This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting a medal winning Olympic figure skater. To protect her privacy, I don’t want to reveal too many details about her, so I will call her Lily. After I met her, I did what everyone else does when they meet an Olympian; I searched for a video of her performing on Youtube. Wow! In the time period she was skating, she was clearly at the top of her field. She took full command of the ice and was a vision of beauty.
During our lengthy conversations, I learned that there was so much more to this woman than just an Olympic athlete. I particularly enjoyed how she relayed information about her sport in comparison to our current education system. Lily is so wise, and you really need to know this story.
For many decades, one of the requirements of all figure skaters was to be able to skate specific patterns on the ice. One of these, for example, is a figure 8 with smaller loops at the top and bottom. There were very strict requirements regarding these compulsory figures. They had to be skated in a very concise and particular manner. During competitions, judges would watch the skater during the figure, and then they would analyze the pattern on the ice to check for the slightest mistake. Even the smallest glitch could cost an athlete greatly.
These figures were the bane of many skaters. While some who entered the sport were very athletic and could skate fast and well, they could not skate smoothly or beautifully enough to develop these compulsory figures on the ice. Many more did not have the work ethic to practice these patterns for 4-6 hours every day. The skaters didn’t think the patterns were important, but the judges and coaches did.
Lily realized the importance of such precision skating early. She knew that if she could do the figures, the skills would translate into her programs. When I watched the video of her performance, I was awestruck. She was stunning! Each motion was fluid and graceful. Lily explained to me that the time spent on the patterns helped her to learn how to skate properly, how to use the edge of her blade, and to strengthen every muscle she needed to skate.
In 1988, those in charge of the sport of figure skating dropped compulsory figures from the requirements. This would, in their minds, allow the athletes to focus more time and energy on performing their musical programs. As the sport shifted from being precise and beautiful, it became more athletic, fast, and powerful. Consequently, athletes began having more injuries that kept them off the ice. Apparently, no one noticed the connection between dropping the figures and an increase in injuries. All they saw was that skaters were faster, leaped higher, and spun more revolutions in the air.
What she said next really got my attention. “This,” she conveyed, “is the same thing we are doing in education today.” To paraphrase her, we no longer require students to learn phonics and the correct pronunciation of letters and syllables. We don’t require them to hand write both manuscript and cursive letters. We don’t require that they carefully construct sentences with a subject and verb in agreement with one another and appropriate modifiers, all spelled correctly.
Instead of teaching the basics of mathematics and the natural truths associated with them (2+2=4 every time), we now teach that they can get partial credit if they are close or they can explain the convoluted means they used to come up with their wrong answer. We’ve removed education in its purest form and have replaced it with “expressing opinions,” and “sharing feelings.” I swear to you, dear reader, in my entire life I’ve never once thought about my opinion or feeling that 2+2 is 4, I just know that it is every single time.
Students left to their own vices now send text messages, Facebook posts, and Tweets with a multitude of abbreviations, emojis, indecipherable grammar, and statements filled with opinion rather than facts. They apparently find great joy when thousands of their closest friends “like” their post regarding their hatred of the new administration in Washington DC. Yet many are simply unable to explain the reasons behind their position. They’ve not been taught to think or reason.
Education should always be about seeking the truth. It should never be about what the learner thinks about that truth. Indeed, one cannot develop opinions until they know the beauty of the truth on which that opinion might be based. If one knows that Hitler is responsible for the overtaking of most of Europe and the killing of six million Jews along the way, then one can develop the opinion that Hitler was evil (or Hitler was good, depending on which viewpoint one takes). But without knowledge of who Hitler was, one has no information to guide that opinion.
Too often in our public schools, students are asked for their opinion, or how they feel about something they have read, seen, or done in class. Again, gentle reader, in the nineteen years that I darkened the halls of academia as a student, I was never once asked how I felt about anything. Come test time, though, I’d better know the truth of the material! And rest assured that I never asked any of my students, even my own children how they felt about something I taught until they knew the truth well.
It’s no wonder then that we have raised a generation of narcissistic snowflakes who have to go to a safe space anytime something doesn’t go their way. We’ve done this by allowing our educational systems to quit educating our children. Until we can move our schools back into the business of teaching truths, the snowflakes will continue to graduate each year until we are buried in them. Where’s a snowplow when you need one?