Did you hear? There’s a rumor that agriculture classes are being targeted by the Effingham County school system bean counters, in part because the teaching of the agrarian way of life might be offensive to those who are reminded of antebellum days. Another story making the rounds is that school chess clubs could be disbanded because the game was historically dominated by the old Soviet Union. With today Russian leaders increasingly behaving like their Soviet predecessors, we wouldn’t want our kids subject to the subliminal influence of knights and rooks, now would we?
Those rumors are at least as ridiculous as the one that caused the recent glut of gnashing-of-teeth e-mail sent to the Effingham County school board. The tall tale that sixth graders would soon be disallowed to play school sports “had never even been discussed” according to board member Troy Alford’s public statement (and some of us would pay good money to have heard Mr. Alford’s private statement on the matter). That didn’t stop outraged parents from threatening a campaign to oust the board, school superintendent Randy Shearouse, and the dais they rode on.
No one knows how the rumor began, but one is reminded of the old game where a story is told to a person, the person repeats it to the next person in line, and 30 people later you have a completely different story.
Perhaps (to use a fictional character) the father of Milton Armitage Zipperer, the Sixth told a neighbor that his son got a bad grade on a math test in which one of the questions involved football. The neighbor tells another neighbor, who tells her hairdresser, who tells a week’s worth of customers, and Voila! Sixth graders being banned from playing football.
Regardless of how it actually started, the reaction of some parents to the non-issue, and their continuing dissatisfaction even after being told it was not true, is deeply troubling. What if it had been true, that the school board had wanted to exclude sixth-graders from athletics? So what?
Would such a move have been a violation of the mission statements of Effingham’s schools? For example, South Effingham Middle School’s espoused mission is “Whoop them dadgum Rebels! Woo-hooo!” Effingham County Middle counters with “That ain’t a Mustang. It’s a Shetland pony!”
The last time I checked, none of the county’s schools mention athletics as part of their missions. That isn’t to say sports don’t serve a purpose – this former middle and high school athlete can attest that they do. But is the appropriate response to the rumored demise of football for sixth graders threats to the superintendent and school board? In one of the area’s finest school districts when it comes to academics, the schools’ actual mission?
If there were not enough youth leagues in which sixth graders could participate outside of school, the protesting parents might have an argument, again had this been an actual issue. But groups such as the Effingham County Recreation Department and the Y.M.C.A. offer a host of sports through age 12, which goes beyond sixth grade.
One also suspects that, while there would have been some parental reaction, it would have been much less vitriolic toward the school board had the rumor been the demise of sixth grade science club, debate team or band as opposed to football. After all, we wouldn’t want any kids to miss that phone call in a few years from Mark Richt or Paul Johnson (provided the coaches are still around by then) in order to pursue something that could lead to a cancer cure, a new symphony, or a Nobel Prize, now would we?
So, before someone starts a rumor that school soccer could be cut because of the incessant imitation of Spanish commentators yelling “Goooooooooal!” let’s be clear. There is no doubt that playing on sports teams builds character and teaches some of life’s important lessons. But the reaction of some parents to a silly rumor is evidence that they have yet to learn some of those lessons, one of them being the primary purpose of a school.