Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Presidential interference with the schools?

The start of the school year is always filled with anticipation and dread.

The good stuff: new notebooks and crayons, seeing friends you missed during the summer that, even you had to admit, had gone on a couple weeks too long. That first day of school outfit, carefully selected: you hoped it would establish you as eligible for greater popularity than you had last year.

One of the things I dreaded was the 600 yard run. Back in the day, one of the first things we did in physical education classes--after we'd hand-embroidered our names on our grotesque gym suits--was complete testing for The President's Council on Physical Fitness.

Just about every kid in the nation did it. It wasn't considered unusual for the President to ask kids and parents to do things for the president, the nation, and themselves. It was assumed we knew we were supposed to get smart. But President Kennedy stepped in to remind us that our job also was to get fit. Even back in the 1960s, Americans were less active than our European (and worse still, our Soviet) counterparts.

The test we took involved 50-yard dashes, shuttle runs, sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups. I did great on the sprint events and the sit-ups. But I always failed the pull-ups and push-ups. Most girls did.

When it came to the 600 yard run, though, I'd usually pass out. Or worse, throw up. Neither of those things was cool, but either was better than coming in last. Which I did, now and then.

Having the test in the first weeks of school seemed a poor idea. Except for the kids who always excelled, most of us weren't prepared. I now know that I did so badly partly because I had undiagnosed asthma. And I now suspect that the test was done early so that teachers could demonstrate great improvement by the end of the year. You can't blame them for that.

The Council underwent a number of name changes, but since its inception during the Eisenhower years, it's played a role in our national agendas. I still have a stack of President's fitness commendations my kids got at Underwood School not many years ago.

Maybe the best thing about being an older parent is having a sense of history, a longer perspective, and the willingness to think for yourself instead of letting your anxiety be pumped by the media. If you're one of the parents who's overwrought about the notion that the President of the United States would want to encourage kids to do well in school, you might want to do your own homework.

In his speech to school children next Tuesday, is President Obama going to try to manipulate students into developing pride in education ? You betcha. Will it make him look good if he succeeds? Who cares, as long as our children benefit?

The children in the Elmbrook school district are being "protected" from this speech. I hope ours get to hear it and talk about it with their parents, friends, and teachers.

The idea of sound minds in strong bodies has always been understood as desirable, and leaders have always called for us to do better.

It's called patriotism.

It's also a darn good idea.

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