Losing the Plot Over E-Sports

Fortnite 3 million

“E-sports” – the very name is a marketing masterpiece. It gives a sense of legitimacy and slides these activities in alongside the most thrilling of endeavours to be expected in top flight rugby, football, gymnastics, swimming, marathon running.

But this is a joke. You can dress a pig in a dress, it’s still a pig! There are people in rehab clinics dealing with the effects of computer gaming addiction. On this basis, are we going to add cigarette smoking and whiskey imbibing to the curriculum in schools?

The spurious argument frequently given for inclusion of E-sports in schools is that they attract the students who otherwise wouldn’t engage in participatory activities. I’m afraid I get flabbergasted by this argument. When I was in school the kids who tried to bunk off from every PE lesson or sports/ games session would have been equally happy to be told that they were signed up for the competitive drinking and smoking activity which in due course when they had honed their skills would see them competing against other schools, then with some illicit gambling thrown in as well would go on to have the chance to compete in national competitions at which they could maybe win vast sums of money (although, of course, most of them would win diddly squit)

And yes, the fever will now get a whole lot worse after the recent saga of the Fortnite World Cup – at which the young man above won a ridiculous $3 million dollars. Because now, the voices of the loonies will be joined by the greedy avarice of the sadly misguided to suggest that more children should be playing such games – because you can get rich playing them!

(By the way, Fortnite is a game in which people in a virtual computer game world try to shoot each other dead until they’re the last survivor. Now after events in so many American schools and colleges, doesn’t that just completely sound like the sort of thing we should have children doing? No?)

Over the years I’ve attended a lot of sports events, sports days etc. in schools. Some were everything that sport should be about and some were awful for so many reasons that relate to failure of many of the adults concerned to really understand what school sports are about (or should be about!)

On one memorable occasion there were protocol reasons why there were way too many speeches on a day that was supposed to be about children enjoying and engaging in sports competitions. When I stood to speak I had chosen to focus on engaging in regular and rigorous physical exercise and/ or sport purely for its own sake, finding the pleasure in the process of learning skills and letting the outcome look after itself. I was followed at the podium by a very senior police officer. He spoke in Hindi and i was struggling to understand, so took the help of the school Principal sitting beside me for translation. I was mortified to discover that he started off by telling the gathered students and parents to take note of what I’d said. The children should indeed put lots of effort in to playing sports BECAUSE……… in this way they could become incredibly wealthy just like Sachin Tendulkar!!

So, in terms of how we arrived where we are, should anyone really be surprised? particularly in developing countries we see the rates of diabetes, obesity and other health issues for children escalating at truly horrific rates. We see schools where physical exercise and sports act like a massive filtering machine, until by secondary school just a handful who found by accident that they had some innate talent are still engaging in sport and a handful will emerge to rise to the very top (where they will be lavished with untold wealth and ridiculous adulation). The rest, they disengage from physical exercise and activity, figuring it’s ‘not for them’. Their time, instead, goes in to academics (and the parents are happy that they’re not distracted) and hours of social networking, computer games and media consumption.

Some of the luckier ones will realise in their 20’s that they’d missed the plot completely. They start to realise that their bodies are already starting to let them down and they are unlikely to be able to fulfil their career (and financial) goals if they don’t do something seriously and quickly about their physical health. Some make the move in time, some sadly don’t.

Where did it all go so wrong? There was a time when all children would have been physically active just for the pure, natural goodness of the process. They wouldn’t be getting anxious about performance issues, tearing themselves apart with unreasonable comparisons with the elite. In hunter-gatherer communities, did 95% of the males decide that hunting wasn’t for them because they couldn’t match the performance of the village’s best hunter? Or because they were never going to be the richest guy in the village through hunting?

Many children spend vast numbers of their non school hours engaged with computer games and electronic media. I fear that these are the very children who would gravitate to a few more hours of the same thing in school. They are the very children who should be steered away from such activities in school.

