Opinion
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

Schools as Society Surrogate: A Course to Cure Every Ill?

August 25, 2015 1 min read

To the Editor:

I just read the online article “Texas Drownings Highlight Calls for Swim Instruction” about the sad spike in the number of children who have died from drowning this summer in Dallas County, Texas.

This is a tragedy, and all educators should grieve for the parents, family, and friends of those children. The focus of the article, however, wasn’t on the drowning, it was about a push for more schools to offer or even mandate swimming instruction.

On its face, this sounds like a totally reasonable response to data. Jayne Greenberg, the district director for physical education and health literacy for the Miami-Dade County schools in Florida, is quoted as saying, “A lot of parents can’t afford to pay for the swimming lessons anymore, so by us providing them free during the school day ... [sic] they love it.” Children are drowning, parents don’t have the money or time to teach them to swim, and schools should step in and address the problem. Herein lies the dilemma.

At a time of increasing scarcity of resources, we continue to expand the expectations placed on schools. Schools are now charged with teaching Internet safety, anti-bullying education, drug-prevention education, sex education, and the list goes on. Each and every one of these excellent programs is a response to an identified need. Each one has value and merit.

Schools have become societal surrogates, taking on a multitude of programs designed to address a perceived need while rarely eliminating programs. Time is fixed, while the course catalog expands.

Those in control of the curriculum should step back and examine the proposed course offering through the filter of Jim Collins’ “hedgehog concept.” Administrators need to ask themselves: What are those things our district wants to be best in the world at, and how will the curriculum and reporting systems align with those aims?

Howard Pitler

International Educational Consultant

Aurora, Colo.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2015 edition of Education Week as Schools as Society Surrogate: A Course to Cure Every Ill?

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