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View Full Version : Mandatory swim instruction . . . effective, fair?



Beginnerat63
March 1st, 2009, 06:55 PM
Mandatory swim instruction for adolescents and adults has been of interest to me for quite some time. Many high schools and a few colleges require students to pass a swim test or take a swimming course in order to graduate. In the past, more colleges and universities has this requirement than at present, but most have dropped it, but a few still do, including several Ivy League schools.

It is always said that such a requirement is good because it helps to insure that more people become safe in the water. I wonder about the effectiveness of this. Do such swim tests/courses really work--do they really do the job they're supposed to do? Do they really get people to swim with ease or be safe in deep water? And what about fearful students, those with no aquatic experience and who are often studious or unathetic? Please go to the following websites and post your comments:



MIT Department of Athletics, Physical Education

Time to Swim or Graduate--Boston Globe

Welcome MIT Department of Athletics, Physical Education (watch video)

YouTube video: Adult Learn to Swim

ourswimmer
March 1st, 2009, 08:05 PM
And what about fearful students, those with no aquatic experience and who are often studious or unathletic?

I haven't the faintest idea whether or not mandatory swim lessons for people who have reached adolescence without learning to swim are effective in teaching skills or reducing drowning. But your suggestion that "fearful" students are "often studious" really bugs me. I am quite sure that young adults who are afraid of the water are not any more likely to be "studious" than their peers who like to swim. I also suspect that they are not any less likely to be athletic, either.

nyswimmer
March 1st, 2009, 10:07 PM
I haven't the faintest idea whether or not mandatory swim lessons for people who have reached adolescence without learning to swim are effective in teaching skills or reducing drowning. But your suggestion that "fearful" students are "often studious" really bugs me. I am quite sure that young adults who are afraid of the water are not any more likely to be "studious" than their peers who like to swim. I also suspect that they are not any less likely to be athletic, either.

And, conversely, I doubt that students who do like to swim are any less likely to be "studious." That sounds like the jock/nerd stereotypes.

Beginnerat63
March 1st, 2009, 11:20 PM
Of course you are right that being studious or nonathletic has no necessary correlation with being aquaphobic. And students who don't want to meet the swim requirement don't have to enroll there. Presumably they were aware of the requirement when they started there. Attendance at any institution of higher learning is voluntary. Also, students who have to enroll in swimming class do learn a vital skill they otherwise might never learn. No question.

But, for adults, I wonder if learning to swim should always be voluntary.
In high school, where attendance is essentially mandatory, swimming
is often required in PE classes in order to graduate. But these are adolescents, who presumably have not the maturity to judge what is best for them.

Also, in college or elsewhere, how well does someone learn something as hard as swimming is, under duress, and in a limited time? For some, facing that situation is an agonizing dilemma.

Do they grin and bear it, forcing themselves through as best they can, or should they do it only out of a real desire to learn? How well can they learn under those circumstances? But most can learn if required, I suppose.

But, then, it is good thing if a person is made to face his fears, often leading to a positive outcome in other ways.

But most colleges have dropped their swimming requirement, perhaps because so many students were trying to dodge it. Many nonswimming students arriving in college have real anxiety about swimming , as do most nonswimming adults. It is generally recognized that most individuals have learned to swim before they reach adulthood. Do mandatory swim classes
really work? How well do they work? Do they produce people who can swim with ease and cconfidence, or do they produce people who have half-learned the skill, to the satisfaction of their instructors, perhaps, but are not really competent or safe in the water.

I am not sure of the answers to these questions.

Redbird Alum
March 2nd, 2009, 03:29 PM
... It is generally recognized that most individuals have learned to swim before they reach adulthood. ...

Recognized by whom? And please define "learned to swim". There are a great many people that fear even blowing bubbles in their own hands, and fewer still who can propel themselves 25 yards without stopping.

Ripple
March 3rd, 2009, 07:39 AM
...Do mandatory swim classes really work? How well do they work? Do they produce people who can swim with ease and cconfidence, or do they produce people who have half-learned the skill, to the satisfaction of their instructors, perhaps, but are not really competent or safe in the water...
Looking around the city-owned pools during lap swimming times, I don't see very many people at all who swim with ease - and that's in people who have presumably learned enough to voluntarily choose to swim laps. I went through several years of childhood swim lessons and ended up as a clumsy, thrashing, 38 strokes per length type of swimmer. This is partly because of flaws in the teaching methods, and partly because human beings simply don't move well in water - we are designed for running long distances.
Still, I don't feel those early lessons were a waste of time. All of my siblings do some sort of aquatic activity (canoing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling) with confidence because, even though they don't share my passion for swimming, they've learned enough to swim to shore if they ever fell out of a boat, and they don't feel panicky in deep water.
As the shoe ad says... just do it!

