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Picked last - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
j4
j4
Picked last
Wandering around articles on sports in schools as a result of nja's latest post, I came across yet another article that made me annoyed.

From that article:
"More than half of all teenagers agreed that young people are fat, lazy and addicted to computer games, but blame school and councils for failing to give them opportunities to exercise. [...] 'I don't think it's an issue of kids being lazier than children before us,' said Alexandra, 16, at a north London Youth Debate panel. 'Sport isn't accessible enough. There aren't enough proper facilities for us.'"
No, Alexandra, I think you are being lazy. I think you want these "opportunities" and "facilities" handed to you on a plate, delivered to your door. Then, when you don't get them, you can blame somebody else for the fact that you won't get off your lazy arse and do something.

As a teenager, I was fat, lazy and addicted to computer games. So whose fault was that? The school's? Hardly, with two or three compulsory games lessons a week and plenty of sports societies at lunchtimes and after school which I could have attended if I'd cared. The council's? Well, there was a public swimming pool, there was a playing field in the village (where people often organised football games), there was (I believe) a village cricket team, and there were tennis courts (though you had to get the key from somebody so it never seemed worth it when you could just have a knockabout against a wall or on the playing-field). There were several parks where I could have jogged if the urge had ever so taken me. (I've really no idea what other public sports facilities there were; I never made an effort to find out.) Sometimes, in rare energetic moments, I could be persuaded to cycle around the playing fields, or rollerskate on the carpark, or play with a frisbee.

Now, yes, I know, not all councils and not all schools make such good provision for sports. It's possible that Alexandra's school has no games lessons, no field of any kind, rules against kicking a ball around at lunchtime, or even running, and that there are no public sports facilities or even public parks in the North London area.

It's possible.

But how much more likely is it that it's just so much easier to blame your school, blame the council, the government, anything, anything except your own sweet self?

Of course, in standard journalistic rants it's considered the done thing to stop there, with the question. Having sneered and raised people's awareness and hackles, one has discharged one's moral duty. But this isn't a newspaper. I'm still here when the article's finished. So what's the answer? How can we change people, change the prevalent attitudes of our times, change the world?

Perhaps the facilities for changing the world just aren't accessible enough. Nobody's providing me with a means to change the world. Nobody's providing me with the answers. I'm not lazy; the system is to blame. It's not my fault, not my fault, not my fault.
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teleute From: teleute Date: August 25th, 2004 09:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Do you think this attitude ties in with the supposed increase in depression (which I've been putting down to over/increased diagnosis)? If there really are more depressed teens than there used to be, then it stands to reason that they are more likely to be apathetic and not want to change the world. Or could it in fact be the other way around - their apatheticism is making doctors diagnose them with depression?
julietk From: julietk Date: August 25th, 2004 09:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Or that they feel, or have been told, that they *can't* change things. That can certainly lead to depression. "Whatever I do, it doesn't make any difference: so why bother?"

(which is, I think, subtly different from apathy, which implies a lack of *wish* to change things)
hairyears From: hairyears Date: August 25th, 2004 06:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Factlet: physical exercise reduces the incidence of depression.

Speculation: team sports, as a social activity, foster social skills and a sense of community (in some, but not all) which is probably a Very Good Thing in terms of teenagers' mental health. As is anything which imparts a sense of achievement, approval, and self-esteem.

teleute From: teleute Date: August 25th, 2004 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
perhaps this is why American students are all so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Mind you, they're all on more pills than an English pharmacy too, so who knows. But they are encouraged (socially required) to represent their school at some activity.
j4 From: j4 Date: August 26th, 2004 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
physical exercise reduces the incidence of depression

So I believe, though I suspect the physical benefits of the exercise may sometimes be outweighed by the psychological damage when your "physical exercise" involves the teacher encouraging everybody else to laugh at you for being overweight and no good at sports.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: August 26th, 2004 01:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I've seen that. Revolting, isn't it?

