Today's question about public education: How many unknown victims are there out there of “SPORTSTHINK”?
FREAK: A Casualty of Public Education is the story of one such victim—Nathaniel Pierce, just a 14-year old freshman—and his school's obsession with violent contact sports, making it
a requirement in physical education class for graduation. He was considered a freak for going against the grain in his distaste for wrestling, the local popular favorite activity (in the eyes of
school officials, anyway) and required of all male students, starting in middle school.
Offered scholarships at many top music schools around the country, Nathaniel's gift of music was all but rebuffed and ridiculed by school officials at Mt. Horeb High School—indeed by the
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction—and ultimately by the courts, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
His devastating severe injury in an unsupervised required wrestling match (from which he and another student had asked to be excused) resulted in the total disruption of his education (he was an honor student), and months of painful therapy, after a reconstruction of his knee, at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison by Dr. Ernest Pellegrino.
After that fateful cold day in February of 1984 Nathaniel was never the same happy, vibrant boy, previously popular with fellow students. Now with their bullying and ridicule, encouraged by
local officials, he descended into a dark tunnel of depression and mental illness which prevented his music education continuing at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio where he had been accepted
After a 22-year struggle with mental illness, numerous hospitalizations, and some 25 anti-psychotic drugs, he died on Fathers Day, 2007.
FREAK: A Casualty of Public Education tells his sad story.
Sometimes we hear stories about public schools that make us sad. Other stories make us angry. Still others leave us shaking our heads in disbelief. This story will do all three.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
Chronicling the tragedy of a gifted student who suffered blatant neglect in a one-size-fits-all high school curriculum, and the spiraling disaster that unfolded when he was required to participate in a dangerous contact sport in phys ed in order to graduate.
Can a traumatic personal injury, combined ironically with a hostile, unsympathetic and stressful social environment lead to (or trigger) schizophrenia? Or more importantly, are some public schools subjecting physically and emotionally vulnerable youngsters to needless risk of permanent damage? The story of Nathaniel Pierce may provide a somewhat shocking answer.
Excerpt from FREAK: A Casualty of Public Education
That public schools frequently fall short of meeting the needs of all their students is woefully common knowledge. But FREAK: A Casualty of Public Education by Bonnie Jean Draeger with Solon Pierce goes further and painfully demonstrates what can happen when the system fails altogether.
In his freshman year, Nathaniel Pierce, a piano prodigy and honor student at Mt. Horeb High School in Wisconsin, was a sunny, well-adjusted kid. His biggest issue in life: trying to avoid the school-mandated contact sport component of his phys ed class with notes from home or other teachers. For a time this worked, but only for a time. One February afternoon in 1984, Nathaniel suffered a traumatic, life-changing personal injury in this class, and his former personality disappeared.
As time went by and the Pierce family attempted to secure restitution and to prevent additional injuries to their son, the school became ever more hostile. Nathaniel endured tremendous psychological abuse and eventually developed schizophrenia and a host of other mental disorders that prevented him from accepting any of the numerous scholarships he was offered at top music schools around the country. Meanwhile, the Pierce's legal efforts failed in what Draeger calls a classic miscarriage of justice. Adding insult to injury, the medications Nathaniel took to control his mental disorders came with their own host of disastrous complications, resulting in his death on Father's Day 2007.
Nathaniel's heartbreaking twenty-two-year ordeal, notes Draeger, was a result of abject failure of the system to protect children, gifted and otherwise. As she explains, Nathaniel was considered a FREAK. In a true paradox of public education, he was a victim not only of fellow students but of his school itself. In turn, its warped values indeed reflected those of the State of Wisconsin.