Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Grit Must Be Overrated

“How much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” -- Nigel Tufnel

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.


Bob said...

It may be that context is missing here. School children in Chicago regularly attend school in conditions that might shut down southern schools for a week. I don't know that that speaks to their "grit" so much as the preparedness of a northern city's infrastructure for school or a football game.

The most dangerous winter driving I ever did was in Birmingham, AL. The interstate on an overpass was a sheet of ice that was completely unexpected and the city had not salted the roads. Driving in snow and ice is usually much safer in the north.

I do agree with your larger point however.

troutking said...

Yeah, it was pretty lame. I think I would add to Bob's point that icy snowy weather happens all the time up North so they can deal with it better. It also means that occasionally there are accidents from snowy or icy roads and they are treated as just part of life. You can't shut down life for 3 months while the weather is bad. Down here, though, if someone were to get hurt or killed in a snow/ice accident because we didn't cancel school, there would be blame aplenty. "What, one day of school or meetings was so important that someone had to die? You couldn't wait one more day or two at the most?" I think this factors in also, but, as Bob said, "I agree with your larger point."

G. B. Miller said...

I think most of our school closures/delays were related to the fluffy white stuff that came down last week. This week, we just toughed it out and only a few dismissals were reported, which were do to blown water mains.

Yeah, we in CT take everything in stride, so whatever cold you got, it wouldn't warrant too much of a response here.

Robert Berman said...

On the smaller point: The hills of Tennessee create roads that are both curvy and slanted, generating all sorts of difficult angular momentum not seen in Midwest driving.

On the larger point: No question that we value comfort to a ruinous degree. And also that our nation has an unhealthy obsession with the fate of little balls passing through hoops and across lines.