It’s a common practice for school boards to adopt proposals that tie academic performance to after school activities. In most cases, if students fail to maintain a certain academic average they become ineligible to participate in after school activities like cheer-leading, tennis and chorus.
The prevailing philosophy is students are more apt to improve classroom performance when carrots are dangled and pressure is applied. Unfortunately for some students, the ones who fall into the category of academically challenged and yes, even academically lazy, this thought process doesn’t always live up to its billing or achieve the desired results. There has to be a more balanced approach schools can take.
Those in leadership positions seem to have the misconception that anything taking place after 3pm is non-academic in nature and as a result; considered dessert. Although a strong case can be made that Reading, Riting and Rithmetic are essential to success, so too are qualities like perseverance, time management, communication skills, integrity, responsibility, sportsmanship, hard work and discipline.
The question becomes; we know where the three “R’s” are taught and understand their role in education but where do you learn life’s trump cards; the qualities of achievement, the development of self-esteem?
Where are they found . . . in the classroom? Or could they be more representative of after school activities? Personally, I can’t ever recall learning much about persistence in English or discipline in Social Studies. People with integrity might have taught science class but it certainly wasn’t something I learned by sitting there. Self-esteem is mostly an after school offering.
Nonetheless, if we’re talking about making a real impact in a person’s life, after school activities has to be considered as a time frame where a vast majority of life’s qualities are taught.
So why is acceptable for school boards to take away educational opportunities for students who struggle with standard forms of testing when they don’t always indicate all that’s special about a person? Most individuals seem to understand not everyone has an IQ of 130 or can swim 100 meters in under a minute. Nor can everyone tear an engine apart and put it back together without leaving a few parts on the work bench.
Individual skills and talents are as diverse as the number of people you test so might our current approach to education be discriminatory? Can you imagine the school valedictorian not being eligible to go to class the next marking period because he or she only won 60% of their cross country events? Or become ineligible to take Physics because he or she didn’t have a passing grade in Social Studies? I think we’d all agree both of those examples are ludicrous!
Why then is the reverse acceptable?
Any student who doesn’t do well in class gets yanked from participating in after school activities. Why can’t they co-exist; why shouldn’t they co-exist? Everything the school offers is educational in nature, each one playing a different but significant role in a child’s development. The current approach in education is all about standards. But who is standard anyway? Who wants to be standard? Don’t we want our children to find their passions wherever that takes them, and then excel?
It’s hard to fathom that administrators would take one educational opportunity away for the perceived benefit of another. To me the most important role a school plays is helping each child become “worldly.” That means creating an environment that encourages students to grow in all three triangular aspects of life. Just as the YMCA’s developmental motto is body, mind and spirit, doesn’t it make sense to develop at least the body and mind? I’d say spirit as well but I don’t want to upset those who believe in the separation of church and state.
Why then would anyone pull a child from sports or after school activities when the country has such an inclination toward sedentary life styles and obesity? How can any administrator justify taking away a child’s opportunity to develop a healthy lifestyle or ways to mature socially because he or she is faltering in class?
The Duke of Wellington said, in regards to the Battle of Waterloo where his forces defeated the French led by Napoleon, that the battle was won on the playing fields of Eton. What he meant by that was the British system of education which educated and formed the character of those who became the elite officers of the British Army was a combination of their education and the vigorous after school activities they participated in at Eton, which for those who might not know is their Harvard level boarding school for boys.
And at America’s three main military academies, half of the buildings on their campuses were built for athletics because they’ve found that developing the total student is critical to success in every phase of their training.
Of course grades are terribly important but when after school opportunities are denied to those who are dyslexic, have Attention Deficit Disorder or currently aren’t motivated; aren’t other educational opportunities lost as well?
None of this is to say students shouldn’t do the best they can in the classroom or feel pressure toward class room achievement. But isn’t holding one form of education hostage at the expense of another comparable to throwing the baby out with the bath water? America’s strength is its diversity of thought and talents. One’s freedom to pursue passions makes that possible.
I think we need to understand there are four different intellectual levels of students; academically skilled, academically lazy, academically challenged and those who are classified learning disabled in any number of ways.
Granted, academically skilled individuals don’t have problems being able to participate in after school activities. That’s due to the fact they typically learn by visual or auditory stimulus whereas the last two levels rely primarily on tactile senses to excel. As to the lazy one; well Darwin did have a point but why are we trying to bury them before they’re dead?
If every student is truly entitled to equal educational opportunities under the law and after school activities are part of the total educational package, why then isn’t this illegal? What happens after school isn’t desert and we must stop thinking of it in those terms. It’s every bit the meat and potatoes that academic classes are.
Some thoughts to ponder:
- Is putting academic requirements on after school activities actually effective in pulling grades up or is it a way of downsizing after school activities to ease budgetary pressure?
- Does the fear of becoming academically ineligible actually inspire students to work harder or does it encourage them to drop AP and college preparatory courses to remain eligible?
- Where do ineligible students go and what do they do after school when they aren’t being supervised in an organized activity? Does having free-time actually mean increased study time or might it cause something else?
- Where do students who are learning disabled fall into this equation? Are they exempt from the rules others have to live with or just denied opportunities to gain self-esteem by demonstrating whatever talent they have that’s not taught in a classroom?
- What about the many students who live in a one parent household with the second parental figure being the after school advisor or coach? Does taking away that role model help or worsen each child’s chances for success?
- Is there anything to be said about the various academic differences between schools and teachers? Do those inconsistencies provide an even playing field for everyone?
- Whether we like it or not, there are many students who’s primary means of personal growth is though their capabilities in music, debate, the arts or obviously athletics. How does taking those opportunities away meet the goals that school’s have of preparing everyone for success in life?
How many know that Einstein did poorly in school? Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and Abraham Lincoln only had five years of formal education. Sir Isaac Newton did so badly that his teachers thought he couldn’t learn. Thomas Edison was considered to be a “dull student” and one teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. Steven Spielberg took special education classes. Woody Allen flunked motion picture production at New York University. Neither Dave Thomas from Wendy’s or Walt Disney finished high school and I was told by my high school guidance counselor to “forget college Wade”, that I’d be lucky if the military would take me.
School Boards need to take a closer look at how they 1) view and then 2) handle after school programs. There is no such thing as desert when it comes any after school program and no two students are the same. All honor students aren’t Rembrandt’s. Not every State Wrestling Champion can split molecules. Not all schoolchildren in college preparatory classes can tear a lawn mower engine apart and put it back together again. Musical talent has nothing to do with diagramming a sentence but Beyoncé makes a pretty good living at the former. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s skill as a dancer has nothing to do with his proficiency in Science or English.
Shouldn’t we be embracing the total student?