The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 21, 2010


Alternative education?

“The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” – Graham Wallas, The Art of Thought

My father marked his 85th birthday yesterday. He has had a fascinating life and a varied career and is still a vigorous educator and caregiver to all of us. Last Saturday, four generations of our family attended a dinner that honored a slice of Dad’s life: the induction into Belmont High School Athletic Hall of Fame of the entire state championship baseball team that he coached in 1959. The baseball statistics that this team racked up are unparalleled in the annals of American high school athletics, but Dad said in his speech that night (given, I might add, without notes through a hand-held microphone to a crowd of well over 200 people), that he is most proud of the things that his boys went on to achieve in the years after they graduated from high school, using the skills they learned as a team.

They all went on to good and sometimes extraordinary careers: among them are a former punter for the Cincinnati Bengals, a famous knuckleball pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, a four-star general in the U.S. Army, and a three-star general in the U.S. Marines who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in Vietnam. Most married and raised families. All but one of them (one is deceased) returned to this event to accept their accolade and to pay tribute to the value of the education my father had given them on the field of play.

In the press for academic achievement, I think we often forget what we learn when we are not in the classroom, but it is in those controlled situations on the athletic field, on the stage, in a concert hall, dance or art studio, that we learn how to process and analyze, how to relate to other people and how to solve problems in real time with tangible or visual results.

Play: athletic, theatrical, musical, artistic and experimental, is vital to our success in the classroom and in life. This is true for students of any age and ability, but especially for the young.

A good coach, director or teacher knows how to identify and develop individual strengths in a student. Knowing I would never be a very good runner, my father taught me to bat, to throw a baseball and a football and to catch, so that I would not be the last to be chosen for teams. It worked. I could be depended upon to get on base and hit a runner home, to catch a pitch or a fly ball and to quarterback a touch football team, so that others with better speed and different abilities could do their jobs too. As a director of educational theater, I show students how to play effectively with other actors, using their particular strengths of movement, timing and vocal dexterity to “hold the mirror up to nature,” and to work with those who design, crew, and play music to enter the consciousness of an audience and make lasting memories there.

How much work, thought, mastery and cooperation are evident to us when the Carlisle school choruses and bands, teams, Rainforest and seventh-grade players achieve their final products? In athletics and the arts, the ability to work with others elevates the whole team or ensemble, and gives each student the ability to help create something far greater than himself.

For too long, we have treated the arts and athletics as the poor relation of the academics we learn in the classroom, when they should, by rights, stand equally with them and be part of every student’s curriculum. Here in Carlisle, we pride ourselves on awards in extra-curricular music, science, art and athletics, but how often do we pay tribute to the skills our students actually learn and test in these venues? For these are the places in which they learn to apply the information they learn in the classroom, to real life and to return the academic favor by becoming better students. These are not alternative forms of education, and “extra-curricular” is a sad label. If we really want to improve our system of education and make it more globally competitive and cooperative, then we need to take a lesson from that group of young men who played together in 1959, went on to become leaders in any number of fields, and came back half a century later to recognize the lifelong value of what they learned and experienced as a baseball team. ∆

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