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Michael Barth: Philosophy and Education Meets Men’s Lacrosse

What's a doctoral student in Philosophy and Education doing coaching Columbia University's Men's Lacrosse team?

Michael Barth answers by simply saying, "I like to take the theoretical and breathe life into it. Apply it. I approach lacrosse as a philosopher and most importantly, as an educator. I think that's why I've been successful as a coach."

"I don't look at lacrosse," Barth continues, "as simply a sport. I see it as a living laboratory of social and ethical problems that occur on the field, on the spot. You have to deal with the consequences immediately within a team dynamic the way you wouldn't have to if you were off reading or writing."

An Academic All-American lacrosse player at his undergraduate school, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the coach of the 1997 National Prep School Champions in lacrosse at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, Maryland, Barth says lacrosse is "an elegant sport in its most unrefined state." He adds, "it's historical, collegial and one of the few field sports that is purely amateur. So, it's really a sport where you're surrounded by people who are passionate about it."

While an athletic club and not a varsity team, Columbia's Men's Lacrosse team went undefeated last fall season, including impressive victories over several Division III varsity teams. It would seem difficult for the team to improve on its record but Barth and his team want to play against tougher competition. In its first game of the new season, Barth's well-coached team trounced New York University, 19 to 5.

Athletic clubs are recognized by the University but do not have varsity status. They maintain competitive schedules and even play varsity teams. While Barth and his players hunger for varsity status, he says that being a club team has its advantages. "It's open to everyone from undergraduates to medical to TC students, which is a nice thing because it brings lots of different people from different sorts academic backgrounds together."According to Barth, membership on the lacrosse team is also an indicator of how far individuals are willing to go to play a sport that is not financially supported by the University. "Playing on the lacrosse team is a personal and financial sacrifice. We have to pay for a lot of things a varsity team just doesn't have to. I think that shows personal initiative and how much these kids and men love the sport."

Once he was accepted to TC, Barth became immediately involved in lacrosse because "it's one way you can give back something to the community and it's a way to build community. People know more about TC, hopefully, from my involvement, and people in the Columbia community know a little bit more about TC. It just opens up a lot of friendships."

Barth is also a Renaissance man of sorts.

Not only is he involved in his degree work and the lacrosse team, he is involved in the planning for a new charter school, The Family Life Charter School, which will house kindergartners and first graders. Barth, who is a trustee of the school, is looking forward to its opening in the fall at 170th and Jerome Avenue in the South Bronx .

He is being given the responsibility for creating the school's charter and drafting its vision statement. Barth credits Frank Smith, Associate Professor of Education, for his class on charter schools as the inspiration for both he and other TC students involved in this project.

Prior to coming to Teachers College, Barth worked for the Edison Project. He co-designed its K-12 charter school system and wrote its citizenship and character component. "I've always had an interest in school design but from a philosophical rather than public policy perspective."

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