I got sunburned and dehydrated today. The elite college president I spoke to Friday could learn from my experience.

June 23, 2019 by Joshua
in Freedom

I met some friends in Central Park today — teammates I went to college nationals with in 1989 — to throw a disc around.

I started walking there from my place in Greenwich Village just past noon. We tossed until about 3:30, then I went food shopping (at the 4th Street Coop), and walked home from the Lower East Side.

It was in the low 80s and sunny. I put on sunscreen, though not enough to avoid a burn. I also didn’t drink water until I was nearly home, in Washington Square Park, about 4pm.

I wore a tank top so my sunburn matched this pattern, though not this intense.

That means I was in the sun and heat, sweating for 4 hours with no water. When I got water, I got it from a public water fountain. Trash cans in the park overflowed with empty single-use water bottles despite free water right there.

Turns out I’m fine. After the few gulps at the fountain, I drank more tap water at home. Actually, I’m more than fine. Despite the mainstream messages about water and how nearly everyone acts like going without water for more than a few minutes risks their health, I’ve been behaving like this my whole life and, dare I say, I’m healthier than average.

For example, I’ve written before how typical “fun runs” in Central Park probably decrease fitness with their nurses, first responders, and pleas to “stay hydrated” (is “drink when you’re thirsty” too boring to say?). Implying that exercise is risky motivates people to avoid it, or to treat themselves with kid gloves.

Fun runs are usually five kilometers, a distance even someone with the physical condition of a typical American can cover in under an hour. Even with waiting around before starting and after finishing, nobody needs water in that time. Sure, make it available, but you don’t need it at several points along the route and you don’t need to imply walking or running three miles is a health risk. It’s not. I believe that implying it is contributes to making us less healthy.

Fun runs aren’t fun when people act like they’re dangerous. Most humans who ever lived probably walked ten times that distance daily without feeling they exerted themselves. Those who couldn’t risks lions eating them.

(The sunburn was irresponsible to myself. I should have covered up more. While I see benefit to moderate sun, not to getting burned).

The college president

Last week I attended an event promoting intellectual diversity, especially in universities. Most attendees worked at universities and lamented students’ inability to handle anxiety and resolve problems.

Over and over, attendees asked what they should teach to get students past their fragility. They blamed not the students, but elements of our culture and culture in general that so protected them from injury that they couldn’t handle themselves.

On a panel, a recent graduate from an Ivy League school identified the problem as people being unable to handle their emotions: “If when your emotions well up, you can’t stop yourself from getting swept up in them, you’re part of the problem,” he suggested.

A fellow panelist was the president of an Ivy League level college followed up by saying she agreed (as did I, though I wasn’t on the panel) but couldn’t think of what to teach students to help fix this problem.

Most student problems I heard mentioned at the conference sounded like they came from students lacking social and emotional skills. Lecture based learning not only doesn’t help develop social and emotional skills, it often undermines students developing such skills. Telling them what’s important or right deprives them of learning such things for themselves.

For most student problems, the solution appeared the intellectual and emotional equivalent of physical therapy. That is, as you would exercise an atrophied muscle, exercising social and emotional skills will develop them.

After the panel, I approached the former college president and spoke for a few minutes. I suggested the solution she couldn’t think of could come from a tried-and-true approach dating back thousands of years. Not that it’s the only thing that works, but practicing other active, social, emotional, expressive, performance-based (ASEEP) skills works.

I suggested to her that practicing sports and the arts develops social and emotional skills. Instead of forcing more or different classes, promoting participating in sports and practicing the arts would develop those atrophied skills as physical therapy would develop atrophied muscle.

Her response

She responded by saying something like, “But sometimes playing sports can make students feel very bad. How can we get around that?”

What?!? Was I speaking to someone who ever played sports, performed on stage, or other ASEEP activity?

I said, “trying to make a sport that doesn’t cause emotional pain is like trying to make one that doesn’t lead to physical injury. It’s impossible. More to the point, students learn from injury. We all do.”

I left it there, but could have added that learning social and emotional skills requires facing and overcoming social and emotional challenges, which no amount of classroom learning can teach. Her pondering what subjects to add to the curriculum, as I understood her, exacerbates the effect she’s trying to undo. Sports and art training would help it.

Schools, districts, and universities remove sports, arts, and other activity in favor of abstract school learning they can test to produce numbers they can hold teachers accountable with. That style of teaching doesn’t lead to students learning useful skills. On the contrary, they inhibit and atrophy social and emotional skills.

This pattern also leads to people considering exercise dangerous. Hence their not trying, hence their not failing, hence their not developing.

Play sports, perform art, put your work out there

While I don’t suggest sports and participating in arts — as distinct from art history or art appreciation — are the only ways to develop social and emotional skills, they work. Teaching experientially works too, though most academics confuse experiential learning with pre-professional training. Or they think asking more questions in class or other non-self-directed techniques measure up.

I don’t suggest putting high school students in practices with NFL teams. My point isn’t needless injury, but the chance to recover and develop social emotional skills. They come from losing big games, critics panning your work. audiences booing, competitors beating you.

Yes, former elite college president, students will feel failure. They’ll get injured. It will hurt us to see them hurt, but they’ll reach their potential that way. Without experiences like it, they’ll grow up brittle and incompetent.

You

Do you carry water with you everywhere you go all the time. I won’t stop you, but you don’t have to. What would happen if you felt thirsty for a while?

You aren’t so delicate that you can’t recover from injury or go a few hours without water. The ecosystem we share will sustain life and human society better without the garbage of all the water bottles and such. You’ll learn to get by without water even when you’re thirsty. If you’re healthy, you don’t need it.

You don’t need to bring water everywhere you go, even in hot weather. You don’t need to buy a plastic water bottle ever again. If you think you do, you’re depriving yourself of developing yourself.

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