Friday, October 17, 2008

School Spirit

(News-Herald, October 16) School spirit matters a great to some folks; people in Venangoland often identify themselves by which high school they graduated from. Merging some of our school districts would streamline staffs, simplify transportation, cut costs and just generally make sense, but none of that stands up against peoples’ loyalty to the school that they graduated from.

At the same time, lots of grownups shake their heads at Kids These Days and wonder what ever happened to school spirit.

Well, part of what happened is the faulty memories of adults. There have always been plenty of teenagers immune to the charms of school spirit, people who don’t see any reason to owe loyalty to other people who happen to have been born in the same year and live in the same area.

But there is more to school spirit (and the dislike thereof) than coincidences of history and geography. School spirit, at its best, is about pride and investment in something larger than yourself.

Pride in your own thing is not the same thing as abuse of the other guy’s thing. “We’re number one,” is a perfectly good expression of school spirit. “You guys suck,” is not. First of all, it’s rude and classless. Second, it’s an admission that the other guy is better, that our only hope is to drag him down. Some sports fans at some schools in the region would do well to remember this.

School spirit is also about what a school district values. What does your school celebrate? What do school officials hold up as something worth getting excited about? Which students do we think deserve the recognition and admiration of their peers, and which do we leave to keep doing their thing without any special attention?

That special attention comes with a special responsibility, and it’s here where I think many schools fumble the school spirit ball. To build school spirit, we should hold up those special students with a message of, “Here’s a person who represents the whole school. This student is one of you, and represents what’s best in this school, and when this student stands up, it’s for everyone here.”

What tears school spirit down is to present those students who excel with a message of, “This guy is better than all of you guys. You should cheer him cause he’s so great.”

When students excel, there are two lessons to be learned. One is the lesson of respect for excellence in certain areas. The other is that those who excel and lead have a responsibility to their community.

School spirit decays when a school only celebrates certain narrow areas of expertise. If your school only celebrates the star tiddlywinks player, only the students who care about tiddlywinks will feel invested. Other students may feel that tiddlywinks is a pretty lame area in which to invest a school’s spirit.

School spirit decays when the excellent students, the leaders, go unrecognized or unsupported. And it also decays when they have no sense of responsibility to their school. Some high school athletes (and their parents) have come to believe that the school sports program exists to serve them. Their message: “Who cares about the school or the team? I’m in this for me!” Can they really be surprised that they don’t feel the backing of a spirited student body?

Oddly enough, I think the architects of No Child Left Behind actually understood this. Some envisioned schools with pep rallies for academics, a world where a school that won a Blue Ribbon Award would be celebrated and supported just like a championship football team. Well, it was a nice thought, anyway.

Schools that want to build spirit need to hold up a wide range of students who have achieved excellence in a broad range of arenas, so that every other student in the school can feel some connection to the many values represented. Let those leaders say, “I stand for all of us—yay, us” and not “I’m great and you don’t matter. You should clap for me.”

Imagine a gathering where every team captain, each class president, the top scholars, the homecoming queen, the top tech students, the best performers, and other student leaders all stood up to say why they were proud to represent their school. No, I’ve never seen it, either. And it may just be hokey and na├»ve, too. But a school is just a big stack of bricks and concrete. The only spirit it’s ever going to have will come from the people inside it.

1 comment:

Darci said...

Very excellent article.

And when a school (staff, students, parents, community) does take pride what do they get?

Hoping the school board is reading their papers.

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