Thursday, September 15, 2005

Notes From The Education Underground

The TeachWonk Diaries: The Extracurricular Kids

Our institution, Howard Taft Junior High School, is populated by about 900 7th and 8th graders.

Every year, the school's administrators put on a "Welcome" assembly for each grade.

Yesterday, during first period, it was the 7th grader's turn.

Now I have to admit the Principal, Mr. Phi*sh, did an outstanding job of delivering, on an overhead projector, a 15-minute presentation that included information that he believes is essential for student success.

The principal strongly urged the kids to take advantage of these opportunities to enrich their Taft J.H.S. experience:

Wacky Wednesday: Several times per month, kids participate in a series of activities at lunch time designed to get them even more wired before they come into our afternoon classrooms. Examples include the notorious eat-the-candied necklace-off-a-member-of-the-opposite-sex contest, the raw-egg/ toss, water-balloon slingshot hit-the-kid contest, and Fun With Shaving Cream.

The Monthly Dance: Right after school, our 12-14 year-old students get to spend an hour-and-a-half bumping and grinding (and what they call freak dancing) in a darkened room while teachers and administrators blithely look on. (No parents are ever to be seen.)

And then there are those extra-curricular activities that are tailored to a more specific group of kids:

Annual Turkey Trot: This little time waster contest occurs right after lunch one day during the week before Thanksgiving. While the whole school is watching, our more athletic types run through an obstacle course. Students with the best times are awarded large trophies.

What was once called "The Christmas Mile" then, "The Holiday Mile," and now, "The Winter Mile:" In the week before winter vacation, in the late morning, our student athletes once again get the opportunity to demonstrate their prowess in front of their lesser-fit classmates by running one mile around the school's track. The girls go first, and then the boys. Large trophies are awarded to the winners.

Powder Puff Football Game: This annual throwback spring-time homage to a time of more gender-specific roles innocence features our more popular girls on the field playing flag football while our male athletes perform cheerleading routines in short skirts, falsies, and pom-poms. Again, the entire school gets to watch right after lunch, usually on a Friday afternoon.

Student/Faculty Softball Game: This end-of-the-year rite of passage features our schools best 8th grade athletes in a slow-pitch softball game with their classroom teachers. As it is held during the last week of school, everyone gets treated to the chance to watch the game.

Regular Sports: Our school's athletic clique set get to sharpen their skills with such full-schedule sports such as: boys flag football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, girls softball, and separate boys and girls basketball. Students are excused Friday afternoons for "away" games with other schools.

Did you notice a pattern? Did you see what types of activities were missing?

While our school does a great job of providing more-than-ample opportunities for the popular kids athletes to play on team sports, there are no competitive activities for those children who are gifted with brains instead of brawn.

There is none. Nada. Nothing for the smart kids. There is no "Mock Trial," no "academic decathlon," no competetive chess, writing, math, or poetry contests. And we can forget about spelling bees and Jeopardy-type games completely.

What message do you think that all this emphasis on athletics communicates to our students?

I remember a few years ago when our then-principal, Mrs. "J," killed our "Academic Decathlon" program because she considered it to be "elitist."

But the celebration of sport goes on and on.

And Mr. Phi*sh's presentation? By the time he was finished speaking about all the wonderful opportunities for extracurricular sports fun-N-games, there was no time to discuss grades, homework, dress code, or behavioral expectations.
View this week's Carnival of Education, guest hosted by Ms. Frizzle, right here.

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