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They Don't Teach Gym in Summer School
Friday, Jun. 18, 2004, 7:38 p.m.

QUESTION: He failed what?

WHAT I LEARN: Gym can be a pivotal part of your day.

This week has ending with a swan dive of academic - really - proportions. My son has flunked gym. Don't ask. I know - you have to ask. Of course, who wouldn't ask? I asked. I asked the gym teacher.

I was ready to give the gym teacher a run for their money - so to speak - about the grade when I asked too. I mean an F in gym? Impossible. Preposterous. Quite an infamous accomplishment for a high school freshman.

The truth be known, I am not a gym teacher person. I am sure there are nice gym teachers out there. Good gym teachers who live to help create healthier lives for our kids. I never met those. I met the ones who stood by while I was always picked last for team sports, flunked me in the archery unit even though I really tried to hit the target, and took it as a personal offense that I couldn't hit a baseball worth a damn.

Furthermore, I must confess that one of the more frightening experiences I have had as an adult was at the hand of a gym teacher in the course of the simple act of picking up my kid from school last year. I drove into an area restricted to buses, and the gym teacher - a woman who could pound a wild bear into the ground in a few deft movements and who was coordinating traffic - yelled at me in front of everyone. From middle-schoolers to all the more knowledgeable parent drivers - everyone got to hear about my lack of common sense and driving prowess. It was pretty embarrassing. If I were my kid, I would have thought about getting another mom for the day to drive me home.

So, I was prepared to argue with the gym teacher about flunking the kid just on general principle. It's hard to do that though when you find out your kid didn't make up a major test because he didnít realize he had missed it because he was taking another test at the same time and that he never turned in the last project even though he did the work for it. Somehow my kid never communicated effectively with the gym teacher about the test and the project and after talking to the gym teacher, I think he would have cut the kid a break if my son had come to talk to him and turned in what he needed to turn in before the teachers all ran joyfully out of the school building today until next September.

I know how it is. Life is stressful, overwhelming at times, stuff gets set aside, misplaced, forgotten. We decide to study for biology instead of write the gym paper. In our mind we think we can catch up and somehow Ė somehowÖ we donít. A distracted disorganization is the culprit here as homework time morphs into television watching, eBay window shopping, and hanging out with friends because everyone needs a break. Distracted disorganization is the devil and there's the devil to pay in the end if you stop keeping track of your assignments and hope that maybe that gym grade will still be a pass because you did dress out everyday. There is a chance that you will be taking 9th grade gym again while everyone else is in driver's ed class. Yes, there is a real chance of that Ė as my son found out to his shock and horror this afternoon.

Life is so unfair and yet sometimes so precise in it's dispensation of justice. My son is seeing gym, the importance of the individual assignment, and personal responsibility in a whole new light. It may be the most helpful year of physical fitness to ever cloud his life - even if it may also be the most painful for all of us.

As I told my son, I've never met anyone who has flunked gym but when I thought about it, I realized that I came pretty close to flunking Dance 101 in college - a 2 credit-hour gym course - in my freshman year. I also did not understand the pain and power of gym class to make or break you in the course of pursuing academic greatness or even settling for academic mediocrity.

My son rode his bike up to school like a bat out of hell, paper in hand, scouring the halls for his elusive gym teacher but he was nowhere to be found. He has asked me to send an email to the teacher for him about the paper Ė a last heroic effort to grasp at success in the form of a passing D. Iíll give it a shot but Iím not holding my breath. I havenít seen the paper but Iím sure itís a shadow of itís former self by now.

The power of the gym teacher is indefinable but impressive. And Iíll tell you something else - they donít offer gym in summer school. My son trudged up to his room with a new sense of reality for a companion and began to straighten it up from top to bottom with only minimal parental nagging. I think that this is a sign that heís dusted himself off and is ready to step up to the plate again Ė a wiser young man than 24 hours ago.

image by Norman Rockwell

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