A gloomy list of statistics, a call to action

As is usually the case, I started Thursday reading the newspaper while I enjoyed the first cup of coffee in the morning.

In the newspaper, I read an article that left me frustrated and upset. And, as I continued reading Thursday morning through all my other normal news checks each day, I found two others that, while not directly related, were indirectly connected.

Outside, the day was beautiful and sunny, but, inside my office, the mood was cloudy and dark. Indeed, a storm cloud seemed to hang above my head.

What started it all was an Associated Press article on the front page of our sports section which said that, for the first time in 30 years, participation in U.S. high school sports dropped last school year. One has to go back to the school year of 1988-89 to find the last time such a statistic occurred.

It bothered me, thinking about how important youth sports, then high school sports, were for myself and my sons. And, though my granddaughters all are young, each of them is active in some type of sport program, as well.

I can’t imagine living in a house where enjoying the outdoors and playing sports isn’t stressed.

I probably could have shouldered through that statistic had that been the only one that day, but it wasn’t.

I am fascinated with generational differences and read as much as I can on the subject. Thus, a story on generations grabbed my attention. Cal Thomas, a syndicated columnist we carry in The Alpena News, was writing that a recent Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults showed that Generation Z and millennials (those born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) rate patriotism, religion, and having children as less important than any generation previously.

Thomas’ analysis is intriguing and worthy of a read, albeit also depressing. He concludes that some would contend such opinions are cyclical, and will change in time. He questioned that way of thinking, however.

“Today’s younger people, as reflected in the poll, seem intent on making their own rules (if they can be called rules) and creating their own gods,” he writes. “They will eventually learn the impossibility of it all as their substitutions will fail them.”

And, while on the subject of failure, there was the final gem, from Michigan Department of Education officials, who shared that 54.9% of third-graders in the state scored below the “proficient” threshold on the English language arts test. Across Michigan, 55,336 students did not reach the “proficient” level.

Immediately, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted that the results were unacceptable.

“We have to do better by our kids,” she said.

Absolutely.

Looking at national testing data, Michigan students are performing among the bottom 10% of the states.

So, you see, it wasn’t real rosy in my corner of the world on Thursday.

When looking at statistics like those three examples, it would be easy to lump them together quickly and reach some broad-stroke stereotypes about kids today.

While that might be tempting — and perhaps even fair — it might not be totally accurate.

Instead, I choose to consider them individually and let them stand on their own merit. I will very quickly just suggest that:

∫ Children need to play outside. They need to exercise, socialize, and learn conflict resolution playing outside together, whether it be on a playground or on a ball field. Sports is the perfect outlet to teach those important lessons.

∫ We should never compromise on strong family values if we want the fabric of our society to sustain itself. Faith, family, and country are values too important to trivialize or water down.

∫ Michigan can never be great again until our students are well-educated and can compete against the best in the country. To believe that more than half of our state’s third-graders have not reached the “proficient” level in English is unacceptable.

Not that you know what I know, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work to make things better.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.