Learning From The Olympics

Ryan Lochte

It saddens me when educators believe they are so hidebound by the syllabus that they don’t have the time or momentum to open up the enormous learning that can come out of real life events and the things which are capturing the imagination of children in the world around them.

Most decent schools today espouse desire to educate the whole child, to provide holistic education and to inculcate the habits and mindset of lifelong learners. However, sometimes we need to hold up a harsh mirror to ourselves and ask if our actions match the words – are we walking the talk?

The Olympics come around only every four years. However, for two weeks i find that they provide one of the most mesmerising and powerful sets of stories that are laden with massive learning opportunities (way more powerful and valuable than vast amounts of the standard schools’ syllabus!) This time, even in the run up to the games there were fascinating issues around drug use, performance enhancement and questions of whether those who receive bans should be allowed back in to competition. This time around there was even the possibility that an entire nation would be banned from the Games. Ultimately, Russia were allowed to compete in most sports, but almost all their athletics participants were barred from competition and they have been banned from the Paralympics due to start in a couple of weeks time.

This raises fascinating moral issues, but also the grey areas about what is or isn’t a legitimate action to seek to enhance performance to out-compete others. When is ‘win at all cost’ legitimate?

There are also fascinating issues for discussion with even quite young children about sponsorship and the involvement in a festival of physical prowess such as the Olympics from companies who sell junk food and carbonated drinks. Children can engage in thoughtful debate about how they respond and react to the messages they are receiving through the media.

Then, in the Olympics that just got over there were the issues of sport and politics that came to the fore when one country’s athlete in Judo refused to shake hands with his competitor at the end of a bout, reflecting long term animosity between their countries.

And then, the most challenging of the negative stories coming out of this Olympics – the Ryan Lochte and the US swimming team story about ‘what happened at the petrol station, the effects of lying and all sorts of other questions. There have been fascinating conflicting views and stories like this give children wonderful opportunities to debate and explore issues that are far from black and white, but contain subtle nuances where they may need to see multiple sides to an issue to arrive at a viewpoint. They may even wonder about whether the case is seen differently because he was a high profile multiple medal winning athlete as opposed to a lower acxhiever.

For those not so familiar, here’s the story from the BBC about the aftermath of the whole saga:

BBC – Ryan Lochte Sponsors Withdraw Support

How many children will really get the guided, structured opportunities to explore these kinds of issues flowing out of a major news story related to this massive sporting event? I fear, not enough.

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