Over the last three weeks I have been in sunny and friendly Perth, Australia visiting my girlfriend. While here I have taken advantage of the hot weather - 95F on average - and warm clear blue water (averaging 72F!).
There are obvious diferences between the US and Australia tyo be sure, but one of the ones that sticks out in my mind the most is the strong emphasis on swimming as a life-skill first. If you've ever ben to Australia you'll know what I'm talking about.
Elite swimmers are known by most of the inhabitants, pools are palaces, and some of the open water swimming events (such as the Rottnest Channel Swim) are shown live annually on television and viewed by millions. But what really impressed me were the ads for swim lessons on TV, yes you heard me correctly ads on televisison! Every day the airwaves are saturated with ads encouraging folks to get their kids into the pool and learn to swim. Children begin learning here at the 1st grade and progress through the 2th. You don't progress, you don't graduate on to the next year. In addition, they also have effective ads on preventing drowning and learning CPR. Can anyone recall the last time - outiside of an aquatic facility - that you even saw a print ad encouraging people to swim?
Neither can I.
So how do we develop a mentality in this country on a national level where all citizens, and not just those that can afford it, can have the opportunity to swim?
The thing is, though, is that most whites, regardless of income, recognize the importance of swimming as a life skill. I know white families who have adopted black kids who take swim lessons very seriously. It is just the generations of non-swimmers that don't value swimming.
If private swim instructors started advertising on TV, newspaper, or internet, or what have you, what impact to you think that would have on our culture? Learning to swim seems so subculture now.
Angela you make a very valuable point that swimming is regarded as a subculture especially with respect to Black and Latino households. So how do we get this subculture i9nto the mainstream where it belongs? I don't have all the answers but one thing that was mentioned too me came in a conversation that I had with the legendary Jim Ellis (Whom te movie PRIDE is based on). Mr. Ellis suggested teaching children that are 6 and 7yrs old. Why? Because the parents of these children might be more forward thinking about water safety than their own parents. Of course that is not a given but I see were he is comi9ng from. That is why I posed this question how do we get swimming into mainstream for all?
I have this recurring dream of addressing some group of Congresspeople about the need to require that all children be competent in water safety. Possibly, have us look at the model that the Aussies have set up. While in Perth, I was leaving the nearby pool a few miles down the road from my girlfriend's house. as I was walking by the 25 meter pool I looked down to see a small girl doing a very impressive front crawl. i stopped and looked on in wonder. Her parents were near and when I inquired to how old she was they said five. FIVE!!!! I asked if they were trying to groom her to be a future Olympian and they both responded that they only wanted her to feel comfortable in the water and to understand the importance of water safety.
And she was not the only one I saw while there. Hundreds of kids were getting solid instruction a such a young age. I kept thinking, "We have to have this sort of mentality back in the States or those drowning rates will never go down."
My fear is that the only way for us to take water safety seriously is for lawmakers kids and grandkids to fall victim to drowning. And even if I'm not wild about a lot of them, i wouldn't wish that on anyone's family.
At Columbia University passing a swimming test or taking a semester long swimming class is a graduation requirement.
If coercion is the order of the day in the Ivy League why not give it a try in other educational institutions like high schools and middle schools?