What German Soccer Can Teach Us About U.S. Education….

“How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line”

“…Freiburg place great emphasis on academic work, so much so that they like a selection of their staff to come from a teaching background, so that they can provide educational help whenever it is needed, including on the way to matches. It is not uncommon for players to do homework on the coach. Streich says that clubs have a moral obligation to think about what happens to those who fail to make the grade….”

“A Nation that suffered an embarrassing Euro 2000 now boasts both Champions League finalists thanks to a system that values coaches and nurtures indigenous talent.” …(And now 2014 World Cup Champions!)

It is amazing what motivated humans can accomplish; once they decide to do something. In American education we wrongly believe that “academic underachievement”; or “failure”, mysteriously arrives after a student takes a 4th or 8th grade test; that a “drop-out” is discovered in high school. The truth is that things like the so-called: “achievement gap”, “academic underachievement” and “droputism” are artificially created by a system that fails students before they even step through their first school door; and continues to fail them once they step through the school-house door. Society knows (and has always known) how to effectively educate children; regardless of racial, linguistic or socio-economic back ground, with or without educated parents. To be brutally honest; we are simply not interested in doing it, because we are not particularly interested in the children of the poor and the politically disenfranchised. If it was felt that large numbers of poorly educated children, were of interest to the wellbeing of or nation, then it would be done; and the mass educational malpractice that we presently see, would end. Many of us have been saying for years; particularly as it relates to building Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) ready students; that the task was/is impossible, unless we commit to engaging children at an early age, and in a determined, consistent and exciting way. And this must be done before they absorb and accept a belief that they are not smart; and that “smartness”, STEM, reading and academic excellence is the enemy and a threat to their cultural experience. The short term “gain” of this poorly organized educational system for the poor is the production of large numbers of human raw material for social services, criminal, security-law-enforcement industries. It also serves to alleviate pressure on an economy that can only survive if there is a large number of unemployed, and unemployable underclass citizens, who despite their status continue to consume. The children of the poor have monetary value (just ask charter school companies), even as they are still in school. The sad and cynical reality is that some children serve as commodities prior to their exit from the public education system; their “underachievement and academic failure” will create a hugely lucrative “fixing failure”/”closing gaps” industry. Ironically, society’s failure to act fairly toward all children causes the entire US student population to suffer and essentially underachieve, because having low standards and low expectations for the many, leads to false high standards and expectations for the “successfully” educated politically enfranchised few. We have gone from a “Nation at Risk” to a Nation at Waste of our huge creative intellectual resource. The shrinking birth rate of the educationally favored White males, which is doing its part in the creation of the rapid “darkening” of our student population, suggest that our “old (present) plan” of educational quality based on access to finance and political power is not going to equip the US with a capable work force she will need in the future. And as “developing” nations grow their own internal need for highly skilled workers, we may find ourselves at skills (and a national security personnel shortage); as those workers may only need to look down at the ground under their feet, to see that new “land of opportunity”. But it seems Americans are not motivated to solve a problem; until they are dangerously close to appreciating what it will happen if they don’t solve the problem (i.e. The Marshall Plan, The Manhattan Project, landing a man on the moon, and the STEM educational response to the Russian satellite: Sputnik). At that point American “know-how”; determination, human and financial resources shift into full gear; and by will and skill, the problem is overwhelmed and solved!

I was struck while reading this article (always looking for an education angle); how the soccer lords of Germany responded to strong societal pressure; and their own interest in moving German soccer out of the status and role of “near-do-wells” and into the category of consistent competitive winners. First, the Germans Soccer Officials presented an interesting idea and approach; they thought: “We don’t have a shortage of good soccer players; we just have a shortage of a plan to identify and develop those players!” They could have fallen back on the practice of many European nations of just “importing” good players. But instead they choose a different and bold route. If, they thought, statistically, “good players” were basically equally distributed throughout the human population; a nation (regardless of size) could be successfully competitive if they were in some way able to just identify and nurture (coach well) their own reservoir of good players. Further, this national effort would take time and expertise. In other words, this was not to be a “fly-by-night”, “gimmicky”, “reform” project. They analyzed, identified and deconstructed what constitutes good soccer skills; and so now, “let us not leave the teaching of these skills to “random” coaching efforts; we must place competent and knowledgeable coaches with our youth football clubs.” Finally, this effort would require a national financial commitment; with no thought to a quick financial return. We have seen that with any successful American project; funding was not a barrier to success. Money is not our problem in the US, since we obviously sink a lot of it into public/charter schools; unfortunately, without any reasonable return. What is missing in our case is the will, not the ingenuity or the resources. A most interesting part of the German football program was the idea that increased attention and a focus on academic achievement on the part of their youth soccer leagues. They found that strong academic skills enhanced, rather than diminished the young person’s soccer playing skills! Study and hard work in school was formally encouraged and monitored by the coaches; take that NCAA!
Finally, I guess it really goes a long way if you love your country and want to see her succeed; and succeed, not in a faux patriotic and mean-spirited Tea-Party kind of way; but in a kindness of spirit way. When your love for your country extends to a love for its future possibilities; then anything is truly possible. We hear a great deal about international comparative studies on academic achievement; most of them useless because of the important things that they don’t take into account, like racial homogeneity and its relationship to expectations. Perhaps we could do better to study international strategies by sports authorities in other nations; but we could honestly just start by looking at our own national and international successes to figure out how we could stop disregarding so many of future problem solvers, creators, inventors, healers; future Americans.

“How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line”… http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/may/23/germany-bust-boom-talent