Friday, May 16, 2014

Theory 42: Modern education has ruined field day.

I don’t know about you, but when nature flips the switch on winter, I feel energized! My feet don’t freeze on hardwood. Big Red waits, warm and ready. My shrubs and flowers exit a blank, drab dormancy and bloom into the ever-changing Technicolor society of my yard. Wild Trillium, neon moss, and porch lizards surprise me. Spring also brings nostalgic anxiety. When I get a whiff of wet grass cuttings, my stomach does a somersault and I have to talk myself down from athletic dread.

Field Day.

Remember two things. One: I come from a family of athletes. Two: I played sports, even though I sucked at them. Athletic ventures always, always, ALWAYS, put me in a nerve-wracking, self-conscious, embarrassing position (physically and socially). Now at the perfect age of forty, I don’t care much what others think, but as a child, Field Day was tough on me.

I wrote a short story about Field Day for a creative writing class at The University of Tennessee. Even though I was long free of Delicious-pressure to beef up my transcripts with athletic participation and was, by then, happily brainwashed as a Pride of the Southland Band clarinet partier, I mean, player, I never shook the scars of my Field Day days at Pigeon Forge Elementary School. I revamped the story this week and published it on Kindle. I'd love for you to buy it (99 cents) - maybe for your children if not for you. I placed a link at the end of the blog post.
http://www.amazon.com/Field-Day-Jody-Dyer-ebook
I attended elementary school during the Reagan administration, when physical fitness was the buzz. And the boys wore buzzes. My cousins’ names decorated the Presidential Fitness Award bulletin board outside our principal’s office. President Reagan apparently loved Pigeon Forge Elementary School. I thought we must have been the sit-up, push-up, pull-up studs of Sevier County. Or maybe he gave us lots of awards because he won our mock election with 99% of the vote. Anyway, while my cousins Roscoe, Nan, and G.T. anticipated 50-yard dashing their way to micro-local fame, I personally dreaded the entire experience. Even though I anticipated last place notariety, I admired athletic prowess and was, as an observer and commentator of human nature even then, fascinated by the concept and excellent delivery of Field Day at PFES.

Well done, coaches and teachers, well done.

Kids these days would literally pass out by boxed lunch time if they tried Field Day the old way. For those of you who grew up in, perhaps, softer social settings, let me describe a good old Southern elementary school field day.

First, the events stretched throughout an entire school day. School was out. Good times were in. As Delicious once said, “We [local] educators try not to let academics interfere with our fun.”

Events were as follow (from what I can remember):

50 yard dash
100 yard dash
400 yard relay
mile run
long jump
standing broad jump
sack race
shoe kick
shoe race
potato race
water balloon toss
three-legged race
tug-of-war
crab walk (that one broke G.T.’s arm)
bear crawl
football throw


The schedule was something like this: Teachers organized students a few days before Field Day. Students signed up for the contests they wanted to enter. On Field Day, teachers escorted students out of their classrooms, down the hallways, and through the lunchroom. In the lunchroom, we picked up uniform lunches that clogged an unusually cool serving line. White bags contained turkey and cheese sandwiches, milk, apples, potato chips, and oatmeal or shortbread cookies. Students carried the lunch bags and blankets and beach towels they’d brought from home. We spread out, organized by homeroom class, on the grass surrounding the football field. Ours was a giant, Appalachian quilt dotted with Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie, Superhero, and Scooby-Doo, framing the arena: the Pigeon Forge Tiger Football Field.

On the 50 yard line, the principal, PE coach, and judges sat at a heavy wood table, likely borrowed from the library. Boxes of ribbons waited, heavy with promise: blue for first place, red for second, white for third. The ribbons came with numeric value and bragging rights; when a student placed, a judge pinned the appropriate ribbon to the front of the child's shirt. Roscoe could fly. By 3:00 p.m. he was a one-boy parade. 

Everyone in the school participated—students, faculty, staff, administration—everyone. Except parents. Field Day was a time of fun and bonding between teachers and students. Parents would be in the way.

Field Day was extremely competitive. There was an overall class winner, as in Mrs. Big Booty J’s 4th grade homeroom. The class winner got to keep a huge trophy for the entire next school year. There was a female winner and a male winner from each grade. And, to make sure everyone knew who was the absolutely fastest, most athletic, toughest competitor in K-8, the judges determined (by ribbon count) two supreme winners:

Mister and Miss Tiger.

Teachers coached and motivated us to WIN. Winning was the goal. Oh, no, you didn’t say that, Bug! Oh, yes, I did. Winning was awesome. Losing sucked. Even though I was a total goob, I absolutely wanted my class to win. I daydreamed of watching girls I didn’t like cry tears of defeat into their Care Bear blankets. We were innocent, but we were fierce. And, we were physical. No one was fat. Well, some teachers were, but that was it. And that’s normal. Even somewhat chunky students—girls like me with round bellies and prematurely full training bras—could play outside for hours in those days.  

Soaked in sweat and tap water from burst balloons, our bony shins wore a fur of damp grass clippings. It was heaven for athletes. Though awkward and nerve-wracking for band nerds with bad coordination and slow-twitch muscle fibers, it was still a social, bonding, exciting, book-free, fantastic way to round out a school year with friends. We traded friendship pins and stickers and talked Cabbage Patch Dolls.

Tall Child brought it home back in his day.


Alas, Field Day has morphed, along with society, to a weaker, politically correct, overall disappointing experience.

The 1980’s Bug would have loved modern field day as a participant, but hated it on a philosophical level.  Confused by my love/hate relationship with Field Day? Think of it this way. I admire success, even when I can’t reach it personally. I admire beautiful women, even though I am not beautiful and may actually turn into a man, hair by hair. I just think it’s cool as helk when anyone does anything to perfection. (You know you tube-sock slide down your hallway after watching ice skaters soar in the Winter Olympics.)

