I’ve always admired how electricity follows the path of least resistance. For the life of me, I don’t understand why we don’t do the same when it comes to our educational system. Why waste time with the grueling lectures, agonizing tests, and the disruptive behavior, when we could be doing what Americans do best: sports. Ladies and gents, I believe the time has come to make school an extracurricular activity.
The story behind this latest epiphanal wonder began when I worked as a substitute teacher at my local middle school. I arrived at the school early, eyes a-brightened, tail a-bushy, and was greeted by the principal, who was pushing a stack of papers on a dolly.
“You’ll need to instruct on the bulk of this before noon,” she said. “It’s from a curriculum development company that has been hired to meet our new state-mandated basic standards. It’s a completely new approach.”
“I thought you just got a completely new curriculum last year?” I asked.
“Oh, we did. And the year before that. Actually, every year we get a new curriculum. After the tenth year of this, you kind of recycle back to the one you started with. It’s great fun.”
I eyed the stack of papers suspiciously. “So what’s the new stuff?”
“Glad you asked. This year, the children must learn the 57 basic uses of the comma.”
“Wow, I didn’t know there were 57 basic uses of the comma.”
“I didn’t know either. But these children sure as hell will.”
No problem, I thought. I’ve instructed many a fine young lad or lassie on the uses of punctuation. I wheeled the papers to my classroom and began reading before the children arrived. I had fifteen minutes to absorb what appeared to be 15,000 pages worth of comma-nuances. Sweet.
Alas, this was not to be. Children began pouring in well before the bell rang, some whining about having received no breakfast, others relating tales of woe regarding their respective broken families.
“What am I, Dr. Phil?” I said. “Start reading about the comma.”
We were just about to begin reading about the comma when five little boys stood up and began packing their bags.
“Hold on their, young laddies,” I said. “Where are you heading off to?”
“We’ve got a four-week soccer tournament,” one of the boys said. “We’re flying to Amsterdam to kick some Dutch ass.”
“But what about the comma?” I asked as they hauled up their athletic gear.
“We’ll watch a YouTube video on it,” they replied. “Wish us luck.”
Later that day, several more children left for a swim meet, a gymnastics meet, and an extreme Dominoes tournament.
By the end of the class, I was left with four children, three of which spoke no english, and appeared to have absolutely no interest in the proper use of a comma.
Finding Our True Talent
Now the knee-jerk reaction might be that these children are missing out on learning, reading, math and that science stuff. But let’s just face facts: American schools don’t produce brainiacs. We do produce athletes.
And why shouldn’t we? Leave the heavy mental-lifting to China, India and South Korea. Who wants to balance equations all day. What fun it that?
Now sports is extremely fulfilling, especially to parents. Who doesn’t derive immense satisfaction from watching their kid kick some other kid’s ass? Or breaking the other team’s spirit and perhaps even sneaking in a cheap shot kick to the groin?
This is fun for parents, but it also teaches kids invaluable life skills. Think about your workplace. Do the smartest, brightest people make it to the top? Hell no. It’s the winners who get there, the folks who will do whatever it takes to come out on top.
Our current schools teach all about being fair and everyone getting a chance. Tell me in what fantasyland this actually occurs.
Besides, what does school teach you that you can’t just Google? And don’t give me that bit about needing to educate engineers to build bridges and roads. Hell, you can just get a 3D printer and print out your steenkin’ bridge.
My epiphany is quite simple. Let’s make school an extracurricular event.
Epiphany in hand, I immediately visited our cash strapped school board. I interrupted their meeting, in which they had been pondering how to provide school-children with three full meals a day, lodging for an overnight stay, and surrogate parents.
“You need less, not more!” I proclaimed, and I laid out my bold plan.
First, I instructed them to fire the entire teaching staff, the administration, and make school an extracurricular activity. “That way, you can devote a full eight hours to softball, or gymnastics.”
“What about extreme Dominoes?” A member asked.
I explained extracurricular “class” would only involve teaching kids things you can’t look up on Google. One whiny member of the school board demanded we teach them to become “critical thinkers.”
I agreed, but only with the concession that they’ll be allowed to graduate from the class if they asked the question, ‘Why do I have to take a class about critical thinking?’
The school board, with no money and no more patience for four-hour meetings, agreed to my suggestions, and the school was closed. Permanently.
The Epiphany Fails to Score
I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it is to produce epiphany after epiphany, only to have it run afoul. This one got side-tracked by, of all things, politicians.
Here’s how my epiphany went afoul. Everything was going splendidly. Because our town’s junior club soccer team had been training nearly eight hours a day, we were kicking everyone’s hinder. They had advanced to the World Cup for 8-year olds for a title game against China.
The problem was that China had not only matched our 8-hour practice sessions, but they’d also kept their kids on a 12-hour a day academic track. As a result, their kids were kick-ass soccer players and exceptionally bright, although we noticed they drank Starbuck’s instead of Gatorade to avoid slipping into REM sleep mid-game.
On the soccer field, the academic edge made all the difference. When the Chinese got a breakaway, our bypassing of geometry became apparent, as we were constantly taking the wrong angle to try and run them down. In fact, many of our players actually stopped in the middle of the game, retrieved their smart phones, and Googled, “How do I get the proper angle on the breakaway?”
In the end, we lost. Big-time. That’s when the politicians got involved.
Because the game was broadcast by ESPN to a worldwide audience, the outcome didn’t sit well with Washington. They launched a knee-jerk, full-scale investigation. This “investigation” basically amounted to a subcommittee hearing in which they assailed me and the soccer coach with such questions as, “What the hell?” and “Don’t you care about the widdle children?”
As you would expect, after the subcommittee shellacking, emergency legislation was passed and we were instructed to resume schooling so that we would maintain our “competitive edge on and off the soccer field.”
The first day back to school, I was called in as a sub, as the former faculty was no longer available.
After being laid off, the teachers had launched successful management consultancy businesses. (It seems the same tactics they used to control the behaviors of kindergarteners were just as effective when applied to the adult workforce.)
Sans teachers, I was asked to lead the charge in the new curriculum. Of course, we didn’t design the new material. It was purchased from the same company which had produced the comma curriculum.
The principal greeted me at the door, with a familiar dolly in tow. “Welcome back,” she said, patting the stack of papers. “Guess what? We’re moving on to the semi-colon!”
photo by martha_chapa95