Swimming With No Water in the Pool


In high school, one term of gym was devoted to swimming. We began the class by changing into shorts and sneakers for attendance on the basketball court, then returned to the locker room to undress. A teacher, who awaited us, turned on the water in the shower room and directed us there. He handed out soap and told us how to wash ourselves. At the end of the shower, he passed out the towels and told us how to dry ourselves. Then we went back to the locker room to dress for the next class. No swimming.

I mean no swimming for the entire term. Each day we showered but never once entered the pool. Actually, there was good reason for this. Stuyvesant High School didn’t have a pool. It never had one.

Why then did we take swimming when all we did was shower? The best I could make out is that the Board of Education mandated swimming classes for all city high schools. This was an estimable idea, I’m sure, but it would have been even better if a pool had been provided. But no matter. In one of the country’s academically elite public high schools, thousands of boys received instructions on washing and drying because this was as close as we could get to the swimming requirement.

Did the school realize the absurdity of the situation? While none o f us students thought it was anything but stupid, the shower teacher seemed serious, if not grim. We went through the motions but he appeared to think it was important.

I sometimes wonder why we participate in activities that are patently ridiculous. Perhaps it is, to paraphrase the poet Irving Feldman, that we cannot see our own irrelevancies.

To step back once in a while and examine our own actions can be a useful thing. We may be able to get a good laugh even at ourselves.

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3 thoughts on “Swimming With No Water in the Pool

  1. So appreciate looking at basic premises rather than just accepting. My daughter brought home a high school report card one semester that showed that she failed Gym. She is a ballerina who is in tremendous condition. I asked, “How can you fail gym?” She told me that she flunked a bowling test. They did not actually bowl. They spent the semester learning the rules of bowling because the school did not have bowling alleys. She was so bored that she could not recall how to keep score…hence the failure. I think the school failed.

  2. As a Stuy alum (’77) you bring back many memories… especially the joke we played on freshman, telling them about our “sixth floor pool” (if you recall it was a 5-story building). More importantly however, is that regardless of the absurdity of the situation it seems that the rules were blindly followed.

    By my high school years, the term “question authority” was status quo. One of the most important things I learned in high school was to ask “why?” I’m curious to know if this gym teacher ever asked.

  3. Swimming with no water in the pool as you described, is a way of pretending to conform to the rules so as to please the powers that be. There may be a vague rationale to the rules ( in this case, swimming is a healthy, body and mind building activity) but without a pool, one is merely falsifying its documentation because it is required to graduate from High School. Similar pretense at conformity applies in many places.

    I am reminded of the documentation required by Medicare of its five levels of evaluation and management for office service billing. The documentation is very specific, algorithmic and time consuming and often distracts the physician from one’s important motives, namely to assess and formulate the disease process and deal with it.

    Time spent in this process is considered a secondary part of the billing. Time doesn’t usually apply, even though time spent with a patient, not only to assess and formulate, but to reassure and connect psychologically and emotionally is well spent; it is often vital to obtaining a history and getting cooperation in pursuing solutions.

    What has happened, in the age of the computer, is the production of “boilerplate,” a process which some attorneys refer to when they churn out legal documents which only require a few changes in text to appear as if individualized. This misapplication of alogorithms can be quite destructive, since it often obscures medical issues rather than focusing on them, and lessens more valuable time spent with patients.

    The Medicare evaluation and management alogorithms were created primarily to provide criteria for valuation of billing services, and are routinely mechanically distorted for the purpose of “upcoding.” This is a form of “swimming with no water in the pool.” Medicare could easily have used time spent as a criterion for valuation of billing, and this could easily be documented in a physician’s schedule, because there is a finite amount of time available in every physician’s schedule. Although those who wish to deliberately distort things, could lie about time, it would be harder to do so with a review of an office schedule.

    How the time is spent would be up to the physician and patient, and wouldn’t tend as much as the present system does to make the encounters a form of production-line dynamics.

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