Something has occurred to me in the last year that I think is a very important, simple, and pervasive truth about school. It’s an idea that I’ve been sort of realizing for some time now. A column I read earlier tonight about public schools struck a few chords with me.
First, this post might be a little short and/or disorganized because I’m tired and it’s Prom week. I’m sleepy, it’s late and I want to make sure you have something to think about over your coffee or other beverage of choice.
Okay, so as the Activities Director (what’s that? Well, at my school, my job is to supervise, produce, plan, organize and otherwise make happen things like Homecoming, Prom, pep rallies, lunchtime games and other student activities that foster and promote school spirit) I have had to think a lot about what school spirit is. Why is it important? A lot of teachers probably look at my job and think, “Nice work if you can get it. I wish I could sit around all day and just think of stupid games for teenagers to play.”
To be fair, I don’t think of them. I steal them from other schools, TV shows, and books.
I don’t sit around all day either. I get up, walk around the room and sometimes stand at my desk.
So, it’s not all fun and games. But, something has really been coalescing for me in this last year. School spirit is positive pride resulting from the relationship you have with the institution. School pride comes from the school doing things worth being proud of. Winning sports teams, high test scores, and great arts programs are all sources of school pride. But, what about pep rallies and dances.
I think so. (In fact, it is in my best interest to think so.) If it is a school activity and is done well, it can lead to school pride. But, more importantly, to me, these large student activities are not just a chance for kids to have fun, make noise, and move in ways that annoy and disgust adults (like, say, at Prom). These are not just rallies and dances, they are opportunities for students to bond with their school.
This was illustrated to me the other night at the Powderpuff game. Now, in a way, this is one of the goofiest high school activities. If you’re not familiar, Powderpuff football is a bizarro football game. It’s flag football played by girls and with male cheerleaders. At our school, the Juniors play the Seniors for bragging rights. And, it is intense. The kids take it very seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes. They practice for weeks learning plays and conditioning. The boys from the Varsity Football team coach them. And the male cheerleaders embarrass themselves.
It’s goofy. And fun. And, thousands come out to see it.
Why? Well, for one, my community loves football. We come together under the lights to enjoy a public spectacle. And, it is like this for many Friday nights in the fall. But, this one is different. We typically do Powderpuff right before Prom (in the hopes that going to Prom on crutches might be enough of a deterrent to not try to kill the other girls!).
The thing that I think is important is that somewhere along the way there was a cultural decision that Powderpuff was important. So, now, I would guess that nearly 2,000 people came out to see it. And, they cheered and hollered and had a good time. These days of war, recession, bubble markets and layoffs find us with good times in short supply. But, the article I read made me think about Powderpuff football because this is our community. This is people coming together to share space, time and activities. To bond with one another and to find commonality. To associate and socialize.
And, for me, it is humbling to realize I was a catalyst and partner in it. Because I believe that public schools do this, as the article says, in a way that others cannot. Charter schools will not do this. Private schools don’t do it the same way. Public schools do this by having the people that live near each other, the people of the neighborhood come together and be in the same vicinity as each other. These kind of events are important and vital to our society. A private school will have students that *can* be together because of academic achievement or socio-economic status. A charter school will have students there that chose to be there (but something tells me charters schools won’t have very rich activities programs or won’t throw Powderpuff games. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am).
But, as the article points out, public schools are democratic because they bring us together no matter who we are. We belong together because of this school and these student activities give us a chance to celebrate our achievements and commonalities. I heard once that a Supreme Court Justice said he only reads two pages of the newspaper (for our digital natives, a newspaper is big sheets of paper with ink printing that were produced in mass quantities and had current events on them for people to read each day); he read the front page and the sports page. When asked why he said he read the front page to see about man’s failures and troubles and the sports page to be reminded of man’s successes and potential for greatness.
Sports are taken more seriously than student activities like dances and pep rallies, but I think they are similar. I think that dances and rallies offer remind us to live, to love, to dream and to achieve. They offer inspiration. The root word of inspire is related to breath and to spirit. Literally, inspiration means to give someone spirit, that is, to breathe life into them. And, that’s why I think my job is so cool. I get to breathe life into students, into a school. It’s not just a Powderpuff game. It’s not just a school. It’s an inspiration. It is a democratic community.