Q&A: Ex-Football Star Discusses Challenge to Inner-City Students
Best known as a standout defensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears for 15 years, Alan Page planned long ago for his life after professional football.
Earning his law degree from the University of Minnesota during off-seasons, he became an assistant attorney general in Minnesota, and this week, he is considered a favorite to be elected to the Minnesota supreme court.
Using his own story as an example, Mr. Page has devoted a considerable effort over the past few years to impress upon 4th graders in inner-city schools the importance of getting an education. In addition to visiting classrooms, Mr. Page has also lent his name to an essay contest that encourages students to reflect on the meaning of schools to their future.
The Kodak/Alan Page Challenge in the Great Cities, sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and open to the 400,000 4th graders in the 43 largest urban school districts, asks students to answer, in 100 to 150 words, the question: "Alan Page says, 'With an education, the future is yours.' What does that mean to you?'' In addition, this year, the contest's fourth, the tens of thousands of students expected to participate by the Nov. 6 deadline are also asked to identify the biggest problem facing the nation today. Their responses will be delivered to the President soon after his inauguration next year.
The winning student will receive a trip to the National Football League Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Cameras and savings bonds will be awarded to students whose essays are considered the best in each of 43 participating districts.
Mr. Page discussed the challenge with Staff Writer Mark Pitsch.
Q. Tell me how you got involved in the challenge. Did it result from other education interests that you had been involved in?
A. Education is something I have been speaking to and addressing for a number of years, and in 1988, when I was inducted into the [National Football League Pro Football] Hall Of Fame, I used that occasion to talk about education, and the chairman of Eastman Kodak happened to see that speech and contacted me to see if there were ways that we could work together on that issue.
Q. Why was education the issue that you chose to make a statement on, as opposed to a range of others?
A. Children are our future, and there's a great number of problems that we as a nation face that at least in some part are tied to educational issues.
Q. What do you learn from making visits to schools around the country and from talking to students during those visits?
A. Well, you get a clear sense of the curiosity and the interest that young people have, their willingness to learn, and the fact that many young people are being failed because we are not doing a good job in educating them.
Q. Are there any specific recommendations that you would make if you got your chance to talk to politicians or professional educators?
A. There's enough talk out there. There are a lot of things that can be done and you can pick and choose among them. The real issue is who is going to do it and when.
Q. What is the Kodak/Alan Page Challenge doing for children, and why did you choose 4th graders in particular?
A. Fourth grade because [those] children are old enough to understand the idea that with an education the future is yours. That's what we ask them to write about. And they're still young enough that they're still making decisions about where they're going in life, and the goal of the essay is to get them to make the connection between the education that they're receiving in their classrooms on a daily basis and the future, and their goals and dreams. When they make that connection, that's going to help education work for them because they will begin to see their self interest in staying in school, coming to school, working at school.
Q. Do you also think it is important that you as a role model are not only an athlete but someone who went on to get your law degree as an athlete and are putting your education to use in your post-athletic career?
A. Oh, I suppose that's part of it, but the real important part is that young people begin to see in real terms what an education means to them, and to write about that and to think about it.