Friday, July 20, 2007

Children denied the joys of competition

On Saturday, the river Thames at Henley was a picture of grey. Contented, fulfilled, cheery, but undeniably grey. And occasionally bald. It was the Henley Veterans' Regatta, a rowing competition held the week after the grand Royal occasion, after the corporate hospitality marquees had gone, the picnic tables been folded away and the jazz bands packed up their instruments. Here rowers in their forties, fifties, sixties and in several cases seventies wheezed and sweated their way down the very same course the elite athletes had so recently taken, persuading themselves for a moment that they were still contenders

Everywhere you looked, the joys of competition were in evidence. It wasn't the winning - though for a few that provided a singular pleasure - but the fact they could still take part that was the point. The clutch of nerves gripping the stomach at the start line, the adrenaline rush of the first few strokes, the long haul up the most picturesque sporting track in the world: it made them feel more alive. For these people, sporting competition had been a vital part of their being for as long as they can remember.

I couldn't help comparing the energy, the vibrancy, the camaraderie with another event I attended: a non-competitive team morning at a primary school. Emphatically this was not a sports day: sport, for the head teacher, needed to be eradicated in all its forms, as pernicious an evil as sexism and racism. Sport represented competition at its most corrupting: trying to beat someone else at games was, to this head, morally indefensible. And so the children were obliged to stand in line, hanging around waiting to do things like tip water into a bucket or sort plastic bricks into colour-coded lines. Running was banned (someone might hurt himself) and winning didn't happen.

As the head passed between the rows of children congratulating herself that she had discovered the root of youthful nirvana, every child she passed wanted to know one thing: who was winning. "Nobody wins here," she'd trill, apparently oblivious to the groans her every remark solicited. I have never seen such a listless, bored bunch of children. Those veterans at Henley may have been 10 times older, but they had 10 times the spark of these seven-year-olds. What these children wanted was competition.

They didn't know about all those long-term, beneficial side-effects the old rowers had enjoyed, they just wanted to pitch themselves against their peers. Yet they were being denied the one thing they craved by an educational philosophy that made no sense.

The image that haunted me was of an 11-year-old girl, who looked like Denise Lewis must have done at that age, all balance, grace and legs like a gazelle, being scolded by the head teacher for running, beautifully and at sprint speed, during one of the challenges. "We don't do that sort of thing here," she was told, as if what she were doing were a social embarrassment, like picking her nose in public.

Far from offering encouragement to help nurture her natural ability, here was the girl's educational mentor telling her that her skill was worthless. All this happened not in the grounds of some expensive boarding school established by utopian loons for the offspring of the Bohemian, but at a bog-standard, mainstream north London primary school.

My memories were stirred this week when Gordon Brown announced his wholehearted support for competitive sport in schools. Of all the things the new man has said that we can cheer (the end of the super-casino among them), this is the most important.

Yet the gap between prime ministerial proposal and reality can be as wide as the space between that head teacher's ears. The non-competitive team challenge I witnessed took place at the tail end of John Major's watch, when the PM was waxing on about warm beer on the boundary, even as great swathes of his education system were treating all sports as if they were a dangerous perversion.

Brown needs to ensure competition is given room on the curriculum, that those many great teachers who appreciate its value are supported, that the facilities are developed in which it can be practised. Proposals, initiatives, study documents are not enough. We have allowed almost a whole generation to be schooled without sport, marooning them on the sofa, sagged down by their ever-expanding waistbands. The next generation must rediscover the spirit of their grandparents competing at Henley; and that requires actions, not words.


Christian fraternity sues University of Florida, claiming discrimination

A Christian fraternity sued the University of Florida on Tuesday, claiming discrimination because the university refuses to recognize it as a registered student group.

University officials have told Beta Upsilon Chi that it cannot be registered as an on-campus student group because only men are allowed to join, which amounts to sex discrimination, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Gainesville.

And Beta Upsilon Chi is not allowed to join the off-campus Greek system of fraternities and sororities because the fraternity requires its members to be Christians, the suit said. The organization that governs the university's Greek system prohibits religious discrimination.

"As a Christian fraternity, (Beta Upsilon Chi) is locked out of the UF campus," the lawsuit said. "The only way UF will recognize (the fraternity) is if it chooses to give up its identity as a men's organization or if it abandons its religious criteria for members".

"They're caught in a conundrum," said Timothy J. Tracey, one of the attorneys who filed the suit. By not being registered as a student group, the fraternity is deprived of benefits including access to meeting space and the ability to advertise and recruit members on campus, the suit said. University spokesman Steve Orlando said the school does not comment on pending litigation.

Beta Upsilon Chi, also known as Brothers Under Christ, was founded in 1985 and has 21 chapters nationwide. The University of Florida chapter has eight members and claims that the school's failure to recognize it has hampered recruiting efforts.


A degree in prostitution?

New Zealand wackiness

Funding for tertiary courses in prostitution could be considered under changes aimed at boosting quality and relevance in the sector, New Zealand education officials say. But MPs on parliament's education and science select committee were told today that although courses in the world's oldest profession might be considered if providers put them forward, they would still have to meet tight criteria to get funding.

The questions on prostitution, posed by New Zealand First MP Brian Donnelly, surfaced as MPs were quizzing Tertiary Education Commission officials on changes to how tertiary education was funded. Under the changes, from next year, institutions will be bulk funded on the basis of agreed three-year plans rather than on the number of students enrolled in specific approved courses.

Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen has said the changes are aimed at increasing the "quality and relevance" of courses. However, they have raised questions regarding the TEC's actual control over individual courses. National Party education spokeswoman Katherine Rich said she was concerned by the TEC's apparent "agnostic" attitude towards the content of courses under the new system. She questioned whether it might lead to a continuing proliferation of courses such as twilight golf seen under the old system. TEC chief executive Janice Shiner said under the new system a request to provide prostitution courses would be assessed against the same criteria as any other course.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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