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The Economic Truth about Drowning

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Kate Tuttle:The deadly drowning this week of six teenagers -- all of them from two families -- is one of the saddest reminders of a perpetual problem: Kids plus summer heat plus unsupervised swimming minus even basic instruction in water safety equalstragedy.Things like this have happened before (most notably in 2006, when a church outing in Missouri ended in the loss of five children -- four from one family), and each time it happens, we wonder why so many of our children, youth and even adults can't swim. Why should swimming be a pastime of the suburban middle class, and so seemingly unavailable to the urban or rural poor, who are disproportionately likely to die in such a needless, horrible way?

Swimming Pool

It's a topic I wrote about just a few months ago:the racial and economic gapthat leaves so many poor and black children vulnerable to drowning deaths that are so preventable as to be nearly inconceivable to the average white, middle-class parent reading about them. You can see this in the comments following articles about the recent tragedy; even well-meaning folks who offer condolences go on to ask questions like, "Why were they even swimming in that river if they didn't know how to swim?" and "How on earth could any parent fail to give their children swimming lessons?!"

Hard as it may be to believe, the opportunities simply aren't there for everybody. Swimming -- like so many things in our culture -- isn't an equal-opportunity summer pastime. Pools and lessons, so plentiful where I live, are nowhere to be found in the rural Louisiana that I visit frequently with my husband, whose parents both hail from that state. My mother-in-law is one of those people who never learned to swim -- and who, terrified of water, never pushed her own son to learn, either. No matter how obvious and logical it is that swimming lessons offer protection from drowning, all too frequently, parents who don't swim either lack access to swim lessons or don't take advantage of those that are offered, due to their own fear.

USA Swimming is hoping to change that through initiatives aimed atteaching every child in this country to swim. Bringing the program into schools(as they hope to do) seems like the best way to get their message across. Let's hope they can begin making a difference before more families suffer the kind of losses we saw this week in Shreveport.


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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
alittlelagniappe August 4, 2010, 2:08 PM

Shreveport is a CITY (not rural area) of 82K whites and 103K blacks, all of whom are welcome at the 10 public pools. Admission is just $1.

If a parent chooses to spend the $40 (the price of 2 weeks of lessons at one of the public pools in the city) on anything other than food/shelter, then they’ve made a choice that may well have dire consequences down the road, as in this case.

lynette August 4, 2010, 10:19 PM

I live in Louisiana. I grew up in a small town here- less than 3,000 population. We had a public pool that offered inexpensive swimming lessons. Most rural towns in Louisiana that I’m familiar with have a public pool. I think the disparity is more of a culture/value difference rather than economic. That being said— I feel that the adults in this case are responsible for child endangerment at the least. They were aware that their children couldn’t swim, yet allowed them to go out in unfamiliar water with no knowledge of the depth of the water. How does society fix this kind of stupidity?

Mea August 5, 2010, 3:05 AM

My GOSH does everything have to be about being black with you?! I don’t think I’ve read an article that you’ve written where it wasn’t mentioned at least twice that you are black. I think we get it.

I was a poor white kid [single mom working for 16k a year and not on welfare!]! A poor white kid who didn’t have swimming lessons, yet, learned how to swim. There are plenty of poor white kids who drown. There are plenty of poor black kids who drown. There are plenty of poor Mexican kids who drown.

Not everything has to be about your skin color, and it’s the thought processes like that that perpetuate the problem of racism.

Mom August 5, 2010, 6:18 AM

I agree with Mea…this has NOTHING to do with race. Why must people pull the race card or economic status on every single friggin thing these days. Sick of it! There are stupid white parents, black parents, Asian, Mexican etc. You just take one incident and make it racial. All people do not need to learn to swim, how absurd…there are not enough pools, time or ability to teach every person to “swim”. Even still everyone will vary in their ability/skill and people will still do stupid things like swim in the gulf on RED flag warnings with rip currents and will still drown. In a gulf coast community, with a majority of blacks and with a high poverty level, most frowning are from wealthy or middle class white people, at the beach.

Mochachic August 5, 2010, 10:02 AM

Okay I am a black woman and I can’t see how in anyway this article can sum up drowning being more common for black kids. Where I live in Maryland it seems that most drowning stories are about young white kids, not saying that whites have more drowning just that this is funny to me. I don’t think drowning has to do with the race and lack of learning opportunities I think it has to do with the parents specifically. If you know your child can’t swim A.) don’t let them in deep water B.)get them an inner tube or some other floating device or C.) don’t leave your child unsupervised for any length of time in water. I have a toddler and I won’t even leave him alone in the bathtub at home for a long period of time it’s just called good parenting. A lake is risky there isn’t really a way to tell how deep it is and there are no lifeguards I would just think the bright thing to do when swimming with children is to be somewhere where it’s safe and you can keep a good eye on them.

Mochachic August 5, 2010, 10:09 AM

and since when does it cost money to learn to swim??? If you can’t afford classes then be creative. Take your child to a community pool which in most areas are free or very inexpensive and just spend some time in the water together, start out slow in very shallow water, teaching them the swim movements and how to back float and paddle and pretty soon they will start to get it. Don’t take a child swimming in deep water if they have no experience

Guy Jones August 6, 2010, 8:32 AM

Really, as another poster stated above — why must a racial gloss be brought to bear upon almost every news incident in the U.S.? This drowning accident was a tragedy, to be sure. And I don’t doubt that during segregation, a lack of access to swimming areas resulted in a disparity in swimming skills between blacks and whites. However, today, with the existence of an abundance of public pools and youth organizations with access to swimming facilities, to try to characterize this tragedy as a result of past discriminatory practices — when it quite obviously more directly stems from a lack of proper parental supervision and discipline — is intellectually dishonest.

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pandora rings December 20, 2010, 6:53 PM

Interesting point of view. Wondering what you think of it’s implication on society as a whole though? People obviously get frustrated when it begins to affect them locally. I’ll check back to see what you have to say.


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