It’s Tuesday morning in Fairfax County. The sun shines bright, the sky is a beautiful blue and there’s not a cloud in sight. The streets are dry, with not even a speck of ice. A slight breeze is in the air. Another typical winter day, right?
Well, if that’s the case, then why are my three elementary school-age children dancing in a conga line in their pajamas as they celebrate Fairfax County Public Schools’ decision to cancel school “due to dangerously low temperatures and wind chill.”
Seven degrees Fahrenheit is “dangerously low”? They just played a three-hour football game in Green Bay, Wis., in much colder weather. God forbid little Johnny and Jane get a mite chilled walking outside in their Eskimo suits for a few minutes to get to school.
I’m sure my kids think I sound like a ridiculous old-timer when I break out in a speech that starts, “In my day . . . ” And I’m sure they wonder why it’s such a big deal to close schools one day for cold weather. Well, it is a big deal. It’s a big deal because closing school on a cold day is symptomatic of the softening of America.
Just look at a few of the policies of my neighborhood school — Navy Elementary on West Ox Road — to see what I mean. Forty years ago at my grade school in Montgomery County, we had three recesses, regardless of the weather. Now, if they’re lucky, my kids get one recess a day for no more than 15 minutes. And that’s only if the weather is good. Is it any wonder the United States has a problem with childhood obesity?
Dodgeball has been banished. High-fiving is not allowed. No first-, second- or third-place ribbons are awarded on field day. Heck, it’s not even an individual competition anymore. The students are divided into two teams, and everyone gets a ribbon for participating.
My kids keep the awards they’ve actually earned on the shelves in their rooms while the glut of participation trophies are packed in boxes under their beds. Kids know the difference between something earned and something that is not. So why are so many adults afraid of exposing their children to a little competition?
What are we saying to our kids when we tell them it’s too cold to go to school? We tell them that the work of learning isn’t worth even a small amount of temporary discomfort.
And believe me, they’ll get the message. It’s simple enough to decipher even while zoned out for hours staring at the screen of some TV, computer, video game system, iPad or other electronic gizmo, all the while getting fatter and softer — as most Fairfax kids probably spent their day on Tuesday.