top of page

The 'Final Four' of debate or basketball. What matters to us most?

Raised in Kansas, I had opportunity to attend its premier university and earn three degrees there before coming South to begin my career. I miss home, and one of the ways I keep in touch is by following the always excellent KU Jayhawks basketball team.

This year they are in the Final Four of the famed March Madness NCAA basketball tourney.

Upon arriving in Lawrence, Kansas—home of the University of Kansas (KU)—visitors are met by a highway sign heralding its status as home of the five-time national basketball champion in basketball and…in debate. In other words, the debaters have been just as successful as the renowned and nationally esteemed ballers. And one of my Facebook friends bragged the other day that the KU debate team had just won a sixth national title.

Yes, dear friends, the University of Kansas Jayhawks made the Final Four of the 72nd National Debate Tournament, held this year in Wichita, Kansas. In the vaunted Final Four pairings, Kansas beat Harvard in the semis and Georgetown in the title match.

The day I heard the news I searched in vain for any kind of coverage in Kansas, in the nation, in…anywhere. Zip, nada, crickets chirping. Finally, more than 48 hours later, a nice article appeared on the official KU webpage and a growing number of Kansas media outlets picked up the story. But punch in the “Kansas basketball” and Google shows me 47, 600,000 possibilities in .65 seconds.

Further, if the basketball Jayhawks win this Saturday and again on Monday, the bedlam in Lawrence and among Jayhawk faithful around the globe will be tumultuous, ecstatic, crazed beyond belief. You won’t have to wait a day or two to know who won the ballgame; there will be instant worldwide coverage.

Because…basketball (putting a little orange ball through a hoop more times than the other team during a 40-minute period) is far more important than mere scholarly contests of debate (demonstrating supreme academic prowess honed through thousands of hours of study, practice and the ultimate skillsets of logic, argumentation, and consummate magniloquence).

For most of us, the latter—particularly when compared to basketball—typically elicits a yawn.

And that is what is wrong with education today. Across our culture, but particularly in our schools, we have switched the price tags. From what fans get excited about, to where the scholarship monies flow, to what is celebrated in our media…value is misplaced.

I believe Soren Kierkegaard told the parable of someone who sneaked into a store and—instead of pilfering merchandise—created pandemonium by switching all the price tags. The rubber ball now had the price of a boat, the boat of a watch, the watch of a dining room set. And when the store opened the next morning…chaos. Anger, joy, frustration…chaos.

When, as a culture—and, by extension, in our school systems—we elevate basketball (and sports) over debate (and academics), we get what we “pay for.” Nobody, but nobody, is bragging today about the superiority of American education. Nor should they. But what about those ball players…

bottom of page