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America’s Culture Is Signing on the Dotted Line

6:04 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

The signing season has begun.

Look through your local newspaper for the next few weeks, and you’ll see a lot of posed pictures of high school athletes.

Everyone will be at a desk or table.

Around each one will be their parents and their coach. In some cases, add in an athletic director, a principal, and someone representing a college the young athlete is planning to attend.

It makes no difference if it’s a Division I or Division II school; sometimes it’s even a Division III school. Star athletes at the end of their high school careers get photos and applause. They can even get special financial aid and scholarships just for being able to play a sport well. At Division I universities, they also receive special academic tutoring to make sure they stay eligible.

Excel on an athletic field, and the local media will take your picture and write stories about you. If you’re good enough, the sportswriters might name you “Athlete of the Week” and present you with a certificate or small plaque.

At the end of the season—it makes little difference what season or what sport—you might be named to an all-district or all-regional or all-state team. You might even be voted by the sports writers in your area “Player of the Year” for your sport.

If you do extremely well in college sports, at the age of 22 you might be able to command a six- or seven-figure salary in a professional sport. Become a coach of a major sport at a Division I school, and even if your team is only mildly successful you’ll earn several times what professors earn.

Now, let’s pretend you’re a scholar. Even in the world of rampant grade inflation, you’re running an “A” average and are in the top 5 percent of your class. You just aced the SATs and are heading to a Division I university.

You probably won’t get your picture in the paper, surrounded by parents, counselor, mentor, or anyone from that Division I university. It just isn’t done. Newspapers have Sports sections, sometimes 8–12 pages; they don’t have Education sections.

Although some editors may claim that “education” is spread throughout the newspaper, the reality is that column inches devoted to sports coverage is significantly greater than column inches devoted to education news.

The American educational system rated just 17th among 50 industrialized countries, according to an analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The countries with the leading educational systems, according to the EIU, were Scandinavian and Asian. The EIU analysis looked at both quantitative data (including class size, facilities, and government spending per pupil) and qualitative data (including development of cognitive skills.)

In another major study, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed that U.S. students were average in reading and science skills, and below average in math skills. Fifteen-year-old students, according to the report, ranked 14th of 34 countries in reading abilities, 17th in science, and 25th in math. As for writing and cognitive skills abilities—just look at any letter to the editor to find out how well students command those subjects. The PISA testing requires students to take knowledge of a subject and apply it to solving real-world problems.

“This is an absolute wake-up call for America,” Dr. Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, told the AP. He said the study was “extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth [and] get much more serious about investing in education.”

There are innumerable problems in America’s educational systems. One is that the gap between the higher performing students and the lower performing students in all areas (including humanities, arts, and sciences) is increasing. Another is that educational systems, spurred by taxpayers who don’t want higher taxes, have learned not how to effectively cut expenses but have sacrificed education by packing more students into a classroom; almost every study (including the PISA testing) shows a link between class size and educational achievement.

Another link is the workload of the average teacher. Many taxpayers and some in the media believe teachers are overpaid and work “only” six or seven hours a day for only 180 days a year. However, the evidence doesn’t support the public perception. Teacher pay averages about 12 percent less than for professionals in comparable jobs, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute; in some states, the pay is 25 percent less than for comparable jobs. The average teacher workload is significantly greater than the number of hours in the classroom. According to a recent study by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation, teachers average about 53 hours a week, including time spent on class preparation, student evaluation, and discussions with students and their parents. Even during breaks, teachers are usually developing classroom materials or attending conferences and in-service training. The PISA report links general public respect for teachers with greater educational success.

And, yes, in the educational system are weak and ineffective teachers, school administrators, and school board members who are part of a system that may have become more lethargic than revolutionary.

But, a look at American society, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper, is a reflection of what Americans think is important. When you’re looking at a four-column picture of a smiling athlete at a signing ceremony, ask yourself why do we wring our hands, furrow our brows, and complain about low educational scores.

The answer might be that while athletes are photographed signing on the dotted line, highly-talented  student musicians, artists, writers, and future scientists, among several hundred thousand others, are also signing on dotted lines—but, these are dotted lines on financial loan statements.

[Dr. Brasch, who has mixed teaching and journalism for more than three decades, is an award-winning journalist and the author of 17 books. His latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the effects of fracking upon public health, safety, and the environment. The book is available from amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Confessions of a Juiced Journalist

8:08 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

Pill bottle

Are the writers you love using performance enhancing drugs? Probably.

Before Congress creates yet another useless special investigation committee and subpoenas me, I wish to come clean and confess.

I took steroids. Strong steroids. The kind that bulk you up and make you look like Stone Mountain. In my case, they just fattened me up, gave me rosy-red cheeks, and destroyed about half of my systems.

The first time I took steroids was for a year when I was a high school freshman. My physician prescribed it. Its side effects were that I didn’t have to worry about acne or my voice changing. The last time I took steroids was about a decade ago. For the first four or five months of what would be almost two years, it was a heavy dose. My hematologist said the drugs helped save my life. They also saved my writing career.

It was in that summer that I slept only about three or four hours a night, wrote a critically-acclaimed book plus a few articles. I even did a lot of calisthenics and more to clean the house, something that startled my wife, but kept me from committing ’roid rage.

And that’s why I must confess now. While Stephen King, Aaron Sorkin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and thousands of other great writers used coke or pot to get high and produce great works, I used steroids. There’s no question that the steroids kept me alert, and opened my mind to new ways to organize my writing. I probably couldn’t have done that book is so short a time if I hadn’t been juiced.

This past year, I was honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award, the first time it awarded it in seven years. But, it may be tainted because part of reason I earned that honor was because of increased writing and public service while under the influence of performance enhancing drugs. I’m hoping the state association won’t make me return the honor.

There were three people in their chosen profession who didn’t have a chance to be honored. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa were not voted into the baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted into the Hall, a player must be retired at least five years and receive at least 75 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Clemens received 37.6 percent. Bonds received 36.2 percent.  Sosa received just 12.5 percent. All were steroid-stained by a scandal that was enhanced by a Congress that was impotent in so many areas except outrage at athletes. None were convicted of using steroids or any related charges. The percent of members of Congress and their staffs who used non-prescribed illegal drugs is probably the same, or even greater, than athletes who used them.

Clemens was a seven-time Cy Young winner in 24 seasons as a pitcher. He recorded 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts, third highest among all pitchers. Before Congress, he testified he never used steroids; others claimed he used them. Congress referred the case to the Department of Justice, claiming Clemens lied under oath. The jury found Clemens not guilty on all six counts of perjury.

Barry Bonds is the all-time leader in career homeruns (762) and single season homeruns (73). He was a seven-time MVP. Although he tested positive one time for using a performance enhancing drug (PED), he was never convicted of that. Before Congress, he denied knowingly using drugs. Although he was never convicted of perjury, he was convicted in court of obstruction of justice.

Sammy Sosa hit 609 home runs, 2,408 hits and ran up numerous records. He was stained by being on a list of players who used PEDs, but that list and the names of the drugs was never revealed, nor was he given an opportunity to challenge his inclusion on that list. Before Congress, he swore he never knowingly used PEDs. He was never convicted of drug usage.

The baseball writers who judged these all-time greats decided not to vote them into the Hall of Fame—at least this time. If the writers had dug deeper, they might have learned that most players, including many already enshrined in the Hall—and probably some baseball writers as well—were also tainted.

[Walter Brasch, who won most of his writing awards when not on steroids, is a syndicated columnist and author of 17 books. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution. His book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is scheduled for release Feb. 14.]

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