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To state that a speech or chemistry teacher would be taken to task for "forcing" a child to do over and over, before the entire class, what every other child has had to do, again, shows only naivet�. I can remember getting just as sick at the thought of having to give a speech in front of snickering classmates or sing a solo before a highly critical teacher. But isn't this all part of growing up? Doesn't the ability to overcome these obstacles make the better and stronger person?
The same applies to your statement that "many a girl develops a loathing for sports in the fifth and sixth grades because of an overzealous, bullying teacher." With a little more research on fifth and sixth grade girls, I think you will find the loathing comes, not from a dislike of the sport, but from a dislike of having the curl come out of their hair.
You say, "With so much emphasis on skill, we have made childhood athletics a grim business." Why limit the emphasis on skill just to athletics? Have you ever seen the grim determination of a musician before a national music contest? Or the nervous fidgeting of a contestant before a debate? Isn't this the normal individual's reaction to the demand for skill—in sports or any other activity?
Because some few do not enjoy competing or performing, why make such a sweeping statement? For every average child who doesn't enjoy participating in skilled sports I bet I can find 10 who do.
We now have more people participating in sports than in any other activity—whether it be music, writing or art. Sure, we also like to watch the better players perform a sport for us. But why is it so much worse to watch 50 men play football than it is to sit and listen to 50 men play musical instruments in concert? Is it wrong to read a book instead of writing one? Or to watch a play or gaze at a painting? I imagine more people who watch football go home and participate in some form of sport than concert listeners play instruments, art gazers paint, book readers write or playgoers act. I frankly get as much esthetic enjoyment from watching a beautiful body churn through the water at a swimming meet as I do listening to a Beethoven symphony.
Let's get down to the real reasons why the Europeans are more physically fit than we are. After all, they have their spectator sports, too. As many as 100,000 people turn out for a soccer match. Soccer players and gymnasts are heroes. But, first, they walk or ride bicycles almost every place they go.
Second, the European family, as a whole, takes part in athletics—at Turnvereins or community centers.
Third, and most important, their physical educators are respected members of their society. European parents insist that physical education be an integral part of their children's education from the first grade up.
Don't blame the American athletic program if a child's background in sports is too poor to enable him to make the team. Physical education begins in the first grade where all children start oft' somewhere near equal, and where there is no program for the superior child. If the school program is unsatisfactory I think it is up to us, as parents, to see what we ourselves can do to improve the physical education of our children—instead of looking for scapegoats and undermining what is good in physical education and athletic programs.
Basically, I think we all desire the same thing: a more fit American youth. But let's achieve it by building up the average and the below average. Not by tearing down the superior.