Coaching our Way Through History Class
Whoever said that coaches of sports teams would make excellent history teachers?
I am unclear how this ever became a thing, but in American high schools, as compared to other subjects and disciplines, men are well represented in social studies and history education, by a vast majority. Where females can disproportionately represent teachers in other areas, history is the exception to the rule. While the data is somewhat dated, as of 1997, women represented only 37.5 percent of the social studies teacher population nationally. *(See source below)
Coaches promote the idea of their successful athletes as having a sexual status and that a win on the field will translate into a ‘win” with the girls.
Part of the answer to this question is that when someone comes to coach at a school, they often do not come as history teachers and then become coaches -- it is the other way around. Coaches come into schools wanting to be coaches. To justify these full time positions in our schools, coaches are also thrown into history, government and civics classroom, given a textbook, and asked to teach.
Coaching has a very particular mindset to it. There are all the positive associations that we have with being part of a team and how coaches foster a positive experience; there is an emphasis on collaboration, on overcoming obstacles, developing resilience, dealing with failure and winning, working hard and applying oneself.
But there are other darker messages as well, particularly on men’s teams where the overall focus is on doing whatever it takes to win. Competition is characterized as a type of war and war as a type of competition. There is also an embedded male privilege associated with “being on the team.” Coaches promote the idea of their successful athletes as having a sexual status and that a win on the field will translate into a ‘win” with the girls.
In the eyes of these teacher-coaches, is the ultimate goal to “win” history?
This thinking not only applies to sports; it is an old story of history as well and a way of framing, not only the relationships of males to their masculinity, but to a type of superiority that is transactional. When these coaches turn to their history textbooks, does it turn into a narrowly defined construct of conflict, with winners and losers? In the eyes of these teacher-coaches, is the ultimate goal to “win” history? Is it a matter of strategy, strength over weakness, and binary constructs of morality, good versus evil? Where do the voices of women enter equally into the narrative of ancient and contemporary human affairs? How are women portrayed? These questions concerning how our children think and consider the story of human experience needs nuance and a commitment to honest and clear representation. It is too important to be considered the attached addendum of a job description for someone whose interest is in running the school’s football program.
*Hahn, Carol L., Bernard-Powers, Jane, ET AL. (2007) Gender Equity in Social Studies. In Klein, S (Ed.). Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education. New York, London: Routledge.