Ball or Bands: Football vs Music as an Educational and Community Investment by John Gerdy

Impact on Learning and Brain Function

  • The main point here is that participating in music energizes and strengthens the brain and brain function, while involvement in football can damage brain function. This may seem like a strong statement, but John offers sufficient research support regarding music’s positive impact and football’s negative results. He does find that football can be an effective way to keep kids engaged in school, and it can foster a sense of family and belonging. There are similar advantages to all extracurricular activities including less drug use, fewer teen pregnancies, higher grades, and better attendance.
  • As for creativity, which can be developed and nurtured, students are more likely to think outside the box in music than on the football field. The nature of art requires creativity, and any sport when played well is an art of a sort. In sports, creativity is usually limited to what students do during the game to adjust to what’s happening on the field. This is due to the fact that today, youth sports are run entirely by adults. Even during the game the coach calls the plays. Thus, football’s capacity to educate has declined. Football teams have separate coaches for each group of players. While a marching band may have more than one adult director, the number is usually smaller so students end up doing some of the coaching themselves. Musicians are expected to play certain notes at certain times, but they still have to interpret how the notes are played.
  • Only 4% of high school football players ever play the game again, and only eight in 10,000 make it to the NFL. Keep in mind that the number for women is zero. Even if athletes stay fit into their later years, their ability declines steadily. This is not the case for musicians where people sixty and older can still out play young people. Football is also focused on winning and losing so at each game half of the students are losers. While there are some music competitions, there are no losers at school concerts. Music is also a universal language and there is a strong relationship between music and math. It is all about communication and interaction.

Impact of School Culture and Learning Environment

  • When it comes to sports and music, decisions are made by local school boards made of elected volunteers in most places. The actual cost of any activity is very difficult to determine and we suspect most districts don’t really know what they cost as lots of the costs are commingled with other activities. Even though most football teams charge to see the games, it’s doubtful that many cover the cost of putting the team on the field. Music programs do cost less as one instructor typically handles more students. Many students own their instruments and many parents pay for private lessons. Choral groups are really cheap as voices are free. As for “bang for the buck,” music programs are the clear winner.
  • Most people today recognize that we live in a global village, and that we want students to somehow gain a global perspective. Music groups often take group performing trips to other states and other countries. Since music is international, it can go anywhere and still communicate. While some sports team do the same, football teams never do as other countries with the possible exception of Canada don’t play football. All other sports played in schools have a more serious global footprint. John tells of a school that had to give up sports for financial reasons. They found that academic performance increased greatly and that behavior problems decreased. This is due to the fact that a football culture increases bullying as a side effect. Unfortunately, the music groups that travel are the ones with money so the rich get richer.
  • Another area that is hot today is interdisciplinary learning. Here music has a huge advantage as it can be used to promote reading, history, culture, foreign language, art, math, and more. Football might be able to help with the odd statistics and physics lesson, but good luck with that. In short, a school dominated by a football culture runs the risk that the win at all cost mentality, the anti-intellectual mindset, and the bullying culture will have adverse consequences for the community as a whole. It’s just not well suited to instill skills needed to meet 21st century challenges.
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