Beginnerat63
March 3rd, 2009, 11:16 PM
I believe that Melon Dash, founder of the Miracle Swimming Institute and creator of a revolutionary new method of instruction for fearful nonswimmers, defined it best in her book, Conquer Your Fear of Water (AuthorHouse, 2006). She maintains that swimming is not merely learning mechanics but being in control. Swimming, she says, is not learning strokes even done with fear, nor is it getting from point to point in the water while being unable stop in the middle. It is, rather, learning to be in control, to not panic in water, shallow or deep. That is what I mean by saying that the definition of swimming is to be or move in water, especially deep water, with confidence and ease. That is the essential ingredient one must have before learning swimming mechanics.

If you don't have that, you cannot learn to swim. If you do you have it, you cannot fail to learn, she says.


According to polling data, 46 percent of adult Americans are afraid of deep water in pools, 64 percent are afraid of deep open water, and 39 per cent are afraid to put their heads under water. Recently, it has been reported that many people overestimate their actual swimming ability. They think they are safer than they really are. Since many or most adults have had swimming instruction in the past, I feel there is something clearly wrong with our method of swimming instruction.

Those people who already have a sense of control in water learn to swim. Those who don't have it won't.

The object of swimming instruction should be to prevent panic in all situations. I do not believe mandatory swimming classes necessarily teach this. Millions of adults say they've had swimming instruction but are still afraid of water.

Please check out the websites I have cited in my initial posting if you have not already done so and see if the adult swimming students you see can swim by the definition I have given above. You can get through a forced learning situation like that, believe that you have acquired basic swimming skills needed to pass a test, and yet know deep down that you are not safe in the water. Can a student, for example, who has never been near the water before, get through a swim class, receive a passing grade, never gets in the water again, does not learn to like swimming, and thus never reinforces the skills he has learned, be considered water-safe?

When you think about it, all this makes a lot of sense. It seems to me to be intuitively true. I also think that more must be done to prevent the approximately 3500 drowning deaths and the 20,000 to 30,000 incidents of near-drowning that occur each year in the US, most of which are preventable. That even more such incidents do not occur could be because so many people are simply too afraid to get near the water, and so avoid being in it. Could doing what I have said above be a part of the solution? That is really the bottom line, so far as I am concerned.
What do you think?

hofffam
March 4th, 2009, 10:15 AM
We don't require adult smokers to quit - which has far greater negative impact on society than non-swimming adults.

So I suggest requiring adults to learn how to swim is not reasonable.

It is far more important and valuable to expose children to swimming. We here know how valuable it is to be comfortable in the water later in life.

Hard data was gathered recently by USA Swimming that showed a huge disparity in swimming experience between whites and non-whites. THAT is a problem and deserves attention.

knelson
March 4th, 2009, 11:58 AM
I believe that Melon Dash

Melon Dash? Greatest name evar!

I really like the idea of high schools and colleges making swim instruction mandatory, but it has to be done effectively. You can't just plunk a non-swimmer in the pool and tell them to start swimming! :drown:

aquageek
March 4th, 2009, 12:55 PM
My alma mater had this requirement for ages, for unknown reasons. I thought it was ridiculous. I think it was eliminated a few years back. I never undrestood the point of forcing someone to pass a swim test who couldn't swim or didn't want to. Given how bad we were at football my 4 years, they should have forced open tryouts for the student body, not swimming.

bubblefish
March 5th, 2009, 12:05 AM
My college also used to have a swim test but got rid of it during the 50's. I can't verify this for sure, but the commonly cited reason is that the Americans with Disabilities Act made it illegal. Obviously that can't be completely true since some schools still have it, but most people note the swim test's demise as due to a combination of the ADA and liability concerns.

I personally have no objection to mandating a swim test, as a matter of fact I think I would be a good requirement ideally, but it may not be a practical or easy thing for colleges to implement.

