equally promoted publicly for the same reason. That would at least be as step in the right direction.

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