Rankings in the International Olympics indicate how great and powerful a nation is. The outcome shows that the USA is losing its premier position. Legislators in Washington acted in a bipartisan way to pass the No Child Left Unfit Law. This requires all students to take physical education every single school day from 6th through twelfth grade. They are further required to pass standardized skills tests at each grade level, including swimming, tennis, soccer, skiing, ice skating, hockey, badminton and gymnastics, which were chosen as the most important Olympic sports. Every student must develop a minimum level of proficiency in each of these sports in order to graduate from high school.
A few objections were raised. What about the students who don’t have access to swimming pools, ice rinks or ski slopes? The government will just have to pay big business to build these in our impoverished cities and towns and in the south. What about students with disabilities? Depending on the disability, the school will need to document it and provide a list of related skills that the student is capable of mastering.
All objections were dismissed when Michelle Obama said this legislation would definitely help to ward off obesity and make kids get in shape.
No one asked about the gym class klutz. We’ve all known these kids; they trip over their own two feet, they have no visible or medical disability, but seem to have been born clumsy. No amount of practice seems to help them hit a tennis ball or keep their balance in any sport. Should these kids be denied a high school diploma or will they drop out, knowing they haven’t a prayer of meeting this requirement?
This legislation is hypothetical, but think about the legislation that does exist: students are required to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, beginning at early grade levels because the USA is not a top-performing country in math and science tests. We claim that standardized tests will move our country toward more highly skilled math and science professionals. This, in turn, will gain world dominance in new technologies for the USA. How many years must we perpetrate this fallacy before we realize that education is not a factory where all products must come out the same?
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein saId this long before NCLB, TAAS, MCAS, FCAT, CAT and all the rest. The idea of standards-based education and testing was to make education equal; students would have the same rigor of instruction and learning expectations no matter where they went to school. This concept is hard to argue with. But, the reality is that equality of results relies on so many factors beyond teachers: equality of funding, student health and nutrition, availability of good tutors, emotional stability, parental and community support, culture etc. These variables are enormous. Yet the statisticians insist on comparing schools based on these assessments, to the detriment of the school and the student. No school wants to be labeled underperforming. No principal deserves to be fired for the variables that impact student performance. (Some may deserve to be fired for doing their job poorly as a manager and an instructional leader.) Where will “underperforming” schools find top-notch teachers? How can they do a good job in an atmosphere of low morale and high pressure?
It’s the students who suffer most from low self-esteem, are labeled and put in remedial classes. These kids go through life believing they are stupid. This is the real crime of the system. There’s a high school in Massachusetts with a 50% dropout rate. Yes, I said Massachusetts. Many of these students would make great graphical designers, historians, physical education or world language teachers, EMTs and a wide variety of other professionals. Yet they gave up because they had no hope of passing the MCAS in math or English/language arts and graduating. Howard Gardner at Harvard elucidated the theory of Multiple Intelligences 30 years ago, yet the current educational system totally ignores this valuable concept.
Every student needs certain basic capabilities in reading, computer literacy and mathematics. These expectations are essential. We needed to move beyond “social promotion” of a few generations ago where it was possible for a student to graduate unable to read. We must look to the options available for graduates to be able to earn a living and to the talents of the individual students. Education should be nurturing their multiple intelligences. Surely our next generation will need science and math graduates, but many others as well. Education in some countries prepares the students for the opportunities available in the workforce. By the end of 4th grade, every child in Aruba is fluent in three languages: Papiamento, English and Spanish because the number one industry there is tourism. Tourists are primarily from the US and South America. Most can do mental math with money faster than you or I can use a calculator. But if these people had gone to school in the US, they would have no future, no high school diploma, no opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness would be beyond their reach.