And I've seen what happens in a school with a serious bullying problem, where the less able (or just less willing) enforced participants in games become the butt of a new set of humiliations, and outright acts of violence from their fellow-inmates. Watching this behaviour led by a teacher, and hearing the sheer number of people who have seen it in other schools, reinforces my prejudice that a working majority of PE teachers aren't just failures at a 'proper degree': they've been waved through a failure in teacher training, too - they clearly cannot teach and should not be allowed to do so. Or were bullies at school and have found their vocation in life, but lack the guts to apply their revolting character defects to the aggressive mismanagement of adults in the real world.

julietk From: julietk Date: August 25th, 2004 09:05 am (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, the comment made by one of the other kids was more relevant: that they don't get any choice in school sports, so half the kids forget their kit because they don't like what sport they're supposed to be doing (just as I used to deliberately schedule flute lessons during PE, or whatever). I think that schools *would* do well to try to help kids find the sorts of physical activity they enjoy - although how this is to be funded I'm less sure. Standardising on a games afternoon at schools across the borough & mixing provision between schools might help? (or at least sharing between nearby schools). Not sure that that's terribly feasible, either :-/

I think the other issue is not necessarily so much provision of facilities, as access to those facilities. Some of that is issues with parenting - if you're 10 or 11 and your parents won't take you to the swimming pool, chances are you won't get to go, & then later when you are going out on your own, that sort of activity has slid down the popularity list (although when I was 14 or so, the local pool got a wave machine installed, & other exciting stuff, & suddenly swimming became a popular weekend activity for groups of kids). More generally, if you're not encouraged by your parents to go out and do active stuff, & you're not supposed to go out on your own, then it just doesn't register as a Thing To Do. I was the sort of kid who spent vast swathes of time sitting at home reading; but my sister & I also spent lots of time rollerskating on the driveway/next door's driveway, or taking the dog round the park, or exploring the undergrowth in the *other* park...

I'm not sure. I agree that there's a certain amount of entitlement culture going on here, but I also think that making things more attractive (whether that's wave machines in the swimming pool or more options in school sports or sport stars being roped into holiday sports courses or whatever) is not necessarily a bad thing.

To your last point: I don't know that either. It's something I think about fairly often. Mostly I approach it by just trying to act in what I see to be the right way myself. Small changes add up, sort of thing.
j4 From: j4 Date: August 26th, 2004 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
they don't get any choice in school sports, so half the kids forget their kit because they don't like what sport they're supposed to be doing

So what's the solution? Should schools be forced to offer every sport under the sun because some kids don't like the sports on offer? What happens when 3 of your class want to do cricket, 5 want to do football, 1 wants to play golf, 1 wants to fence, 6 want to play basketball... and so on, and all of them will "forget" their kit or bunk off if made to do anything but the thing they want to do?

When I was at school, you didn't get to stand up in lessons and say "I don't like this stuff, you have to teach something I like or else the school will be held responsible for me not learning anything." Yes, there are ways in which sport differs from other lessons, but I think to some extent the basic principle still holds!

I do agree that trying to make school sports more attractive, more fair, more interesting, etc. is a good idea. But it has to be a two-way thing; there's no point in wasting millions of pounds on getting some Olympic star in for lessons (and why do that only for sport? We don't get Stephen Hawking coming into school to show people that physics is worthwhile, we don't get Andrew Motion coming to convince us of the merits of poetry... not that he'd be likely to convince many people IMHO!) if pupils just aren't interested and aren't willing to try.

I don't know how you can make that sort of bargain, though. How do you convince people that you're willing to make the lessons more interesting but that they also have to do their bit and turn up, and be willing to have a go?

And I can't help thinking that it would be easier if people weren't so focused on the idea that it was their inalienable right to be entertained at all times.
julietk From: julietk Date: August 26th, 2004 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, you see we *did* have a version of that in 6th form. All the 6th formers had PE on the same afternoon, & there were a list of things to choose from (including fencing, badminton, use of the (smallish) gym/aerobics, & a handful of more standard things). You had to sign up to one per term, but I enjoyed it a lot more than the forced team games in the lower school (I liked athletics more. I don't like team things, in general). I don't see why you can't extend this to other year groups - with 100+ kids in a year group, I don't think it's impractical to offer, say, a couple of season-appropriate team-sport-type activities, & a couple of more individual things. And, yeah, they should be made to do *something* (& forgetting your kit is a crap excuse! What happened to the Spare Kit Box that our school used to have?), but a small amount of rearrangement of timetables might give a bit more choice.

I'm also, partly, thinking of the trouble with team sports that you refer to - the increased room for humiliation & upsetting other people if you're crap. If you're crap at something individual, fewer people notice or care (although obviously it doesn't entirely remove the scope for teasing, but then nothing can, in sports or anything else :-/ )

And I also don't see why we *shouldn't* have decent physicists doing school outreach & stuff like that. Apart from the fact that a lot of professional physicists would be a bit uninspiring... And, again, my school got a Poet-in-Residence in (we had Benjamin Zephaniah, one year, who was pretty cool) to encourage people in English. I know I was very fortunate to have a school that *did* do things like that, but surely that just means that more state schools should be trying this sort of thing.

