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Context Florida: Ed Moore: Four stories for end-of-the-year reflection

Friday, December 20, 2013

Here are four stories that have stuck with me at the end of 2013. I write but a few words on each, yet each lingers in my mind as really being so much more than the words in our daily news. They reflect upon who we are as a society and what we wish to become. They call out for public discourse and, more importantly, scream out for our setting reasonable, reachable standards of behavior and performance in our society.

We have slipped into a TMX-driven world when what we need is depth, real relevance and a desire by more of us to be better tomorrow than we are today. There are days when I begin to feel as if Andy Warhol’s comment about our all having 15 minutes of fame has come true. But we are often famous for the wrong things and for making the wrong choices for the wrong reasons.

Story One: One can’t help but be taken aback by the recent stories of “how difficult” it is to get into Florida’s public universities. One story is about the University of Florida (not even the top-ranked university in Florida since that perch belongs to the University of Miami) and how heartbroken an accomplished high school senior was about not being admitted to UF. The student even went so far as quoting an admissions counselor who stated they weren’t just interested in students who did well at a science fair, but were looking for high school students who had secured patents. Yes, he really said that! The headlines increasingly read: Where is the B student going to go?

As someone immersed in the world of higher education, my advice is to explore every option. Don’t just go somewhere because you think it is cool to go there. Go because it matters. Go because you fit in well. Go because your selection will have an impact on you for the rest of your life. In college you will learn about so much more than academics. You will learn about YOU. You might meet your life partner there, make friends for life, build memories that last forever, and likely create contacts that will serve you your entire lives. Don’t choose a school for a dozen football Saturdays; choose one because it is going to be your home for four years and in your heart forever.

Story Two: Now that the criminal investigation of the Famous Jameis rape accusations has been concluded without charges and as we all await the civil litigation that is sure to fall like rain, perhaps it is time to reflect upon the broader implications of behavior and consequences. Neither has served as topics of writing and conversation. The focus has been on fame, glory, sensationalism and football.

But surely there should be added to the list of responsibilities of all athletic programs some words about ethics, character, personal responsibility and civil moral actions by those who are blessed by acceptance into the world of academia. I don’t want to come off as a raging moralist here, and surely those of us who matriculated in the 1960s and ‘70s knew our fair share of what was then perceived as anti-social behavior. Still, have we fallen so far that the behavior described in the documents is the accepted norm and the expectation of scholarship athletes? The comment “It’s a football thing” just sticks in my craw. If this is so, we have much work to do as a society regarding our expectations of civil behavior. Either that or we will all be Amtraking daily just to cleanse our minds of the mental images.

Story Three: Speaking of football, I was musing while watching portions of the Heisman Awards ceremony and earlier the ESPN football awards that missing from all of them was any real focus on the scholar athlete. Other than a brief mention of some top academic All-Americans, the concept of student athlete seemed absent from the discussion. It is as if the billions spent on higher education each year are not relevant –not even in the backseat, much less in the car.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear about the academic exploits of the student athletes across the U.S.? Tens of thousands of students play college-level sports, excel in the classroom and go on to sterling careers in the sciences, business, medicine and other fields. Many younger students dream of being pro athletes when time would be better spent focused on studies and identifying with real role models. Maybe “60 Minutes” should broadcast a “‘where are they now” special on college athletes from 10 years ago. Reporting on those we celebrated on the gridiron and where they ended up would be a valuable lesson for students in high school today.

Story Four: And finally, a few words about the controversy over implementation of minimum standards of expectations for learning in our K-12 classrooms across our country. If not for the severe consequences of inaction, this controversy would be laughable. We hear about fears of conspiracies and issues of governmental control while we ignore the bigger stories about failure to achieve and the acceptance of low levels of performance. We have seemingly inculcated Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s admonition about the soft bigotry of low expectations, preferring instead that all participants get a trophy and that all of our children are above average, as in the world of Lake Wobegon.

Behind the headlines of our recent dismal performance on the International PISA exam is the reality that even our highest-achieving math and science students are woefully behind much of the world. Out of the 65 countries tested, the United States came in a ridiculously low 35th in math. Surely Congress will use this as a lever to pass immigration reform, as we will need to import huge numbers of the workers of tomorrow if we hope to keep pace with the world’s economies.

Happy New Year! May 2014 bring us more positive things to dominate our conversations.

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