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Remote learning should not put extracurriculars on the bench

By John Burbridge

You hear this grievance all the time though I doubt those doing the grieving realize how much they’re dating themselves.

All kids do these days is play video games … wasn’t like that when I was growing up.


You must have grown up a long, long time ago. The video game craze was already on the second or third of its many lives when I was in my teens. Atari was the bomb back then if I hazard to date myself.

I never was much of a gamer. Reason was likely because my younger brother proved to be an immediate prodigy, whipping me like Muhammad Ali did repeatedly to Jerry Quarry. Losing anything to a younger brother is hard to take, so I naturally came to disparage video games as something “wimps” play and excel at when they can’t play real games and sports.

And whenever adults — the ones way back when who actually didn’t grow up around video games — would tsk tsk about wasting one’s present and future “lives” in perpetual communion with Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong, I’d gleefully lend my vocals to the chorus.

That’s what Big Brothers are for.

And whatever happened to all those slackers I’ve known who allowed themselves to be swallowed by couches like wayward Cheetos puffs while tapping on their consoles as if they were sending rapid-fire pharmaceutical disclaimers in Morse Code?

Some have become become graphic designers, software developers, IT specialists and/or have landed other computer-tech gigs that can command six-figures-a-year or more.

Go figure. Slackers to the end.

But even though there were computer geeks back in my wonder years with some of whom becoming highly compensated computer-related professionals, they would still likely get smoked by the kids today. Considering that a 30-year-old 747 is about as old and outdated as a 3-year-old computer and a 1 ½-year-old smartphone, the electronic-gadgetry generation gap has widened so much and so fast that parents with children still living with them always have in-house tech support.

That’s why, on an educational front, it may be a “blessing in disguise” that 2020 happened in 2020 and not, say, 1977 when “Pong” was the chief cause of screen stupication and many — like Billie Eilish today — thought Van Halen was a vampire slayer.

Kids and young adults have become exponentially more deft at computer technology, social media/communication and mining the Internet matrix for information so that being relegated to remote learning to mitigate the spread of the pandemic may not hamstring their education as much as it would have for their older brothers/sisters, parents and grandparents.

No doubt, if schools like Charles City MS/HS eventually determine remote learning is a safer momentary option than the hybrid model, a lot would be lost in the transition. But even more would be lost if a school goes remote with its extracurricular activities being concurrently suspended as per guidelines recently mandated by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds had been adamantly against full remote learning well before the current school year began. I’d like to argue that most schools should have gone remote from start before possibly adjusting up from there. But such a statement is not only butting heads with Reynolds, but apparently the law itself according to the governor who reportedly said in early August: “I want to be very clear … schools that choose not to return to school for at least 50% in-person instruction are not defying me; they’re defying the law.”

The dictum at the time seemed less driven by “law” and more by trying to shoehorn a sense of normalcy into a worldwide dilemma that was and still is far from normal.

Now with the situation yielding more latitude for schools to go remote, districts are going to be forced to make Sophie’s Choice-like decisions knowing that prudently protecting students, teachers and the community will deprive the said students the most common thing that paves the way to future success — extracurricular activities … video gaming, perhaps, is a close second.

“Since coming here, I’ve seen that this school has the most student participation in extracurriculars than any other school I’ve been at,” said Charles City boys basketball head coach Ben Klapperich. “When you include not just basketball, football and wrestling but choir, drama, band … it must be around 90%.

“It’s our job as educators and coaches to help these kids become intrinsically motivated and prepare these kids for their next stage of their lives. It’s really tough for us to do that if we were to go remote and can’t see our athletes on a day-to-day basis.”

Klapperich, whose program is taking pandemic-quelling measures this tenuous upcoming season which include splitting up each of the 9 through 12 grade groups in practices in order to ensure proper social distancing, is hopeful that Reynolds will eventually amend her decision to allow remote learning schools to maintain their extracurricular activities. I’m hopeful, too.

Some may point out my stance may be at odds with a column I wrote in early June that expressed reservations about Iowa restarting summer sports. At the time I thought the move to be too soon in the immediate wake of emerging from a partial lockdown.

Though the baseball and softball seasons didn’t proceed without incidence as several teams had their campaigns ended prematurely due to infection and exposure, most of the teams managed to play all the way through with since-graduated seniors being granted at least one last time in their lives to perform in front of admission-paying spectators while representing their schools.

And the world didn’t end.

Do I admit I was wrong? Though I mentioned in that same column I would if confronted with the fact, irrefutable consequences or lack thereof from the past Iowa summer sports seasons may have yet to be fully tabulated.

Like some people, I have a hard time with concessions (and losing).

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