Can We Talk Education Like We Talk Football?

Football fans in Tennessee are sobering up from a rare, dizzying weekend of winning.

We celebrated University of Tennessee’s shutout of UTEP and Vanderbilt’s performance at South Bend against the Fighting Irish, even though they lost it was a solid showing. I’m still reeling from the news that my alma mater, Austin Peay State University with its young rockstar coach (who will without a doubt be plucked from our little program by some bazillion dollar FCS team very soon), bulldozed Morehead State 78-40, setting a school record. Then, on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans showed up on their home field with a pulse and a mission and won one.

As you can see, I love the game at every level and boy, do I love to talk football! The language used around football is the most authentic of any sport as expectations are high and patience is short. If a three hundred pound lineman misses a tackle or loses out on his assigned target, no one gives him pass by listing the reasons he failed at his job. No, instead you might hear coaches and fans alike scream “bruh, you had one job! Don’t let it happen again!” It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been doing the youth football thing with my baby cousin who plays on a team coached by my husband. Let me tell you, transporting the little fella to and fro, sitting through practice three days a week plus a game on Saturday is a grueling schedule for this middle-aged football guardian. I also work. Oh, and I’m doing the grandma thing with a brand new micro human living upstairs. I’m exhausted, for sure, but clearly not too exhausted to assess my new surroundings against the reality of the state of education in Nashville.

Judging by the bleachers on game day, I’m not the only one who loves football. Community youth football teams are teeming with parents and family members pacing sidelines and screaming for their little loved ones. They want their children to be successful, maybe even need them to be for whatever reason. They are intently watching every play, every move the baby made or didn’t make and, believe me, mom or dad will remind the kid for the remainder of the week what he must do to be better for the next game. High expectations. The highest.

So it’s got me wonderin’ if these parents are as aware and as fervently engaged in their child’s literacy and numeracy performance as they are in the x’s and o’s of pee wee football. If the high expectations around making plays are equal to the expectations of making good grades. Let me be clear, I’m not sitting in judgment. Rather I wonder if parents and grandparents know what not reading at grade level really means for the long-term and if they fight for Little Daniel’s Reading level as hard as they fight for his football literacy.

You see, most of the kids on the team are Black and I won’t attempt to guess socioeconomic levels because that’s classist as hell. Because of the team’s racial composition and Nashville’s Literacy crisis, I feel compelled to have a conversation with the other adults about our literacy crisis and how it fuels the school-to-prison pipeline and its potential to lead to a lifetime of low wages and generational issues. A buzzkill, indeed, but so is poverty and prison. Just saying.

I’m seriously considering running the risk of getting cursed out and told to mind my own business by starting a “football talk” about our education system and what it can mean for their child. A simple accountability pep talk rooted in love but shed of aimless language too measly to point fingers or create a sense of urgency.

Yeah, that talk. Because that’s how we win the big game of life.

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