I was scanning the Tribune the other day, looking at the regional briefs on page 2 of the Metro section. I noticed an item with the headline “Black History Takes Many Forms In Classes.” It mentioned the various ways that students were learning about black history. Among them: Anderson Elementary students reading literature by black Americans and studying Martin Luther King Jr. And in physical education classes, a basketball unit included lessons on Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal.
Say what? Learning about Dr. King, Ralph Bunche, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes or Harriet Tubman is one thing. An important thing. But Chamberlain and O’Neal? Including sports figures — in a culture already saturated with them — is more than redundant. It also plays to a stereotype that doesn’t need to be officially reinforced by the school system.
Here’s a better suggestion. If gym teachers must be utilized in such a fashion, then have them prepare something on the life of Arthur Ashe. Not only did he overcome long odds to become one of the world’s great tennis players, but he had a social conscience and always comported himself with class and dignity — however quaintly uncool those qualities may seem today.
Ashe also had a message that should resonate with any serious educator. Let’s stop telling our black children that the way out of the ghetto is through sports, said Ashe, who knew that almost no one can make a living by playing a game. Those that do have a larger-than-life presence in American culture that totally skews their actual numbers.
Kids need to be told that — and that their ticket out is in school.