There's an article today about colleges giving up their swimming requirements to graduate. Although there seems to be a whole bunch of reasons why the requirement is impractical, I'm not sure that giving it up entirely is a good thing.
I never had to take a swim test to graduate from college, but my grandfather did. Which meant that he had to learn to swim. As an immigrant child of immigrant parents growing up in New York City he'd never before had the occasion. But in working his way through college, now he did. It may have been one of the most practical lessons from his entire education, and one that stayed with him the rest of his life. Some of my favorite memories of my grandfather, in fact, are of swimming with him. Memories that wouldn't exist if he'd never had the requirement or opportunity to learn.
Today as the United States welcomes more immigrant children there are new generations who will have lacked the opportunity to learn to swim. But it's not just immigrant children: children who grow up in areas without pools, or the parental availability to take them to lessons, also go without. And it isn't just poor or poorly-educated children who are affected: I remember how one of the smartest and most accomplished people in my high school, someone with an upper middle class upbringing who later went off to Harvard after graduation and completed it in record time, couldn't swim at all. It was a huge blindspot in her education - at least if Harvard didn't make her learn.
I obviously think everyone should learn to swim. Water exists everywhere - learning how to deal with it in a safe way is therefore incredibly important and adds to the enjoyment of life. Of course, I'd rather that every six year old get the opportunity to learn. It's a much better time to teach people to swim. But if for whatever reason they are unable to get lessons then, there should be other opportunities in the course of their education for them to learn this important skill. So it's not that I think the requirement is so important per se, but if that's what it takes to make sure they have the opportunity and inclination to avail themselves of this education, then I think it's a good thing.