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Who will save ‘It’s Academic’ in the Baltimore region? | COMMENTARY

Pikesville High School "It's Academic" Coach Ethan Goodman and former Principal Sandra Reid (top row) pose with team members (bottom row, left to right) Jacob Lane, Ben Matz and Ryan Kornblit in this 2020 photo.
Pikesville High School "It's Academic" Coach Ethan Goodman and former Principal Sandra Reid (top row) pose with team members (bottom row, left to right) Jacob Lane, Ben Matz and Ryan Kornblit in this 2020 photo. (Briana Goodman/Briana Goodman)

With all the news surrounding the drama that’s going on in selecting a “Jeopardy!” host, I’m saddened. But I’m not sad for the reason you might be thinking. It reminds me how much people care about trivia, and that after generations of local students competing on “It’s Academic,” the contest is no longer going to be airing on television in the Baltimore area.

As the “It’s Academic” coach at the school for which I teach, I was informed last year that Giant Food would no longer be a sponsor after decades of supporting our local youth. The producers notified me that they would be searching for a replacement sponsor. Yet after months and months of trying, on the first day of school, I got an email saying that the entire season of competition will be scrapped. The entire program is in, pardon the pun, jeopardy.

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I’m devastated, but not surprised after another recent cancellation.

For me, trivia has become a family affair, and I know I’m not alone in loving it. From dive bars to college campuses to middle school classes after school, there are groups of people gathering (even virtually, which is how “It’s Academic” was produced last year) for this fun hobby. I got my son interested in this pastime, and he memorized the state capitals at age 5. Now at 6, he’s working his way across the globe.

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So, I got thinking maybe I’ll be able to give him the resources he would need to someday compete in the National Geography Bee. I went to the internet to find out what I could do in prepare him. What I found surprised me: After 33 years, The National Geographic GeoBee was canceled. National Geographic intends to continue to invest in geographic education, but it will no longer fund the contest.

Giant Food decided to spend its money on food insecurity, which is also a noble cause. I know a lot of events were canceled because of COVID and heartbreak ensued. But ending “It’s Academic” here in Baltimore wasn’t about health metrics, it was about economics, which happens to be the subject I teach. After more than 50 years in the Baltimore area, the local “It’s Academic” has possibly aired its last show.

To add to the pain, the Washington, D.C., area “It’s Academic” was saved by billionaire David M. Rubenstein, who has roots in Baltimore. I’m very happy for those students, but what about those living in the Baltimore metro and surrounding counties? Some students and learners have an intrinsic desire to memorize certain facts, but some students were incentivized to learn information to compete and earn scholarship money. But now scholarship money is not a possibility. Ending the contest wasn’t about how kids were getting too competitive, and how competition has ruined our youth. It was about money. No one here is arguing whether academic trivia is a worthy endeavor. But no one wants to foot the bill.

Who is going to pick up the buzzer now that Giant Food has dropped it? I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a local company (or national corporation) who couldn’t fund “It’s Academic” to continue for this year and beyond. I teach my students about opportunity cost. I get it. Nothing is free. In economics there are choices and there are costs. My students understand it. But I also teach them that the future consequence of choices are the ones that really matter. If we eliminate these academic contests and competitions then we are letting our students believe that we don’t care about them using this interest to build up school spirit, community spirit and gain financial aid to further their education. I appreciate what Giant Food and Morgan State University (another sponsor of the Baltimore-based “It’s Academic”) have done. Would it have been too much to ask for them to try to find a replacement sponsor before pulling the plug?

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I teach my students about budgeting and investing. I know that if money wasn’t a concern, there would still be a sponsor. So, what company believes that investing in these students’ future, by funding “It’s Academic,” is an expense worth making? If a potential “Jeopardy!” host could be canceled by cancel culture, then maybe a show that has entertained and aided countless numbers of people could be uncancelled by those same people who got on social media and had their voices heard. Let’s save “It’s Academic.” Spread the word.

Ethan Goodman (egoodman@bcps.org) is a social studies teacher at Pikesville High School.

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