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Topic: A Track and Field Parable
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,321
Registered: 12/3/04
A Track and Field Parable
Posted: Jun 13, 2009 11:34 AM
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Sent with the permission of Bill Tomhave, the author.
A Track and Field Parable

By William K. Tomhave

A revered teacher called his disciples together and began to teach them:

"A ruler observed that people involved in a wide range of athletic
competitions tended to use a set of skills that all had their roots
in three activities: running (both for speed and endurance), jumping
and throwing. Wanting his kingdom to excel in all things athletic as
determined by world class standards, the king made the following
decree: Beginning in the middle grades every year all children would
be expected to compete in four track and field events: 100 m. dash,
5000 m. run, high jump and shot put. Two goals were set. First,
each year in school the children were expected to make improvement in
each of the four events so that by the year 2014, 100% of the
children would perform at or above the national averages for each
event for children of their grade level. Second, in order to graduate
from high school, all children would be expected to meet the minimum
standards necessary to qualify them for the State Track meet in all
four events. In order for these standards to be meaningful, they
were to be tied to national qualifying standards set by the national
track and field federation, standards that would reflect levels of
performance at the most recent Olympic Games.

"The proposal was simple at its conceptual core. Imagine the
improvement that would be seen in all sports if every child could
reach world-class standards in running, both short and long distance,
jumping and throwing. Improved levels of overall fitness and a
decrease in health insurance premiums would be worthwhile social side
benefits. Also, think about the cost savings since all the athletic
efforts could be focused on these core skills, thereby reducing the
need to have multiple athletic venues, reducing the needed facilities
to running tracks, jumping pads and throwing rings. It was obvious
to the king that by improving these base-line skills there would be a
corresponding improvement in all sports that required running,
jumping and throwing and that this improvement could be made in a
very efficient manner. Of course, no one had ever tried to do it
this way before, but the potential benefits were so great that it was
obvious that the plan had to work. Anyone who believed otherwise was
simply unwilling to hold high athletic expectations for all students.

"The king was disappointed at the reaction when his proposal was made
public. Some schools complained that they did not have adequate
facilities for all the students to be able to practice running,
jumping and throwing. Others argued that while running, jumping and
throwing were indeed skills needed in a variety of sports, the actual
kinds of running, jumping and throwing differed in substantial ways
from the mechanics of running, jumping and throwing used in the four
track and field events and that the experiences would not transfer
very well to basketball or softball. Some made a statistical
argument that except perhaps for one small community in Minnesota, it
would be mathematically impossible for all students to perform above
average on any task. Still others argued that some students were not
physically equipped to perform in each of the four events at high
standards, citing physical differences in height, weight, stamina,
strength and physical maturity. Some noted that up to this point
only a very small group of students had ever qualified in one or
perhaps two events and that to expect all children to qualify in all
four events seemed unreasonable. Others simply said that students
who saw no value in running around an oval, jumping over a bar or
heaving a metal ball would be very difficult to motivate. Still
others pointed out that the requirements were really a reflection of
the overall physical fitness of the students, something over which
the school had only modest control. The king, however, insisted that
if the schools modified their gymnasiums, added rubber running
surfaces to school corridors and created high jumping and throwing
rooms in various parts of each building, students could rise to the
challenge. When asked who would coach the children in proper
running, jumping and throwing mechanics when there was already a
shortage of qualified track coaches, the king responded that the
physical education departments of the colleges and universities would
simply have to rise up and meet the increased demand. In the
meantime, people who had previous been involved in running, jumping
and throwing or those who had an interest in these activities could
be used to fill any vacant positions through an approved alternative
licensure program. One group of industries that did receive some
governmental support was the makers of officially certified
stopwatches and tape measures. This spun off a secondary industry
offering training for official timers and measurers to assure that
student performance in the four events would be accurately assessed.

"In response to parents of children with physical c the king made
special provisions. Those whose limitations were so severe that they
could not be expected to engage in one or more of the events would be
allowed to develop an IAP (Individual Athletic Plan) that would
specify how the child could attempt to participate in the spirit of
the mandate. Those students with less extensive impairments or who
were injured or ill would be expected to attain the same standards as
everyone else. To meet these goals, the schools would be expected to
provide in-house personal trainers and medical staff. Should that
not yield the desired results, parents would be allowed to contract
with personal trainers for individual tutoring and therapy, all paid
for by the schools who had failed to provide adequate services. Of
course, this would not require any additional resources for the
schools since they already had more than they needed.

"Several years after the proposal became the law of the land the king
made a survey of the progress that had been made. Even though many
students had made substantial progress toward achieving the national
standards in all four events and some had surpassed even the highest
expectations in one or two events, it was clear from the trend-data
that relatively few of the students were likely to qualify for
graduation by passing the standards in all four events. In fact, the
kingdom's best shot putter had recently seen a substantial drop off
in performance because she had so much make-up work in high jumping
and so was able to spend very little time in her favorite event.

"The king called a meeting of selected school leadership along with
his round-table advisors and demanded that the deficiencies be
explained. The school officials repeated their early concerns about
limited facilities, too few qualified track coaches and variations
among children. Some of the round-table advisors opined that the
problem was that the schools did not want all children to be
world-class runners, jumpers and throwers, and that they were not
working hard enough at helping all students achieve these very
reasonable and worthwhile goals. Meanwhile the panel was
disappointed to learn that student participation and performance in
basketball, volleyball, baseball and hockey was declining because the
students were expected to devote their efforts to improve their
performance in track and field in order to meet the requirements.

"Even as these discussions continued, a group of the king's subjects
approached him and asked for permission to deviate slightly from his
four-event curriculum. It seems that they were proponents of a more
international curriculum called soccer and they saw little need for
students to be able to throw a metal ball. Instead, they proposed
that the shot put be replaced with throwing a soccer ball and they
asked that kicking and footwork be added to the curriculum. The king
was unsure whether this would be valuable to all children, but not
wanting to alienate this group of his subjects he granted them a
special royal charter so that they could test out their ideas in a
school of their own. It was rumored that another group of subjects
from the northern reaches of the kingdom were also planning to apply
for a royal charter to replace running with ice skating, and throwing
with exercises involving a bladed stick and a hard rubber disk, but
this has not been confirmed at this time."

At that point the teacher paused. The disciples sat in silence for
some time. Finally one of them spoke up.

"Master," he said, "What is the point of this story?"

The teacher shrugged his shoulders and said with a sigh: "Why do you
expect every story to make sense. Do you understand so little about
what it means to teach children?"

Unsure whether to laugh or cry, his disciples went away perplexed.
Author: William K. Tomhave
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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