The Washington press corps laughed Tuesday night when President Reagan made jokes about high school courses in cheerleading and bachelor life. But officials at some area schools, where scores of kids are learning about cartwheels, splits and the ways of single life, were not amused.
" . . . We've seen a time in which you can get credits toward graduation for cheerleading in some schools," the president told a national television audience. " . . . How would you like to graduate by getting straight A's in Bachelor Life?"
Local officials complained yesterday that the president's barbs, made in response to recent criticism of public education, were misplaced.
"For some of our kids a course that sounds like a frill is actually helpful in helping kids survive," said Superintendent Robert Peebles in Alexandria, where Bachelor Life is a popular class and cheerleading has been offered in the past.
"A few of our kids are forced to take care of themselves. For a few kids it's not inappropriate to offer them such a course," said Peebles, referring to Bachelor Life. He said he agreed with the president that courses such as cheerleading probably aren't necessary. No graduation credit is given for Bachelor Life, Peebles said.
Credit in physical education has been given for cheerleading in the past, but the course has not been offered in two years, Peebles said, and will not be offered for credit again.
Students at senior highs in Arlington and Montgomery counties are enrolled in courses, called Independent Living and Family Life, that discuss such things as child care and balancing a checkbook. Both are elective courses that give credit toward graduation. Montgomery County currently gives physical education credits toward graduation for cheerleading.
In Prince George's County, a school spokesman said that courses in cheerleading and single life would be "strictly extracurricular." No such courses are offered in Fairfax, according to school spokesman George Hamel, although Preparation for Marriage has been offered for credit in the past.
Yesterday, Peebles and other local officials rapped the president for criticizing such courses, claiming they can add to an overall education and make for a well-balanced student. Educators pointed out that graduation requirements in every area school system include a core of basic courses in math, science, English and social studies.
"I think it demeans the president to bring this up," said Mongtomery County school spokesman Ken Muir. "It doesn't mean a thing."
"All of us realize it is not only strictly academic courses that are important," said Lois Martin, Montgomery County's assistant superintendent for instruction. "A course like this could be extremely important for some kids."
White House staffers said yesterday the president likely based his remarks on the controversial report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which called for widespread changes in the public school system. Parts of that report indicated that "less demanding" personal services courses have made their way into many schools, the staffer said.