Ahn decided to “quiz” her students’ soccer aptitude by asking questions about club soccer in Argentina — using knowledge and information she had learned from a presentation by Alex Galarza, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Michigan State University and co-founder of the Football Scholars Forum
. To her surprise, one of her students, Mauricio, was able to answer her questions with more information than she had remembered from the lecture.
Mauricio, like many of the students in Ahn’s class, took an interest in the reading materials she brought with her from the seminar. Among her required reading assignments were an article and a couple chapters written by Goldblatt, as well as a brand-new copy of the book, Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America.
The book, written by Joshua Nadel, assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University, had just been published and was given to all participants in the seminar.
“Mauricio knows that soccer is a competitive sport, and that not everyone becomes a Messi or Ronaldo,” exclaimed Ahn, “but he didn’t know he could become a soccer scholar. [He] is a soccer statistician and the realization that there were, indeed, soccer scholars, motivated him.”
Ahn offered the reading materials to Mauricio to read after he completed his school work. In the weeks following her introduction of the materials, he was busy reading them. He also shared with Ahn that he had told his mother that he wanted to go to college be a “soccer studier” when he grows up. He even asked Ahn what university would be best, if he wanted to become one.
Seminar participants Suzie Ahn, Henry Dubon and Haydee Licari in Bunche Hall at UCLA. (Photo: Nancy Gomez)
Achieving greater levels of student engagement
Kerry Olinger, a history and English Language Arts teacher at Mark Twain Middle School, had a similar experience when she developed and implemented a unit in her seventh and eighth grade classes inspired by a chapter on women's soccer in Nadel's book.
Students in Olinger’s class were asked to respond to the question, “To what extent has women's soccer been supported by society?” The assignment required them to examine eight sources of information including images, video and three excerpts from Nadel’s book.
There was a much higher completion rate for the task than she expected, and Olinger noticed that students were engaged in the process and “both enlightened and enlightening when it came to the subject matter.” The teacher was especially impressed at the work submitted by one of her female students who had not completed any major assignments, saying, “She was even quoting evidence and sources from memory.”
Students in Haydee Licari's English Language Development classes at Dana Middle School were "fighting over the book," she shared. Licari developed a lesson examining racism and soccer — an issue that is an unfortunate part of the game's history, and still impacts the sport today.
Licari's students were highly motivated and inspired by the topics examined. They became interested in "fighting racism" and "learning about different countries and perspectives," she says. "My students just keep digging deeper and inquiring about the logistics and economic impact around the globe!"
When Nadel, who had recorded a video message for the teachers that was played at the beginning of the seminar, was informed about how well his book was being received by seminar participants and their students, he was both humbled and enthused.
In fact, Nadel had recently spoken to six classes at his childrens’ elementary school. The school, he said, is bilingual and about 50 percent Latino; the teachers there noted a similar thing: “students who were totally disengaged became interested.”
True to Goldblatt’s word about finding a way to grab the attention of a room full of students and getting them interested in politics, economics and globalization, many of the participants — who teach subjects as diverse as math, government, Spanish, and world history — have discovered a topic through which they can connect with and engage their students.
Students at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools just finished their last week of school. At Rita Santos-Oyama’s school, they finalized a six-week school wide project that required them to research and learn about the history of the game and the 32 participating countries in the World Cup. Other activities included math-related questions about the game posted in school hallways for students to analyze.
In southeast L.A. County, students at Ahn’s school arranged a World Cup tournament among the 6th grade classes in homage to the end of elementary school. She announced Mauricio as the “Most Valuable Player” for blocking the final goal of the tie-breaker penalty kicks and decided to give him Nadel’s book as the MVP award. He assured her that he would read it over the summer.
“Every day my students play soccer at school” said Ahn, “but the magnitude of the impact soccer has on them was something I didn’t realize until after the seminar.”
Soccer is more than a game, it is a global network and it’s a history worth studying.