This article from a Classical Online Catholic School site is simply too full of wisdom not to share with you.
“He who tills his land shall be satisfied with bread:
but he who pursues idleness is very foolish.”
Work-free boyhood has produced its own spirituality in recent years (like Jesus, helper of baseball players) but the situation is getting worse as families turn to video games, television and the internet to keep their children indoors and out of the way.
Working in education and being a father of 5 young boys, I face the same questions any time someone learns that I live on a farm and teach my own children at home:
“Do your kids play video games?”
“Do your kids watch TV?”
“Do you kids play sports?”
My answer: “No, they don’t.”
While that may be shocking to American adults, what is really shocking is the fact that these three activities have somehow become the tests of “normal” childhood. I don’t believe these activities can be considered normal at all.
It is safe to say that children have roamed the earth about as long as men and women have. If you’re an evolutionist, that would mean, oh, several million years. I’m not an evolutionist, so I’d prefer to think that children have been around for closer to 6,000 years. If they’ve been around longer than that, we don’t know anything about them anyway, so it wouldn’t matter, and it won’t matter much for this article. Now, if we can agree that children have been around for at least 6,000 years, wouldn’t the “normal” childhood experiences be at least a few thousand years old?
* Video games became popular in the 1980s. Therefore, for 99.7% of the history of childhood, no child ever played a video game. A child who does not play video games stands in a crowd that includes 99.7% of all children who have ever lived. I’d call that normal.
* Television came onto the scene in the 1930s. Therefore, for 98.8% of the history of childhood, no child ever watched a television show. Again, if my boys stand in a crowd that includes 98.8% of all children who have ever lived, I’d say they are perfectly normal.
Sports, of course, are a little more tricky–especially in modern America where there are very few people who know much about life outside of the U.S.. Children (mainly boys) have always participated in athletic games of some sort. Olympic-type activities are ancient and have always been a part of education because they were practically useful for military training. They featured skills that were used in ancient warfare. Soldiers had to throw javelins, fight hand-to-hand with spears and swords, shoot arrows, climb city walls, fight on horseback, chase down enemies on foot, and so on. The Olympic games motivated both experienced and future soldiers to cultivate and demonstrate their military skills by offering great prizes and honors. The games lifted morale among citizens and strengthened the military at the same time.
None of this, however, has anything to do with sports in modern America. Here, we’re talking about organized recreational sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, football, swimming–not Olympic events. Even the modern idea of the “Olympic Games” now includes figure skating, speed-walking, ping-pong, snowboarding and other sports that really exist for their own sake. Rather than making all men compete for a few prizes, we multiply pointless games so hundreds of people end up with medals and the awards mean less and less. From the modern Olympic games down to the local T-ball league, the goal seems to be to make an award for everyone, and that for any activity, no matter how useless in life. Again, this idea of “sports” has nothing to do with the ancient contests.
The craze for sports among American youth doesn’t actually begin with the youth, though. It begins with their parents and usually for a few reasons:
Sports can teach important life lessons (teamwork, sacrifice, endurance, etc.).
Sports can earn scholarship money for a student.
Sports allow kids to get physical exercise.
There may be a few more, but these are the more respectable answers. The problem with each of these reasons for sporting is that they are easily supplied by means other than sports.
First, It is not necessary to sign up at the local recreation league so that a boy can be a member of at team. Boys are born onto teams they are supposed to work with and for…they’re called families. All of the lessons of teamwork are available to them in their own homes…if families would pursue them.
Second, it is not necessary (or realistic) for a boy to earn college money through sports. There are also academic scholarships available and, more importantly, it first needs to be proven that a boy needs to go to college! College is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Before a boy spends his youth working to hit curveballs and kick field goals, it would be better if he first concentrated on the things he will definitely need to do well in life. Despite all the time, money and energy put into team sports by American families, only 2% of high school athletes actually earn a college scholarship, which means that 98% of those playing sports don’t earn college scholarships. What is worse, is that playing sports is usually just the tip of an iceberg of a whole culture of sports TV, sports magazines, sports apparel, sports music, weightlifting and training, etc.. No boy can show up and play on game day who is seeking an athletic scholarship. An entire way of life must be adopted and oriented around that athletic scholarship. Not only is it an unrealistic explanation for the devotion to sports, it is also a distraction from traditional spiritual life.
Lastly, then, there’s the physical fitness argument: “Sports allow kids to get physical exercise.” It seems that parents are forgetting that there is an alternative source of physical exercise available to children of all ages. Even better, it is a source of exercise that teaches better lessons than sports and actually makes the student–and his family–wealthier. It’s called work. Children would not need artificial forms of physical work were their parents arranging a routine of daily work for them to do. One of the reasons the kids are so idle is that their parents have bought up every available convenience appliance and service, leaving nothing for the children to do! Let the children learn household work. Set them to work washing dishes, doing laundry, preparing meals, cutting grass, caring for gardens, managing animals, etc.. Let them start businesses and earn some money, then teach them to use that money as responsible Catholics must—not for wasting on toys and treats, but for sharing with those who cannot work. Let charity be the motivation for their physical fitness.