Big, big dreams

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I am on vacation. I have been taking a seemingly endless stream of planes, car trips, and buses. In my latest hidey-hole, a daughter and her boyfriend have joined me.

Yesterday, we were watching Judge Joe Brown on the television. One of the “litigants” claimed to be a rapper. At that point, Judge Joe Brown went off on a rant about how too many young adults planned to be rappers or NBA/NFL players, and too few planned instead to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, or other professionals.

He’s right. Far too many of my students have told me they plan to be professional sports stars or rappers. Teachers have to shoulder some of the blame here, I believe. We are taught to tell our students that they can be whatever they want to be. Many teachers say, “Great!” when they hear the NFL or rapper plan. They maybe add a comment or two about having a backup plan.

We do our students no favor when we pretend to believe in unattainable goals. When a boy is 5’5″ and has a beard, he is not going to be big enough to get into the NFL. If he shows spectacular talent on the field, encouraging him makes some sense. He might get a college scholarship out of his talent. But when that kid is a mediocre player who is destined to be a small guy, we are doing him zero favors by applauding his plan. That kid needs a reality check.

Pro sports and rapping do not require much educational preparation. In high school, all an athlete expects to have to do academically is maintain the C average required to be eligible to play. In our academically lower schools, that C average is insufficient preparation for college success. In some cases, students even graduate with that average while effectively illiterate and innumerate. That one fact helps explain why one-third of community college students require remedial classes before they can do regular coursework.

Even a student with the talent and physique necessary to succeed in professional sports needs to be encouraged to develop a sound educational back-up plan. I don’t have exact numbers, but I am certain that the number of available NFL positions totals much less than 1% of the number of students across America who aspire to land one of those positions.

While we need to encourage dreams, we also need to tell the truth.