What Would “Silent Cal” Have Thought?

After reading a newspaper article a friend sent me about Coolidge High School’s decision to hire Natalie Randolph as the first ever woman to ever coach a boys’ high school football team, I asked myself if I’d have made the same call.

What I’d like to say is this: Of course! In the year 2010 gender difference should NEVER be used as an excuse to discriminate against anyone, especially in an educational setting. Why, as a broad-minded, future-oriented, semi-progressive guy, I can barely make it through an episode of “MadMen” without experiencing a profoundly smug sense of self-satisfaction. (Wow. Not only did I not drink alcohol in the office this morning, but I also made the bed and I did the dishes today!)

If I were completely honest, though, what I should admit is this: I don’t know. Natalie Randolph may be a knowledgeable, experienced, and profoundly inspirational coach, but I still wouldn’t hire her unless I knew and understood the boys on that team. This admission may seem cowardly or short-sighted, but what sometimes gets lost in the sauce of conversations such as these is that coaching — like teaching, farming, and “doctoring”  — is a cooperative art.

It’s not enough just to be a great instructor; you need students to engage with you for the classroom to work. It’s the same way with farmers and doctors. They need the cooperation of the weather, soil, and patient. (This very obvious point sometimes is overlooked in articles such as the recent New York Times piece on “How to Build a Better Teacher.”)

So before I’d hire Randolph, I’d want to make sure that the boys of Coolidge were able to understand that it would be they – and not their coach — who would be put to the test. (Could they, for example, handle the inevitable taunts of the opposition?)

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One cynical approach to a first conversation with the Coolidge football team would start with this, “Gentlemen, if you ever had any dream to have you and your teammates in a movie, this is your chance. And in this one at least, Denzel will not be the lead…“

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