Feeling Very Olympic

By Watson Scott Swail, President and CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Anyone who watches the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games feels the heart tugs of the world’s youth reaching for dreams nurtured over years and years of work. In Vancouver, there they are: hundreds of athletes, from over 80 countries, putting into practice what they have worked for most of their lives toward, knowing full well that the outcome may come down to one run, one move, one mistake.

As one can see, the Olympic spirit is alive and well in the Great White North. Although every country and every athlete wants to win, there seems to be a more “worldly” camaraderie than ever before: even from a fans point of view (mine), we want to see people do their best and let the best win. Even if it means our person loses. We all feel the pain and collective gasp when catastrophe occurs, such as the final run of the Georgian luger.

And while the Olympic games are a global competition pitting country against country, there is a solidarity among these athletes. They come from the same cloth, so to speak. And they are more interested in the shared experience rather than the individual outcome.

When I turn the channel from NBC (brutal Olympic coverage) to CNN and catch Vice President Biden and former VP Dick Cheney going at each other; when I see John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi orchestrating their teams to fight battle; when I see nothing happening in Congress—I wish for the Olympic spirit.

This is not lost in the education arena. When I look at students in urban America getting the poorest education we could possibly provide; when I hear of youth you cannot see the link between what they learn and the world beyond; and when I see political battles in education that do not nothing about improving the quality of learning in the classroom—I wish for the Olympic spirit.

For the next two weeks, I urge you to work a little less and watch more TV. Counterintuitive as it may seem, consider it a learning experience. Watch the Olympic spirit in action. Watch the smiles on people’s faces; the hope and excitement in the eyes of the athletes; even the pain and sadness of those who didn’t quite meet their goals. They gave it their all, and sometimes it isn’t good enough to win but it is always good enough to make them better people. All of this is about, as one American athlete said, “putting it all on the table.” It should be no surprise that these games, the Canadian games, are more friendly than perhaps any other games thus far—it is the essence of Canada and maybe the gift of these Olympic games—to bring together competition with an air of decency and respect for all.

Maybe we can learn something on TV. Then let’s build The Education Spirit.

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