In terms of the bargain - maybe getting kids more involved in making decisions/choices would help?
j4 From: j4 Date: August 26th, 2004 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)
we *did* have a version of that in 6th form

So did we, but it was one afternoon a week, for upper and lower sixth, and it relied on things like us being old enough to walk to the leisure centre on our own to play squash (or to get the bus to the golf course). Somebody came in for that afternoon to teach fencing, I doubt if they could have persuaded him to come in every day so that each of the 21 forms in the school could do fencing. One of the art teachers took an aerobics session -- the rest of the time she was teaching art!

Okay, perhaps if they were all taught in year-groups rather than class-groups it would be easier to offer more choices. But getting 100 17- or 18-year-olds to be sensible is a lot easier than getting 100 11-year-olds to be sensible...

I'm also, partly, thinking of the trouble with team sports that you refer to - the increased room for humiliation & upsetting other people if you're crap.

If a maths teacher bullied their pupils or made no attempt to stop pupils bullying each other they'd probably get sacked; but if sports teachers do it, we have to revise the sports syllabus. There's something deeply wrong here.

The problem with team games is not that they're fundamentally evil but that they're so often badly taught. addedentry points out somewhere else in this thread that he was never taught the rules of football; I remember being told off for breaking the rules of hockey when I hadn't the first idea what they were. Combine that with freezing your metaphorical bollocks off on a muddy field in early November, when you can't hear the instructions that the teacher is shouting, and ... well, it's like playing Mao without the chatty, welcoming atmosphere.

On the other hand, I'm surprised to see you playing down the value of learning a game which involves remembering rules and using a combination of strategy and physical skill to co-operate with one's peers and achieve a well-defined goal... :) Buzzwords aside, I think there is plenty to be learned from team-games, but there seems to be an implicit acceptance that sports teachers are Nasty People and the only way to deal with this is to arrange the syllabus so they can't be too nasty. I don't think this is solving the right problem. Certainly our games teachers were quite capable of being nasty even in sports which needn't be competitive -- it's quite possible to run/jump/throw/swim and concentrate primarily on improving your personal best, but it's hard to feel proud of your achievements when you're being laughed at for failing to come up to the standards of the Olympic hopefuls. Or, say, being mocked for being out of breath after running the 1500m (I was pleased with myself for finishing it), particularly when no attempt has been made to do warmups, stamina-building exercises, etc. so of course you're going to be in a right state by the end.

Having a poet-in-residence is deeply cool, but I really do think it's the exception rather than the norm. Maybe more state schools "should be trying" this, but where does the money come from?

In terms of the bargain - maybe getting kids more involved in making decisions/choices would help?

Perhaps. I can't help doubting that it would do the trick, but I think that's more to do with my cynicism than anything else.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: August 26th, 2004 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
What happens when 3 of your class want to do cricket, 5 want to do football, 1 wants to play golf, 1 wants to fence, 6 want to play basketball...

In north London, at least, it would be feasible to bus them all of to a large sports centre to match up with children from other schools, and everyone's happy. (In practice they'd probably start gang wars.)

Cf. new Labour's insistence on making every school a specialist school - what happens when your nearest schools specialise in sports, languages and music and your talent happens to be for art? (Mu.)
ewx From: ewx Date: August 26th, 2004 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

probably start gang wars

..which probably generates quite a bit of exercise.
martling From: martling Date: August 25th, 2004 11:48 am (UTC) (Link)
So what's the answer? How can we change people, change the prevalent attitudes of our times, change the world?

I still think the best long-term answer, in terms of action as an individual, is that you act to change the growing-up experiences of the kids.

A job as a school teacher probably isn't a good way to do this any more, in this country at least. I'm looking for other ideas.
julietk From: julietk Date: August 25th, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm with you on this; but then, I would be, wouldn't I? :-)

I'm not sure about the teaching. I'm inclined to think that it still *can* help, but maybe it's harder than it used to be. I've been thinking about getting involved in some form of mentoring scheme - I'm pretty sure Southwark runs one.
martling From: martling Date: August 25th, 2004 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I need to go and have a word with Julian at some point, don't I.
j4 From: j4 Date: August 26th, 2004 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)
A job as a school teacher probably isn't a good way to do this any more

I don't think it's an easy way to do it, but I think it is still a good and necessary way to at least try. If the only people who go into teaching are people who don't believe you can effect any change through teaching, the education system really will be utterly shafted.

