In case you haven’t heard enough Super Bowl chatter this week, here’s another thought: The annual ritual of the greatest spectacle in American sport gives us a chance to examine the ways in which professional football and modern American education are intertwined with one another.
For starters, there is the process of improvement through analysis and critique: NFL teams are more self-critical than aspiring actresses. Each play of each game is broken down for review, discussion and for use as an instructional tool – what was done wrong, what was done right, and what needs to be adjusted for the future. That analysis doesn’t even wait until the week after game days – it happens during games, too, as players pore over aerial photos of plays that happened just seconds ago. Schools and teachers also analyze their performance to varying degrees, though assessing teacher performance is highly contentious especially as it pertains to their contracts. But as Tim Daly, president of the New York Teacher Project and brother of NFL assistant coach Brendan Daly pointed out in an article in Time during last year’s Super Bowl run-up, it is hard to support a complete lack of evaluation.
“In the best situations, where you have practitioners who are truly outstanding, they do many of the same things. They are very good at assessing what is working and what is not working,” Daly told Time. “The best administrators and teachers understand this. In the worst situations in education, there is very little feedback and very little support. You can go years without anyone telling you you’re not doing well.”
It is no secret that the iPad is changing the face of education. Schools across the country are cobbling together precious dollars to put iPads – and other tablets and personal laptops – into students’ hands. And now that Apple has launched an e-textbook platform designed for the iPad and President Obama has decreed that all students should have a tablet by 2017, the growth of tablets will only increase. NFL coaches and school administrators apparently think alike: In the NFL, more and more teams are using the iPad as a playbook and a tool for analysis and preparation. The question is apparently the same among educators, whether they are instructors of K-12 and higher ed academics or professional X’s and O’s: Why saddle your students with heavy books full of static, paper pages when you can give them a light, lithe tablet computer that harnesses dynamic teaching tools and can be updated far more easily?
Of course the Super Bowl itself can have an impact on day-to-day life of lots of local institutions, and this year is no exception as students at IUPUI have been rankled by the cancellation of classes and the use of a quarter of their school’s parking spaces for Super Bowl activities – parking spaces for which students have paid for permits to use at their convenience. And what else is college for if not for the opportunity to engage in activism and demonstration? And what better chance to gain attention for a cause than to tie it to the Super Bowl? Students at Indiana Wesleyan University held a prayer meeting in response to what they expected to be an influx of sex trafficking surrounding the big game, and, not surprisingly, the Super Bowl creates a symbiotic environment for a variety of political protests.
As for the game itself, Sunday’s showdown will be a history lesson in progress about the dynastic legacies of both teams and the personal legends of Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
And for one fanbase, it will also be a chance to commemorate their team’s golden era from 20 years hence – while we try to forget about the painful years in between then and now.