Gary and I watched a basketball game on television last night and discussed our own failings as young athletes. Gary performed well in individual sports like track and also played water polo, but didn’t play basketball or football. I attempted nearly every sport you can imagine, even tennis and gymnastics, for at least two weeks. That was the time generally required by our teachers in order to pass our physical education classes in California. The only sport I excelled in was volleyball. I didn’t have to run. I could serve a ball. The game wasn’t as complicated as basketball or as exhausting as softball. I fell during the first competition game and broke my arm! Thus ended my one opportunity for greatness, and I learned to keep stats for the boys’ basketball team.
Writing things down, whether numbers or words, has always been my defining skill. My father always said that talking was what I did best. I talked early and often, sometimes exasperatingly often. However, writing down those words was the natural next step for me. Mom was always reading, writing on a piece of paper, or typing, just as her mother had done all of her life; doing the same was like learning to cook or clean or sew- it was just what the women in our family did.
I wrote my first major story in the fifth grade. I worked on it for about a month and even illustrated it. I had my first little item published in the newspaper when I was in high school. Over the years since then I’ve had a modicum of success with my writing. I’m not Shakespeare, but I can put some words together that give instructions or tell a tale. It’s a skill that has served me well and brought me joy.
My point this morning is that my skills were never physical. I’m not coordinated. I can’t dance or skate or ski any better than I can play sports. I’m not competitive enough for individual sports and I’m certainly not aggressive enough for team games. My niche was always language, and I was blessed to realize that at an early age, be supported by a family that accepted it, and find lifelong ways to engage in it. I often wonder if we aren’t failing the children who do have physical skills or artistic skills or industrial skills by forcing them into “college prep” classes that rely heavily on language abilities they may not possess or ever develop. My failure to master sports didn’t prevent me from pursuing my dreams or finding an occupation that matched my skills. However, failure to master requirements for reading and language skills may force some students to fail their classes and/or drop out of school. I think we have to remember that there are different levels of literacy and not all of them lead to a college degree, nor is it necessary for all of our young people to seek that same goal. I want to hear as much applause and see as much support- emotionally and financially- for the student who decides to go to culinary school, or take a welding class, or join the Army, as we see for the ones who have a college logo on their t-shirt.