(What other ideas are you considering?)
martling From: martling Date: August 26th, 2004 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right, and I will still do it unless I find some better way by the time I come to do this - teaching full time is what I plan to do later in my life, rather than as a first career, though I'm still intending to take other opportunities to teach in some form before then.

What bothers me about school teaching isn't that I don't think you can effect any change with it, but that teachers have limited scope to make a personal difference because of the pressure from an enforced curriculum and emphasis on test results which basically disregard utterly the need for healthy, individual development. I couldn't participate in that system with a clear conscience if I wasn't openly expressing serious concerns with it and trying to do things differently as much as possible. And I don't know how that would go down with the administration.

If I worked in a school the first thing I'd tell the kids is that they didn't have to come to my lessons if they didn't want to. I'm in favour of compulsory schooling in general, but down to the level of individual lessons that just goes right out of the window. I don't think there's any point trying to teach things to people who's not interested; it causes frustration to both teacher and pupil, disruption to everyone else, and achieves nothing. And yes, maybe some of them will never be interested, and never come, but if we never give them the choice then how will they ever realise they actually are interested sometimes, and stop thinking of learning as a chore?

Other ideas basically come down to any sort of teaching that kids can voluntarily attend - either extra-curricular, or as an alternative to current schooling.

This starts with doing something for the courses me/Juliet/jdc/etc used to go on.
j4 From: j4 Date: August 27th, 2004 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)
If I worked in a school the first thing I'd tell the kids is that they didn't have to come to my lessons if they didn't want to. I'm in favour of compulsory schooling in general, but down to the level of individual lessons that just goes right out of the window.

I see why you think that wouldn't go down well with the "administration". I doubt if it would go down well with the parents, either.

I'm also interested to know what you propose to do with the children who don't come to your lessons; to an extent you're in loco parentis as a teacher, and while some of their parents probably do tell them to just fuck off, it doesn't seem like a particularly good attitude for a parent or a teacher.

I think your approach might work with the sort of children you've encountered -- the "gifted" ones, who happily teach themselves skills and languages that most adults couldn't learn while their peers are still fighting over the sticklebricks -- but do you really think it would work with everybody? Do you think the average 11-year-old is going to be able to make a wise choice about whether or not s/he needs an education?

I'm having this argument on another forum as well, and what I wrote there is sort of relevant here:
I agree to some extent that people should have a choice. But (as I've just said in another forum -- funny how different groups all seem to have these conversations at the same time!) when I was at school we didn't get to opt out of *anything* until we made our GCSE choices. Now suddenly it seems to be vital for pupils to have "choices" about everything, because it would constitute "abuse" to force them to learn something useful which otherwise they'd shirk. And it seems to me that the illusion of choice is actually
*not* empowering them, but rather disenfranchising them by giving them the "freedom" to avoid learning basic life skills (for which loss they will later blame "their education" or "the school").

As an adult I'm actually quite grateful that I was "forced" to learn maths, a language, some science. I'm even, though my games teachers would fall over backwards in shock to hear it, grateful that I was made to do *some* exercise at school in the form of compulsory sport; I wouldn't have done any otherwise, and my health would have suffered. These days it seems that "choice" is the _sine qua non_ of education, and to deny children absolute freedom in what they learn is to deny them a basic human right. If that's really the case, then why have compulsory schooling at all?

I think we have a responsibility to ensure that children get a basic education. For anything beyond that, yes, there should be -- and there are! -- choices; but giving people the "freedom" to grow up uneducated is no freedom at all.

And yes, maybe some of them will never be interested, and never come, but if we never give them the choice then how will they ever realise they actually are interested sometimes, and stop thinking of learning as a chore?

If they never come, how are they going to find out that they're interested?
juggzy From: juggzy Date: August 25th, 2004 11:49 am (UTC) (Link)
'Sport isn't accessible enough. There aren't enough proper facilities for us.'

