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Playing fair

IN an attempt to promote academics in sports-obsessed communities, Texas adopted a new ``no pass, no play'' rule for public school students this fall: Any student earning a grade in any course below 70 may not participate in any extracurricular activity for six weeks -- sitting out not just football or wrestling but music, drama, debate. Generally Texans approve of the effort to focus student attention on academics -- especially as the state's energy-based advantages have slid and education has emerged as a competitive resource.

But there are problems with applying a universal rule to situations where individual circumstances may need consideration. A student can get a failing grade for reasons other than lack of effort. Family trouble can depress performance. A difficult subject like math, or a difficult teacher, can knock a student off balance. In a youth's passage to adulthood, bouts with underconfidence and overconfidence can surface in subpar performance. Sports or music or forensics may be the one place a troubled youth c an excel. And students may avoid hard subjects; teachers may avoid hard grading.

Attempts to legislate excellence cannot supplant the need for faculty, with the support of parents, to decide where and how sanctions should be applied.

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