School is about learning to be our best and to live the best possible life in every respect. In such circumstances, learning to have a sensible and realistic relationship with our physical body has to be a fundamental part. This does mean that many teachers who didn’t have good relationships with being physically active themselves need to get over it for the sake of the children they teach.

I say though, please please, keep the E-sports out of schools!

Being A Well-Rounded Kid Pays Off

I love it when scientific research confirms what I and many other educators have long believed, justifying a holistic approach to child development and a schooling that gives children exposure to a diverse curriculum that places emphasis on physical pursuits and the arts alongside more academic subjects.

For many years my favourite phrase on the subject has been – it’s all curricular!

So, firstly, here’s an article from the :LA Times, reporting on the latest research that highlights the educational, learning and mental benefits of regular physical exercise and involvement in sports:

LA Times – To Do Better In School Children Should Exercise Their Bodies As Well As Their Brains

So, strong evidence to support ideas of a healthy body in a healthy mind. What I’ve been concerned about in the past (and remain so) is that too m uch of our approach to physical activity in school is still working like a filter, meaning that many children are opting out by the Secondary years. It needs to be for every student, all the time, as part of gaining the habits of a positive healthy lifestyle.

Secondly, here’s scientific evidence for the mental benefits of engaging in music making – faster brain development as a result of music training:

Medical Xpress – Researchers find that children’s brains develop faster with music training

Just as a balanced nutritious diet leads to healthy physical development, so we are learning more and more about the benefits of a balanced mental diet.

Unspontaneous Spontaneity

Throughout the open plan workspace you could hear a pin drop. Every head was bowed studiously over their desks, the only sounds the clacking of keyboards, phone calls or the shuffling of papers. As the clock clicked on to the hour a bell sounded. At that moment, all the workers simultaneously stood up from their desks and rushed to move around.

Some crowded in to the pantry, all trying to get themselves a beverage in a big rush. Others stood around in clusters, sharing a joke, chatting in hurried voices. A few went outside and ran around a bit. All too soon, the electronic buzz of the bell sounded again. Every conversation stopped, the pantry emptied with many left disappointed that they never got the drink they had been looking for. Those outside quickly rushed back in and sat down at their desks, a bit hot, sweaty and out of breath. All the heads bow down and immediately get back to work under the domineering scrutiny of the supervisor.

Sounds like a scene from 1984, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World? Or, just another day of unnatural experiences for children in schools? We’ve become so habituated to the ritualised habits of our schools that sometimes it’s considered radical when someone changes even the smallest factor. This was my first thought when I read the following article:

KQED News – Mindshift – More Playtime

The radical idea here is schools moving from one daily recess/ playtime period of 20 minutes to four 15 minute periods and the positive benefits for the children in terms of better concentration, focus and academic progress.

Well, the first thing is I’m completely unsurprised by the positive benefits. here has been so much work and research that has shown positive benefits of physical movement for concentration in schools with positive benefits on behaviour and all sorts of other issues. I recall reading some time ago of Japanese schools that basically took a short recess after every class!

However, my stronger thought is whether this is still a change that stays too rigidly within dogmatic adherence to practices that are a poor reflection of the real world that our children will grow into. As adults, we break off from our work when we need to, when it helps our concentration, fits with the natural flow of the work and is consistent with deadlines and the volume of work we need to get done. So far, during the writing of this article, I’ve got up from my seat and gone off to do other things twice – once to get a cup of coffee. There was also one other stop when i didn’t leave the chair, but checked a mail that came through that I had been waiting for.

Yet, I believe if we had learned these habits constructively as children in school, we could be evn better at them. There are times when we ought to take breaks but don’t. We feel that becaue there’s a deadline on our work and we need to get through a certain volume we will be guilty of slacking if we get up and walk away. however, all too often, that brief trip away from the work would lead to more (not less) work and of a better, ore creative and mentally effective quality.

What if we taught children in school to take breaks in their work in more natural and effective ways? What if we changed the whole relationship with time by breaking down the ‘batch processing, factory model’? Courageous educators need to be ready to re-explore our relationship with time and control in schools.

Right, time to end this piece of work. I’m off to do something physical, responding to the messages of my body.

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