The pit in my stomach came from standing on the highest structure around. It didn’t look that high from the ground.
It was just the high dive, but to this day it is the highest diving board I have ever been on or seen at a public pool.
I took a breath and off I went, attempting what I was sure was the great feat of aerial gymnastics of all time.
No matter how many times I jumped, the pit, the creativity, the risk of failure, and the drive to get better never changed.
The diving pool does not only promote these things for the town, it is also a singular unifying symbol of these values.
Earlier this month the town board met and considered replacing the town’s iconic diving boards with water slides.
This cannot be allowed to happen. The diving pool must be rebuilt.
The Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that a “growth” mindset and the associated trait of “grit” are essential for success in life.
A child with a growth mindset believes his or her success is a function of effort.
Failure is not evidence of inability, rather, failure is a challenge not yet concurred.
Children with growth mindsets are hungry to improve, cope well with failure, and look for challenges.
They have grit; they are tenacious in pursuit of goals. Children with “fixed” mindsets believe ability is unchanging. Failure reflects self-worth.
Children with fixed mindsets are fragile, do not deal well with failure since the stakes are so high for them, and they avoid risk, lest it reveal flaws.
Mindset is malleable though, and with the right environment, a growth mindset and grit can be nurtured.
The diving pool by its very nature brings friends and families together to promote a growth mindset and grit, from parents encouraging their children to jump off the low diving boards after having just flopped painfully into the pool, to older kids’ internalized drive to keep up with and surpass their friends.
Each dive is a risk-laden attempt to improve.
Divers know they might fail–that it might even hurt a bit if it really goes badly–but they do it anyway, and it is ok.
The proposed water slides are antithetical to this ideal.
They would be a mass-produced experienced providing an identical modicum of success, every time, in every way, to every child.
There most certainly would be a “right” way to go down the slide and everything else would be wrong.
The idea of practicing and taking risk to do something better is nonsensical to the water slide rider.
Public goods and services reflect community values and bring communities together.
The school district uses a curriculum that reflects what the town believes is important, and families come together around the school.
Similarly, the town park reflects what Bethlehem believes childhood should look like, and the pools bring people together under this vision.
The diving pool more than any other is a singular unifying feature of the park and the town.
The high dive stands out like a mast on a ship as a singular symbol that brings the entire town, across generations, together.
It is a physical manifestation of local culture.
In the same way that town leaders did not consider an arcade to replace the diving pool even though it might very well be more attractive to children, it should not be in the business of peddling the cheap thrills of a waterslide.
I am a father of three boys and every summer we come home to the town park for a week of playing in the backyard I played in, eating at the table I ate at, and of course, swimming in the pools I swam in. It’s not an overstatement to say they have grown up at the pool.
The first year we came to the pool, we stuck to the kiddie pool. Last year we spent more time in the big pool.
The older guys –twin four year olds– had their eye on the diving pool this past year. It will be open next year I told them, and their eyes widened.
One son straddles the line between bravery and recklessness.
He will dive without a second thought, though he will have to learn some self control to avoid belly flopping.
Another son is more careful. He will need some encouragement, but once he finds the courage, he will be more graceful.
Despite having so much in common, the diving boards allow my sons to grow into themselves. My sons have been on water slides.
They want to see what they were made of on the diving boards.
And to be honest, I want to see if I’ve still got it too.