MY NOMINATION for educator of the year is Edward Golden, a Narragansett, Rhode Island, grade school teacher. His contribution to American scholarship is, first, stating that ignorance and laziness are the enemies of learning, and, second, doing something about it.
Golden is a physical education teacher. The laziness he speaks of is physical laziness: lying about, horsing around, goofing off. These abouts, arounds, and offs mean that the habits developed in childhood about exercise are the ones carried into adulthood. It is a truth that the cardiologist keep telling us: a heart attack is not a sudden assault, it is the final response of a deterioration begun in childhood.
Convinced that children don't get enough exercise -- i.e., they are ignorant about the uses of their bodies and the immense satisfactions, physical and emotional, that this usage leads to -- Golden has been assigning homework in sports. For some, it is calisthenics, for others jogging. Fifteen minutes a day does it.
A few years ago, Golden, who is 55 and has been teaching for 30 years, introduced Remedial Gym. It got a laugh at first, until he explained that just as a lot of children come from homes in which books aren't valued, much less read, others are from families of immense inertia. He discovered that many children can't do more than one or two push-ups. Some didn't know that it's normal to perspire when they run for more than a few minutes.
Unsurprisingly, if the kids needed Remedial Gym, so did many of the teachers. Golden found this difference between the youngsters and the adults: the latter had large enthusiasm at first but it tended to fade after the initial fervor.
American education has few Ed Goldens. Most physical education teachers have been worn down by the contact sport of budget fighting; what money there is can't be wasted on "playtime." School boards give so little concern to gym classes that corporations now prey on children by coaxing them to save boxtops and wrappers from junk food. These are exchanged for equipment. When the Center for Science in the Public Interest calculated the costs of the products purchased, it found that the children -- and their parents -- were being fleeced. A basketball that sold for $9 in the store required $244 worth of boxtops. An $865 swing set went for $22,000 in boxtops.
Corporate greed aside, teachers who have worked to instill in the young a philosphy of sports know even honestly priced equipment isn't all that necessary. A child's legs and arms can be equipment enough. A run around the block, followed by an explanation of what just happened to the body during the run, can be an exciting gym class for children in the lower grades.
If we don't catch their imaginations by then, it may be too late. I saw this the other day when i went for a run at a high school track. A gym class of some 30 juniors and seniors showed up about the same time i did. After a few laps, I began getting questions. Wasn't I tired after four laps, wasn't it boring, who did i think i was -- Bill Rodgers? When the class ended and hour later and I was still running, the kids were astonsished. Must be one of those marathon nuts, one of them said. Yeah, it was agreed, the crazies are everywhere.
The craziness that day was in how the kids sat out the class. Only a few of them did so much as a lap. The rest loafed in the stands and had a solar experience: they soaked up the sun. The teacher, who probably once had a few calories of enthusiasm, knew that it was hopeless. Laziness had become institutionalized.
We will need a few years to get the results of Ed Golden's experiments in early childhood education. My bet is that his teachings are embedded in his children's minds as much as, and perhaps more than, anything they learn in their academic classes.