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Things Your Kids Didn’t Learn in School and the Youth Sports Environment

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In perusing the internet, talking to colleagues, and sharing information from within the teaching and coaching profession, I come across interesting bits and pieces of information that force reflection. One such piece was recently emailed to me by a colleague and it is one I have seen circulate on the internet from several different sources.

It is claimed by some to be a piece from a speech Bill Gates gave to a group of high school students. However, it actually comes from the teachings of Charles J. Sykes, author of “Dumbing Down our Kids” and “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.”

Most discussions using this information list 11 things that kids won’t learn in school and are directed toward high school and college-age students. Actually, the original list contains 14, with the last 3 usually omitted. I will provide the complete list of 14 in this blog.

There are probably many who have seen this list before; those that have might wonder why I am taking the time to post a blog regarding them on a youth sports blog/website. However, as I take time to read through the list of items, I could not help but reflect on whether the underlying message most of these concepts convey had relevance to the youth sports environment I am trying to impact, something I will raise questions about at the end of this blog.

As you read through the list below, keep in mind that the information was targeted to high school and college-age students, albeit based on what they learned up to and through that age bracket. And that the emphasis in Mr. Sykes’ books come from a position of the “system” (school system) creating a generation of young adults who have no concept of reality and/or the real world, possibly setting them up for failure. Here is the list:

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called any chance to work an opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Rule 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over 20. Ditto for “expressing yourself” with purple hair and/or pierced body parts.

Rule 13: You are not immortal. (See Rule No. 12.) If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven’t seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.

Rule 14: Enjoy this while you can. Sure parents are a pain, school’s a bother, and life is depressing. But someday you’ll realize how wonderful it was to be a kid. Maybe you should start now. You’re welcome.

Before I continue relating this to youth sports I think it best to get some facts straight regarding when this material was written, where the pendulum is currently swinging, and where the implied emphasis of responsibility is placed for success.

Sykes’ book, “Dumbing Down our Kids,” was published in 1996, a good distance of time from our current year of 2009, and a lot can happen in 13 years. In contrast, “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School” was published in 2007. Presently, I have only read other individuals’ accounts of both of these pieces, but I would venture to guess that his “50 Rules” book expands on the concepts he presents in “Dumbing Down our Kids” just based on the titles alone and the list of some of his “rules” above.

With regard to that pendulum swinging, many of you would be surprised to learn that some schools are moving toward giving ½ credit to students for work (homework) that is either done poorly or not even turned in. For example, I gave an 18-point assignment recently that approximately 50% of a class did not even bother to turn in. Under the stipulation above, I would have to give 9 points minimum to everyone even if they made more mistakes than that, or did not turn in the worksheet.

The idea behind this is that if I actually gave them the score they “earned,” like say a "0", and they continued to do poorly on work, or didn’t bother to do it, they would put themselves so far behind they would not be able to pass the course in fairly short order. That giving them more opportunity to right the ship, so to speak, is a better method for learning than is applying the natural consequences that exist based on the effort they put in (or based on what they really know at the time), thus keeping the student from digging themselves a hole they cannot get out of.

Taking it a step further, there is a good deal of talk about not counting any homework toward their grade, a step up from #8 on the list of letting students re-do work until they get it right and then counting it toward their grade. That as long as they do well on tests and other assessments, that is all that matters.

In this type of framework, much more emphasis is placed on the outcome with little reward on the actual efforts put in on the process – so outcome over process. This is something I have emphasized on many occasions as being a big issue in the youth sports environment. To me, there should always be a more balanced approach that emphasizes the process over the outcome. That principle alone accounted for much of my success as an athlete, as a coach, and as a teacher.

Now I should point out that I don’t follow the “new age” concepts I discussed above myself simply because I do not believe them to be appropriate for the age I teach, high school. I could write pages of details as to why this is the case; however, let me just say that I am much more inclined to support the idea of allowing one to get what one actually earns. Even though very blunt and possibly a little harsh, I suppose I am pretty much in line with the list of items suggested by Sykes. I most certainly could apply many, if not all, of them in some way, shape or form to what happened to me, or for me, in my athletic career.

Bringing this conversation back full circle, what I find most interesting about Sykes’ list is the way he tactfully implies that the responsibility for one’s success lies within the individual themselves, the choices they make and the perception they take. Anyone reading through many of my blog posts on youth sports will surely notice the same underlying theme.

From my vantage point as a teacher, former coach, and parent of athletes who have grown up through the current youth sports environment, I see the same type of issues with too many adolescents and athletes in high school. It is becoming much more difficult to find young athletes today who have the fortitude and perseverance to take personal responsibility themselves for achieving what they want, have the perspective it takes to do so, and make the types of choices necessary to accomplish personal and team goals that are set. And I find the relationship between what Sykes implies and what I am discussing in youth sports to be something worth pondering.

With that purpose in mind, I would like to create several questions that promote thought on the topic I have presented. Hopefully, they will initiate good discussion on that list of things that kids won’t learn in school and their possible relationship to youth sports.

Questions to ponder:

1. What relationship, if any, do you see between Sykes’ list and youth sports?

2. Is this list something that is “all” age-encompassing, gradual in nature – so as to encompass age-appropriate application, or is it simply not applicable to youth sports in any form?

3. Are there other implied meanings within that have relevance to the environment our young athletes are growing up in today? (I have a few more)

4. Are there specific rules on this list that seem to have a more direct relationship to youth sports? Others that don’t apply at all?

5. Do any of these have personal connection for you, something that you emphasized as a parent and maybe hoped your kids might learn through their participation in sports?

6. Anything else you might want to add to the conversation?

Your thoughts and discussion are welcome and encouraged. Please elaborate and give examples whenever possible. It will help with continued discussion and create better clarity.