Ripple
March 5th, 2009, 08:53 AM
...Can a student, for example, who has never been near the water before, get through a swim class, receive a passing grade, never gets in the water again, does not learn to like swimming, and thus never reinforces the skills he has learned, be considered water-safe?...
Well, one thing is certain. They definitely aren't going to be water-safe if they have no swim training whatsoever.
The Red Cross lessons I had as a kid didn't impart great technique for actual swimming, but there was a lot of water safety drilling included. For example, in one lesson we had to bring a change of clothes and an old pair of shoes, put them on over our swimsuits, jump into the pool, and practice taking them off in the water, as training for an accidental fall from a boat. In another we learned to tow each other to "shore" using assorted objects.Nothing to do with swimming per se, but useful things to keep in mind.
As to "fair" - if the rules are the same for everyone, and everyone knows the rules up front, then it's fair.

SLOmmafan
March 6th, 2009, 05:47 PM
I don't have any stats on the subject, but I would not think that drowning among college age + adults is that major of an issue. Most people who are adults (and can't swim) will stay away from water or only go in shallow water that they can stand in. I know there are cases (such as rip tides, boat sinking's,) that happen and can lead to drowning - but are they all that common?

Beginnerat63
March 6th, 2009, 11:47 PM
I think requiring beginners to jump in the pool and swim fully clothed is a fantastic idea. It is in fact required by John Lennon in his weekend SOAP workshops for fearful adults. After learning basic relaxation techniques, etc., it is necessary to find out what it is like to be in the water clothed--it is harder to swim and might induce panic more readily than when wearing only a swim suit. I mean, how likely is it to find yourself unexpectedly in water over your head while clad only in a swimsuit? Think about capsizing boats, falling off piers, driving into rivers, and the like. The aim should be to make everybody water-safe. Besides, it does seem like a darn lot of fun to me.

As for the idea that an adult doesn't need to know how to swim, Melon Dash disposes of that in her book. You may never intend to go near the water, but how can you be sure that in the future you could find yourself in a situation where swimming skills would be critical? At any rate, you could argue both ways whether mandatory swim tests/lessons are a good thing. Still, it seems certain that many adults do not have enough water confidence for safety, especially while engagaing in aquatic activities. What a wonderful way to introduce sedentary adults to a fun new fitness-promoting activity!

We do need to promote swim instruction more to black people, whose whole cultural experience seems to promote a disinclination to be in the water. I do not believe in the ridiculous idea held by some that black people are less genetically capable than others of learning to swim. There is no evidence for this belief. The human nervous system and general anatomy are no different regarding swimming in people of African ancestry than in any other group of humans, so far as I can see. But efforts should still be made to get all people, regardless of race, to be safer in the water.

Perhaps the key here is to realize that, revolutionary as it may seem, virtually all human beings (except maybe the seriously disabled) can learn to swim comfortably in deep water. Melon Dash strongly maintains that.
I mean, it could be purely a matter of culture. You hear of whole tribes in the South Pacific all of whose members can swim like a fish.

It is extremely hard, though, for some people to learn basic swimming skills. I am not sure of all of the reasons for that. For a few individuals, jumping into deep water and swimming four lengths without stopping,
using various strokes, as required at MIT, would be a monumental achievement. I myself could not do that after ten years of taking lessons.

Too often, it seems we think that making people go through a course in swimming will, by itself, make someone water-safe for life. It may, or it may not. Maybe it depends on whether the person learns to like swimming, and will continue to practice it in his after-high school or college life. You can't just assume that going through such a course will make a person always and forever into some kind of water rat or Mark Spitz-type or something. Or that he'll always not to have to worry about drowning, etc. , even though he'll likely never, or seldom, get in the water again.

Maybe we should make swimming instruction voluntary, at least for older teenagers or adults--that way those who choose it would at least be strongly motivated. But, then, if not compelled ,some people would undoubtedly not learn to swim and then never be safe around water. Swiiming should certainly be taught more effectively, I think, and in accord with the principles I mentioned in my earlier posting.

On this most fascinating topic I would welcome more comment.

knelson
March 6th, 2009, 11:55 PM
I know there are cases (such as rip tides, boat sinking's,) that happen and can lead to drowning - but are they all that common?

How common do they need to be? Swimming instruction saves lives. Case closed in my book.

Redbird Alum
March 9th, 2009, 01:46 PM
...
Maybe we should make swimming instruction voluntary, at least for older teenagers or adults--that way those who choose it would at least be strongly motivated. But, then, if not compelled ,some people would undoubtedly not learn to swim and then never be safe around water...

