Local Commentary

Editorial: New High School ‘No Fly Zone?’

We have serious concerns about the overly-vertical current design for the new George Mason High School, knowing that the final plans will not be ready for a while before construction begins next summer. In short, our concern is that a preoccupation with providing for extracurricular sports programs, including the problematic case of tackle football, will cause a short-shrift for parking, on the one hand, and the theater arts program, on the other.

The vertical nature of the current design prohibits the use of a “fly” theater loft and rigging system, according to the designers, such as exists in the current Mason High auditorium. “Fly” systems, including the use of levers and pulleys, have been around since the time of the Renaissance, to augment the pivotal role of the theater as a critical educational and moral heuristic device.

The claim that such systems are “unsafe” belies their extensive use, including at Mason High, with no known incidents of accidents.

On the contrary, when contrasted with the unsafe nature of tackle football, for example, the allegation becomes absurd. While four school systems in the wider D.C. region abandoned their football programs this fall, apparently the mood of those prepared to spend $120 million in taxpayer dollars for the new Mason High think that plowing ahead with extensive stadium and practice field plans, even at the expense of the theater arts and parking, is OK.

A more enlightened view is more cautionary. One concern is that as evidence continues to mount and be made public of the systematic and widespread brain damage associated with the sport, including the onset of chronic traumatic encephalitis (CTE) even among pre-high school youth playing tackle football, huge lawsuits are just waiting to happen in cases where victims can identify authority figures pressing them to play the sport. It becomes akin to child abuse.

The other concern is more philosophical, but especially relevant from an educational point of view, which, of course, is what a high school is all about. Most (but not all) competitive sports involve a “zero sum game” in nature. That is, for every “winner” there is a countervailing “loser,” and the idea is to become the former and not the latter. That’s the mentality that fueled two world wars in the last century, something which should be cited in this November’s 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Among the great benefits of the theater and other arts programs is that they often profoundly critique the deeply-flawed “zero sum” approach to life and offer alternatives, such as the merits and gratifications gained from cooperation, collaboration and empathy.

The merits of sports, and there are many as long as they’re not offset by an unduly high risk of serious brain injury, are heightened by the role of liberal arts studies and the arts in the total development of a child.

So Mason must not short-shrift one for the other.