Maybe fast-twitch muscle fibers skip a generation. Though I trip in my own living room, can’t bowl, bat, catch, dribble, or even swim in a straight line (chlorine burns and goggles pinch), I produced a remarkable athlete in Sharky. Finally, I am a sports winner! Admit it; we parents live and breathe through our children’s successes and take on specific, strong personalities when our boys and girls show their stuff (or when we know they have the stuff but won’t show it). Frustrating, right? Why do coaches make future Major League-rs bunt? It’s just wrong, right parents? If you’re wondering which parent you are, check Theory 8: In youth sports, parents are the true performers.

So, a few years ago, my field day, ahem, I mean Sharky’s field day in the sun finally came! Or so I thought.

You see, Sharky attends a top notch school. He learns in the shadows of a school chock-full of smart students under the guidance of superb, tireless, loving teachers. Let’s call it “Utopia Elementary” (UE). The sweet, quaint, old building is perched a trolley ride’s distance from The University of Tennessee and smack in the middle of a wealthy neighborhood (not our neighborhood, thus Big Red), so children of professional academia, surgeons, government officials, and downtown ambition abound at UE. At first grade parent orientation, the principal informed us that 92% of UE students’ parents hold bachelor’s degrees and 45% hold master’s degrees or higher. Wow. I looked at Tall Child and said, “We are running in a fast heat.”

Well, Sharky struggled to learn to read. His Kindergarten teacher, let’s call her “Veteran”, tossed him into “The Reading Club” with a few other boys. Nearing retirement, Veteran rewarded the Reading Club’s after school work with contra-ban cookies (oh, no, don’t tell Michelle Obama!) and their favorite pastime, reenacting The Battle of the Alamo on the playground. Sharky/Davy Crockett led The Reading Club against Santa Anna every afternoon. Veteran used play to motivate the reading club. And, guess what? They are all literate. Sharky loved recess, gym class, basketball, baseball, flag football, and basement ping-pong. He had mad skills, too, so, after a year-long struggle and true worry about my baby’s advancement to first grade, I felt a surge of advanced pride in show-off opportunity when I opened his Monday folder to find a flyer reading,

Dear Parents,

Utopian Elementary will host Field Day for all grades on May 14. Please send your child to school in athletic clothing and tennis shoes….

Oh, yeah, baby. It was finally time for my baby to do his thang!

The letter requested parent volunteers, which surprised me. I thought, “Great! I get to see Sharky’s stud moment of success this school year!”

He had competition. There were several great athletes at UE.  But one would never know. Modern education stomped good old “show your stuff” Field Day into the turf.

I found out the hard way.

I won’t bore you with the ugly, disappointing details. I’ll just tell you this. I have no doubt in my mind that Sharky could throw a football or baseball longer than almost every boy in his grade. But when I arrived at Field Day, I saw him bouncing on a giant exercise ball with his FEMALE classmate, who was his “Field Day Partner,” and singing with her, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round.”  Really?

I wanted to hear a track pistol or whistle or “Eye of the Tiger.”

What. Was. Happening?

I later found out he was doing yoga in P.E. class. Really? 

Sharky’s competition for the whole Field Day was one girl. A GIRL! That’s it. To top it off, they were unevenly matched. She had at least twenty pounds on him.

They rotated through stations and got, ugh, participation prizes. Prizes? How about ribbons? So much plastic, but no glory. I was the only person on the playground who was sweating.

I love Sharky’s school, but there are many types of human intelligence, and not everyone plays chess or clarinet or wants to go to robotics camp. At the end of the year, when the principal sent out a parent survey, I commented on field day and remarked that kinesthetic learners were disenfranchised (a politically correct term I thought may get some real attention, especially in a school were yoga was in the PE curriculum). I hear they've made improvements, but I wouldn’t know. I've boycotted field day ever since I saw Houston bouncing and singing "Wheels on the bus." It's too hard. Plus, I have to help at my own school.

Now, my school does field day RIGHT! Of course, our football team has won the national championship so we know what's important. No joke. Academically, we are also one of the top schools in the state. Tennessee, but still. That dog'll hunt, ya'll!
This week, 9th graders had a blast in the hot May sunshine. They sprinted, tossed, bear-crawled, jumped, and tugged with sweat-soaked delight. We even had a gross eating contest and they cheered each other on, praying someone puked. It was awesome!

I learned more about my students in one afternoon of Field Day than I could in a month of coursework. Take a look. Good times. Good All-American times.





I discussed this post with my students, when one remarked, "I hid Mrs. Bug. I didn't go to Field Day and nobody figured it out!" I asked her how on Earth she pulled off this feat, and she explained, "Well, when the Ninth Grade Awards Ceremony was over, our teacher said to go to the restroom then meet on the track for Field Day. I hid in the bathroom til everyone was gone. Then, I waited for the principal to announce EIGHTH Grade AWards Day. When I heard the eighth graders walking by the bathroom, I jumped in line."
I was shocked that one of my freshmen angels would be sneaky! "I can't believe you actually wanted to sit through eighth grade awards. That had to be so boring" I said.
She answered, "Well, it was boring until the girl sitting right beside me won an award! I freaked out! I just looked straight down at the floor and prayed that no one would recognize me."
There are benefits to going to a big school, ya'll.
 ~ ~ ~

In honor of Field Day across America and eager and not-so-eager participants, I hope you'll download and enjoy my short story, Field Day. Here is the link.


If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle reader application and read books on your phone, computer, or tablet. Go technology!


Enjoy!

See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn.

~ ~ ~

Also, visit Amazon.com or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

Author website: www.jodydyer.com


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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...