You keep coming back to this concept (first mandatory, now voluntary) of instructing teens and adults. I cannot see how anyone would disagree that this would be wonderful. There are a few issues that need to be overcome:

Facilities - Whether pools or open bodies of water, one must be able to locate facilities appropriate to the purpose. Zero barrier entry is best for beginners and handicapped students, although some facilities overcome this through ladders, steps or lifts.
Location/Scheduling - Relatively close access and availability (scheduling time) for facilities to people who may not have ready access to transportation and must rely on public transit schedules or shared transport.
Trained, Capable Instructors - Just having lifeguards will not cut it! These folks will need excellent personal skills, tremendous patience, and appropriate training in adult swim techniques and psychology. Also, teaching/guarding skills vary between open bodies of water and pools.
Funding - Many of the people who may want to learn, do not have the means to afford it. If we are relying on social programming dollars, get in line!
Desire - Whether voluntary or mandatory, it's up to the individual to have the desire to learn to swim. No matter how good the instructor, or how bad the circumstance, desire is key.
Just a few random thoughts on challenges, regardless of the scope/size of the program.

pshepard
March 9th, 2009, 02:11 PM
The college that I attended back in the 1980's, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia had a swim requirement. The high school and middle school that I attended also had a pool, and we were required to take swimming in PE class. I don't seem to see a problem with making it mandatory. I don't know why some colleges eliminated the requirement. I think students should choose a different college if they don't like the requirement. It was more that just passing a test. We practiced skills and even got to play water polo. Since I was on the swim team growing up until I was 12, the requirement wasn't a problem for me. However, I remember some of my friends complaining about the requirement.

Beginnerat63
March 11th, 2009, 07:15 PM
Concerning reasons why colleges dropped the swimming requirement for graduation, a little research yielded the following:

As recently as 1977, 42 per cent of institutions had a swimming requirement of some kind, according to Larry Hensley of the University of Northern Iowa. Mr. Hensley has studied the history of physical education. By 1982 that figure had dropped to 8 per cent. Surveys since no longer bothered to ask about the swimming requirement.

The causes can be traced to changes in society and in the world of education over the last fifty years. At one time swimming was a popular option when there were no health clubs, yoga or aerobics, and colleges believed swimming was a skill adults should master--both for safety and for social reasons.

Swimming has lost its importance in physical education due to the fadiing of the idea of education as finishing school and to the appearance of many other fitness options.

Melon Dash, a former college swimming instructor, believes that the elimination of the swimming requirement was due to the lack of a successful swimming program for afraid students. Many students were not succeeding in required swimming classes. Requiring swimming competence was a well-intentioned idea, but there was no program in place to back up these requirements for beginning students to succeed. Usually there wasn't, and students didn't receive the benefit of the requirement.

Witness the unpopularity of required swimming tests among college students.

With colleges now requiring so many different things for students to achieve, e.g. diversity, experiental education, being able to apply what you have learned, focusing on the single skill of swimming just didn't fit.

orca1946
March 12th, 2009, 07:49 PM
Many schools opt out of PE & swimming to take Life skills classes. So they fall in the water & drown with a PHD???

Beginnerat63
March 13th, 2009, 10:40 AM
Orca1946: You must be referring to the last sentence of my posting. Except for the comment by Melon Dash, all the statements I gave were near-verbatim quotes from an AP story appearing in my local newspaper, dated May 5, 2006, by the AP Education Writer Justin Pope: "Most colleges drown swim test requirement for graduation".

The article reported that some opposed dropping the requirement. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the swimming requirement was dropped recently, long-time swim instructor Meg Pomerantz, who teaches swim classes for students who need them to pass the test, lobbied unsuccessfully against dropping the requirement.

She was quoted as saying that, in her 16 years at UNC she never had a student who said anything other than "I'm really glad I learned how to do this".

The article began by saying that, of those students who were waiting to take the final swim test to be required at UNC, for some, it ws a minor inconvenience, while for others it was a moment of pride in conquering their fear of water.

At the university, said Meg Pomerantz, the faculty "looked at all the different things they wanted students to achieve--diversity, expierential education, being able to apply
what you learn." Focusing on the the single skill of swimming just didn't fit, though she feels that it's still worthwhile.

I feel that the larger social/educational issues I mentioned in my last post were probably the deciding factor. Only about eight schools still have the requirement, plus the service academies. The holdouts include Columbia, Cornell, MIT, and Notre Dame.

We muist also consider Melon Dash's views on the matter