************************** 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 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org