Celebrating Smarts

The other week I attended a good sized programming competition at St Joseph's College in Patchogue New York. It was a great event and very well run. There were over 100 high school students in 34 teams representing about 16-18 high schools. I'd love to point you to an online news article about it but guess what? There aren't any. The event "wasn't news worthy" according to all of the news companies who were invited.

Now can you picture a sporting event of that size not being "news worthy?" Of course not. That many kids? Rival high schools in the same town? High tension over if the school that won the previous year could repeat with a new "coach?" Come on as a sporting event that would all be high drama and grist not only for news articles but for columnist musings. You know it would. But that was programming. It was students competing with their minds! Who cares about students who can think? No, we're all about students who can bash a baseball with a bat, toss a ball down field to be whipped into a net by a lacrosse stick, or perhaps tennis balls back and forth until someone missing one.

There are high school and college level programming competitions held all the time. TCEA in Texas runs a huge state-wide programming competition on a scale that matches any state-wide sporting event in the country. I suspect you'd be hard pressed to find out how a local school did in it from the local newspaper, TV or radio news broadcast though.

One of the things the FIRST organization does so well is to bring the sports metaphor into their robotics competition in a way that pretty much demands attention from the media. They create an event that is almost as much a show, good theatre, as it is a true competition. And competition it is - make no mistake about that! They have a great model and it gets some media attention. Still not enough though.

Why is it that the media doesn't care about students competing in "smarts?" Could that be part of the problem with the educational system? That society doesn't appreciate it when it works? A society gets what they reward. Where are the rewards (grades don't count) for the incremental improvements and demonstrations of educational success?


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