If someone from another planet came to America, they probably would think the principal task of the nation's schools is to turn out good athletes and sports teams. After all, it's sports and athletes who get nearly all the public attention.
If a high school or middle school plays in a football championship, it's huge news throughout hometown community. If a school's debating team is competing for a championship, it doesn't get nearly the attention. And when it comes to college scholarships, athletes get a lot more public adulation than scholars. In a more perfect world, it would be the other way around.
This bias toward sports probably will never change - it's too deeply ingrained in our culture - yet isn't it an ironic comment on human nature that, though we know academics is the schools' most important task, it's sports that has the firmest grip on the public's interest?
Even so, occasionally academic competition does get pushed into the limelight, however dim. and so it was this past weekend when Cross Creek High School made its way into the Georgia Academic Decathlon in Lilburn - a state championship competition in which students from 27 schools are tested on novels, plays, art, social studies and other subjects.
Berkmar High School of Gwinnett County won the overall title, while Cross Creek placed 12th - pretty good considering it's a small school compared to many of the other 26. Most students across the state participating in the competition worked and trained just as hard as any athlete.
Whether they get widespread recognition or not, academic competitions of this nature deserve all the encouragement they can get, for the very good reason that they reward hard work and excellence in the field of academics. As a society, we need more of that.
In sports, we don't put ankle weights on our athletes. We encourage and train them to run, jump and play as hard as possible - to be the best they can be.
Yet when it comes to scholastics, the education establishment often puts what amounts to ankle weights on our brightest and most talented kids - virtually discouraging them from doing their best.
This is because classes are often geared to accommodate the dullest and least-talented pupils. The standards for learning are set low, not high. Then we wonder why American kids do so poorly compared to pupils in other countries.
Can you imagine doing that in sports - holding back the best athletes in order to play the least talented? What this nation needs are more scholastic competitions such as the Academic Decathlon - and more recognition for them.
It lifts the ankle weights off our best and brightest students and lets them - like good athletes - be the best they can be.