Call me cynical, but I hear the parents speaking in this phrasing. And that's where a large part of the problem lies - a lot of parents are complicit in offering or forming excuses in support of the rights without responsibilities culture.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: August 25th, 2004 12:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can sort-of understand Alexandra's school has ... no field of any kind because, cliches aside, a fuckload of school playing fields and similar spaces have been sold off in the last ten years, as councils discover that greenfield sites sell for large amounts of money to housing developers and supermarkets. The school field where I played hockey most recently is a large Cotswold stone unaffordable-to-locals-in-average-wage-jobs housing estate. The one where I learned to play hockey is partly housing and partly a small-business industrial estate. The spinney where I learned to climb trees, run like hell through undergrowth, and generally be a kid, is commuter-belt housing that isn't even fully occupied Monday-Thursday nights. But there will always be somewhere to play sports/run around/generally be active, that gripe aside.

A lot of it does seem to be parental/'societal' pressure to be inactive - by which I mean 'don't walk to school, it's very very dangerous and heaven forbid you should ever ride a bicycle, all those evil car drivers will get you'. And so they travel everywhere by... uh, yes, car. Duh. Something wrong there. (Yes, I am driven mad by the woman in this street who sits outside the infants' school with her engine running for ten minutes then drives her little darling all of half a furlong around the road and into this street. When the infants' school is across one minor road (which would be even more minor without the school-run traffic) and less than a minute's walk from here. Why do you ask?) And since there are, apparently, Bad Men on every park bench or behind every bush, going to the park is Deeply Dangerous. Much safer to stay in the house and watch TV. And voicing a liking for sport can be a dangerous thing to do if the current peer-group thinking is that Sport is for Weirdos, plus it's hard to get up much enthusiasm for a kickabout football game with only two players. And hard to get into one if you're not in the 'in' group, or you're a girl, or you're deemed too young, old, bad - or good - to play.

I have no idea how I will combat the inevitable fear of car accidents and Bad Men and nasty-teasing-kids and stuff when it comes to my turn to let smallclanger out. But I would hope that he would be happy playing in other people's gardens or out the front (where I can see him) for some years yet, during which he can learn to enjoy initially-supervised cycling or horseriding or football or whatever activity he takes a fancy to. I can't, somehow, imagine that he won't get a bike fairly soon, or wind up a die-hard cyclist. ;-)
hairyears From: hairyears Date: August 25th, 2004 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hmmmm ruminated Nile again. You're not the only one who was totally apathetic about games! But... I couldn't, or wouldn't, have got into the running I did without a games field to run around. And the lads who played serious football, as in a team and someone coaching them, wouldn't have done it at lunchtimes and Saturdays without a football pitch to hand (many still play in Sunday league and pub sides. One of them just retired from a moderately successful career as a pro footballer and is now at Loughborough studying Sports Physio). Nobody in my year played tennis, even as a Saturday afternoon knock-around: plenty of people in my sister's year (two years above) did lessons and played club tennis, back in the days when there was a maintained (marked and pothole-free) hard court and nets.

Some North London boroughs have the self-inflicted wound of a total absence of pitches and playing fields to hand. Our borough, Enfield, has the disgraceful state of affairs that the posh grammar-in-all-but-name schools all kept them and the sink comprehensives all have nice new Barratt housing estates next door. All schools in the UK are compelled by the national curriculum to offer physical education, including outdoor sports, but there's a difference between sport being something that's 'done' one afternoon a week, and something that's always there, always part of the culture and environment of the school. Some people buy into that culture, some reject it (I did), some might be exposed to it and return in later life. Many, these days, will never know.

And yes, sport does need to be served to children on a plate: that's what schools do. Just like literature, just like the arts, just like science: after force-feeding the unwilling with the basic skills, schools exist to serve up the things that enrich your life.



j4 From: j4 Date: August 26th, 2004 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
And yes, sport does need to be served to children on a plate: that's what schools do.

The question is not whether it has to be served to them on a plate (it already is!) but whether it has to be blended into an easily-digestible slurry and pumped up through a straw into their propped-open mouths while they sit and whinge that it's not accessible enough for them because they still have to swallow from time to time.
geekette8 From: geekette8 Date: August 26th, 2004 04:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh God, now I can't breathe. Thank you for that image. :-)
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: August 31st, 2004 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
One day, games teachers (*) will be replaced by DDR machines. This would handily also provide a standardised examination system, as people learn to pass GCSE Dance (does this exist? I presume it does) with not just an A or an A* but an AAA.

(*) Actually, I know one or two teachers who actually teach games - as in indoor games, not sports - at schools. They're invariably excellent. Admittedly, these are both private-to-public schools charging £s;fivefigures per annum per pupil and so have the sort of money to hire jobbing grandmasters here and there, but I think there is some sort of positive correlation between gamers and teachers.
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