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The Flag, Held Up By Wires

February 17, 2009
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Late February sees an increase in traffic at our local indoor batting cage and we were waiting in line for various speed pitching cages this afternoon along with about 30 other players. Boy, girls, adults, teens – everyone preparing for try outs or evaluations for spring teams. As I watched moms with their 7 year old sons swinging away in the 65 mph cage, speaking secret words of encouragement or condemnation, I wondered if they believed the dream that their son could be the next Sammy Sosa, would make it to the show, would be a boy of summer. I see the dad with his daughter and speculate that the pride shining in his eyes is partly due to an adult fantasy of a scholarship to Ohio State or UC for Fastpitch. Make that any sport – Lacrosse, Soccer, Football, Golf. Parents seeking that which differentiates their son or daughter from everyone else – that talent or ability which, once nurtured, will catapult this particular child into the limelight or onto easy street. There is no shame or apology in this pursuit. Parents offer up what they can for private lessons and training camps, better equipment and select status coaches. They know that if their son or daughter has any chance to stand out in the crowd – or even to play on the high school team – they will have to invest time and money and effort to build a particular profile. Speed training. Strength training. Tommy John surgery. Daily practices and twice-a-week games, tournaments to begin the season, tournaments to end them. Whatever it takes to mold that raw talent into a playing dynamo. Yet when it comes to educating our children to a level where they may be globally competitive, we back away. It is culturally unattractive to focus our attentions on the minds and psyches of our smallest citizens. To pursue academic excellence, at least here in the Midwest, is to be short sighted, to deprive the kid of his or her childhood. Practicality outweighs intellect every time. What good are smarts if your kid doesn’t know when to come in out of the rain? Why should any parent spend time or money on math skills or reading when it is largely viewed as the school’s job to do that? I do not mean to generalize – but when I look into the eyes of the 7 year old I see past the Under Armor shirt and $ 200 bat and wonder if he is a good learner in class. Does he hold back other kids because he didn’t quite get his homework done in between batting sessions? Have his parent’s fudged his reading log to accommodate his practice schedule? Is he as comfortable being the brightest in class at math or science as he is at being the fastest on his team? Do all parents believe it is the role of our schools to fine tune our children’s base talents, the intelligence they will need to rely upon for the rest of their lives? So much effort and time and money placed on raising the bar in soccer and baseball and even bowling – but so little invested in raising the bar of academic leadership. There was a time when little boys wanted to be astronauts.

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