Letters To The Editor
We do not agree with many of the main points of your article on high-school athletics programs, "Schools Drop the Ball on Improving Fitness" (Education Week, April 6, 1983). Although our fitness program is probably not as good as we would like it to be, we certainly provide better programs than you suggest many schools do.
Our fitness-test records indicate that the fitness level of our students has improved over the past 10 years. This improvement has been accomplished through a program that offers a broad base of activity in all areas, a program that does not simply emphasize "fitness activities."
The allegation that physical-education classes have changed little over the past two decades does not apply to Bethlehem Central School District. Our elementary teachers are in tune to movement, aerobics, cross-country running, track and field activities, rope jumping, gymnastics, and station approaches, as well as simple "lead-up" games.
We would, though, like to increase the time spent with students at the elementary level: Two classes a week will not produce improved fitness and we can only hope to motivate students to participate in activities on their own.
Our middle-school program was recently recognized as one of the top 15 in New York State. And at the high-school level, we have introduced a program of electives and alternatives that incorporate a wide variety of activities--including aerobics, weight training, and "carry-over" sports--into the physical-education program. The high level of interest of our students in interscholastics as well as town-sponsored athletic and recreation programs seems to indicate that many of our students realize that activity is important.
It is not evident to us that prospective physical-education teachers are simply super-jocks in one sport and are not well versed in the basics of physiology and kinesiology. We have been fortunate to interview many outstanding candidates for the positions we have had open.
Most of the physical-education reforms mentioned in your article are currently in our program. The thoughts expressed in the article about the effects of Title IX have some merit, though. We have learned that, at least through a certain age and grade level, boys and girls can participate safely and successfully together. We have also learned that in certain activities, co-educational participation is both desirable and beneficial.
In continuing to look for ways to improve fitness, we are encouraging staff members to devote a portion of each class to vigorous activity. If the activity itself is not sufficient to promote fitness, then a challenging warm-up period could be added. At the 11th- and 12th-grade levels, we are considering offering a fitness-oriented activity each quarter and requiring students to elect this course once a year.
You cannot mandate fitness. If students are not motivated to be active on their own time, loss of fitness will occur as soon as they are out of the mandated program. Development of a variety of interests through a broad program is the best approach to ensuring continued activity and fitness.
J. Briggs McAndrews Assistant Superintendent Ray Sliter Supervisor Health and Physical Education Bethlehem Central School District Delmar, N.Y.
The Commentary by Barbara S. and Arthur G. Powell, "For Girls, Schools of Their Own" (Education Week, June 1, 1983), made fascinating reading. Its thesis is that educators should establish "magnet" schools for girls, explicitly organized "around gender itself." The authors make their case by reference to conclusions of respected social and educational psychologists and prominent feminist writers. The argument may be a good one. I am sure that many Education Week readers will consider it coolly and carefully.
But what fascinated me as I read the piece was the notion that a parallel analysis entitled "For Boys, Schools of Their Own" would arouse bitter anger among the same readers. I suggest a typical response would be something like, "Sexist claptrap!"
How can this be?
My view is that ideology has come to dominate the American liberal mind. Logical consistency and critical analysis--especially regarding minorities and women--is too often absent from public discourse. In the rush to do good, to achieve justice, and to guarantee fair play, we have imposed a more fundamental and dangerous tyranny upon ourselves.
For decades we have identified and resisted signs of government-sponsored thought control; we have all read and worried about George Orwell's 1984. Liberals and civil libertarians have been vigilant and ever-vocal in this effort. Thank God.
Unfortunately, liberals and civil libertarians have not been vigilant and vocal enough concerning their own activities. Instead, they have defined a world of Good Ideas and Bad Ideas. Equality of educational opportunity, affirmative action, and women's-studies programs are Good Ideas; opposition to any of them is Bad.
But equality of educational opportunity is a principle, while affirmative action and women's studies are programs. They demand different kinds of thought and evaluation. Programs, for example, have a way of going wrong, of getting off the track. They require careful watching to keep them aligned with their governing ideas.
Consider the history of over 15 years of federally funded "compensatory education" (esea, Title I). One of its major results has been thousands of public schools with instructional programs that are more than ever segregated along socioeconomic and racial lines. Many liberal legislators know this, but their pronouncements in Congress almost unanimously are that the program is a resounding success. They cannot say otherwise; the subject is not open to debate. Ideology says "compensatory education" is Good.
A free, democratic society requires serious and penetrating dialogue among all of its citizens about those things it holds most dear. We do not have enough of this in America and we fail to cultivate it in our schools. Until the day that the proposal "For Boys, Schools of Their Own" would fail to arouse general anger, I will know we still are in serious trouble.
John W. Jenkins Editor UW Teaching Forum Undergraduate Teaching Improvement Council University of Wisconsin System Madison, Wis.
Regarding "8th Graders To Get Sex Education in Montgomery County" (Education Week, June 1, 1983): Let's not put our heads in the sand and pretend that birth control doesn't exist and that it is foreign to the minds of students of this age. Eighth graders do know about sex in this age of sexual bombardment in magazines, movies, books, music, TV, and so forth.
The presentation of this material will not simply show students how to use contraception, something that many already know, but will present the pros and cons of the subject in a proper educational manner, which is of the utmost importance.
Gustave A. Yack Chevy Chase, Md.