I was interested in learning until I went to school

The title of this blog is copied from a New York Times opinion piece, (November 7, 2019) titled, “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike.” The article describes in detail the experience of a young female world class runner recruited by Nike to be the next Olympic wunderkind. Mary Cain, the young runner, enters the Nike training complex, coached by a world class track coach, with the belief that program would develop her young talent into a mature professional athlete.

What happened to her in the Nike program was far removed from her expectation of becoming a mature professional athlete. In Ms. McCain’s own words, she became caught up a system designed to produce world class runners at the expense of the social, emotional, and physical development of young female athletes. After several years of unhealthy weight loses, broken bones, and irregular mensural cycles, she came to the realization that the system she was in was not about her, but about advancing the status of Nike and careers of the coaches employed by Nike.

What relevance does this opinion piece have to do with education? A recent study of student performance in college (Arum & Roksa, 2011) gives voice to John Goodlad’s (1984) observation, nearly 30 years ago, that schools are places where students have become “academically adrift” in institutions largely designed to grant a credential, enforce the daily routines of schooling, and prizes completion of work over understanding and reflection.

School mission statements, state and national standards, and professional standards would lead one to believe that the primary goal of schooling is to create learning environments that promote critical thinking, focus on complex concepts and principles, and make sense out of real-world problems. Sit in any classroom in America and see if any of these mission driven goals materialize in the daily grind of worksheets, Power Points, and “what is on the teacher’s mind” discourse.

No student walks away from institutional schooling with the physical problems experienced by Ms. McCain, but they do walk away with, in my mind, a far more debilitating injury—a love of life-long learning.

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