The debate surrounding schools today focuses on how little we expect or demand from the students, from the teachers, from the parents. Everything is about accountability, if you buy into the debate.
The problems with education go well beyond such simplistic notions, of course. But more troubling how wimpified, risk-averse, and overprotective our culture has become and what it says about us.
On Sunday, January 5, in Green Bay, Wis., two NFL football teams took Lambeau Field in temperatures that dipped to -15 degrees with the wind chill. The game was sold out. Prior to the game, film crews were walking around to show all the crazy Cheese Heads out tailgating prior to kickoff.
On Monday, January 6, in southeast Tennessee., every educational establishment was closed or delayed due to the threat of possible coldness and wetness. Closings were determined as early as noon on Sunday -- before the 49ers had even taken the field for warm-ups in Green Bay -- based on dire predictions at a time when the weather around town was a nigh-comfortable 45 degrees.
My school had originally scheduled an in-service day for faculty but canceled it. Not only were the risks of snow and ice too treacherous for children, but it was too dangerous for adults, and certainly not worth the risks for something as petty and silly as an in-service day.
As is standard operating procedure in the urban southeast, the weather conditions underwhelmed the hype and hysteria. Temps dipped into the teens, but nary a road in the tri-county area iced over.
The message is clear: a playoff football game is worth hypothermia and frostbite, but a day of education isn’t even worth mild discomfort.
To be fair, at least part of this can be attributed to a culture where Fear of Lawsuits handcuffs common sense and blindfolds reason. Requiring attendance in poor conditions is different than attendance being voluntary… especially because it makes those in charge liable for anything unfortunate that might happen. Further, for schools where busing large numbers of children from low-income households is a factor, temps in the teens is a legitimate concern. Many poor Southern kids do not have the proper clothing to wait out in the cold for a bus for too long.
But private schools where 90-percent of students drive or are dropped off by parents? Teachers and employees who surely must be better drivers than Mister Magoo and able to dress themselves accordingly for cold weather? C’mon, people. Our bar cannot get much lower.
I took my kids bowling on their day off from school. It was too dangerous to learn, too cold for school, but not too dangerous to bowl, not too cold to host a small party for the BCS Championship, not too dangerous to go to the grocery store or grab a morning coffee.
You can’t turn a page in parenting or educational journals without reading about the importance of grit and toughness on raising healthy children, yet we can’t even stomach the threat of cold without calling the whole thing off, lest the experience be uncomfortable.
Two generations from now, when we look back and wonder why America fell from its perch atop the world, it won’t be difficult to pinpoint one of the key reasons: it got too cold, so we stayed inside under the illusory comfort of our blankets while the rest of the world went to work, completely unharmed, getting tougher while we got softer.