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Member since: Wed Dec 14, 2011, 07:40 PM
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Mandatory P.E. itself desperately needs to be reformed.

Unless reforms are instituted, the problem of obesity among children will not be solved. At least not from the standpoint of mandatory P.E.

As a 62-year-old man who has been very physically active since the summer of 2007, I know from my own personal experience what doesn't work and what does work for nonathletic kids. As a nonathletic boy growing up in the 1960s, I had the experience of enduring four years of mandatory P.E. Since 2007 I have been working with a personal trainer at a local health club on a bodybuilding program. My boyhood mandatory P.E. experience and my current health club experience are as different as night and day. My intention is to not just talk about myself, but to show how much of a need there is to reform mandatory P.E.

The mandatory boys' P.E. of my generation was a disgrace, an exercise (no pun intended) in hypocrisy. There were no exercise programs in those classes. Not even bodybuilding. I never even heard the words "exercise program." At the time I took P.E., even though I had no interest in sports, I was ashamed of being physically weak; but being as ignorant as I was, I did not know I could do anything about it. No "physical education" of that sort was provided. Actually, hardly any education of any kind, except learning to fear coaches and athlete classmates.

All boys were forced to participate in sports, no exceptions; but no exercise programs were provided. The fact is I really got no exercise. At least not enough consistently to make any difference. I now get more exercise in a single workout session at my health club than I ever did in an entire year of mandatory P.E.

When I started the fourth grade in the fall of 1960, the unsupervised recess period (with which I had had no problem) was replaced with mandatory P.E. (without the gym). When I think about it now from the standpoint of having a lot more knowledge and awareness than I did at that time as a boy, I'm astounded at the hypocrisy on the part of the policymakers who instituted a class that was of no benefit to nonathletic students, all in the name of "physical fitness"! During the last two years of my elementary schooling, the boys were required to take physical fitness tests; but those of us who apparently were in trouble (as far as fitness was concerned) never received any offers of remedial assistance. (Ever hear of "Remedial P.E."? The very idea is a joke.) So, what was the point of the tests?

Another amazing fact is that almost the entire time, no instruction was provided about the sports themselves! The assumption seems to have been made that every boy was an athlete or an athlete-wannabe. In none of my P.E. classes were we ever taught how the game of baseball was played or how the game of basketball was played or how the game of football was played. We were never shown how to throw a baseball or how to throw a football or how to shoot a basketball. These are physical skills that must be taught and practiced over time. They are not innate.

The attitude of my P.E. teachers and coaches toward nonathletic boys was one of indifference or outright contempt. There were no exceptions. Over the years I would hear other nonathletic guys say they had the same experience. Even today masculinity is often defined solely in terms of physical strength or athletic prowess. When I was growing up, boys who had no interest in sports were called sissies. Today they are called "fags." In my view, the negative stereotyping of nonathletic boys is quite similar to racial prejudice. Why should nonathletic boys have to put up with prejudiced coaches who look down on them?

Incidentally, boys who were physically disabled were not exempt from P.E., no matter what the disability. I have a friend of my generation who was born without depth perception and another such friend who was crippled in one of his knees as the result of a car wreck when he was four years old. No consideration was given to either of them; and they were both bullied, in spite of the fact that they were not responsible for their physical handicaps.

Speaking of bullying, mandatory P.E. was a nightmare for the boy who was scrawny or slightly built and the boy who was fat. In those school districts in which traditional "sports only" mandatory P.E. is the reality, this sort of bullying is also the reality. Some of the physical bullying I've heard about over the years has been nothing less than physical assault, but it was and has been condoned.

I have an online friend who is an Englishman in his mid-thirties. In one of his mandatory P.E. classes (which, again, did not provide bodybuilding or any other fitness program), his class one day was divided into two teams for a game of cricket, a game that my friend was unprepared to play. His team lost. (Mind you, this is just a team game in a lousy P.E. class, not a competition between two schools.) One of his teammates (who eventually would become a professional rugby player, if I remember correctly) blamed him for the loss. When the game was over, he walked over to my friend and smashed his face with a cricket bat and broke his nose. The young thug was merely suspended for a few days (big deal!). When he returned to school, he showed his remorse by shoving my friend into a locker. Who has ever spoken up for these bullied kids? Ask yourself if any sportswriter or sports columnist has even mentioned the problem of bullying in school sports. You already know the answer.

If you don't believe this is a problem, do a Google search on "p.e. bullying" and see what you come up with. You will find plenty of messages from men who say how terrible the bullying was that they either witnessed or personally experienced. You don't even have to leave this website. Do a site search here on "p.e. bullying" or "jock bullying." Read about the personal experiences of some of your fellow DUers. These claims of bullying can't all be false.

Several years ago I learned about an innovative P.E. program called PE4Life that actually promotes physical fitness. The program was instituted in the Titusville, Pennslyania, school district. An unforeseen result of the program was to help reduce bullying. "Jocks" and "techies" actually started socializing with one another because they were no longer interacting under a system that set up nonathletic boys for ridicule and bullying. (Seems to me nonathletic girls sometimes have the same problem today.) I've posted a link about this program below.


I've felt the need to post a lot of negative comments because of what I consider to be the desperate need to reform mandatory P.E. I have offered a positive solution to a pathetic long-standing problem.

I might also add that different children have different physical fitness needs. In other words, the "one size fits all" approach does not work. It never has worked, and it never will work. Regarding obesity, Richard Simmons is right: The best exercise for overweight people is constant physical movement. A fat boy in a baseball field who is just standing there will not get the exercise he needs. Also, obesity is a medical problem. The services of a physician or a dietitian are especially needed.

I am sorry I have taken up so much space, but I feel very strongly about this issue and believe it requires more discussion than just a few short sentences. I do favor the retention of the "old P.E." as an elective for the students who want to play sports. Genuine fitness classes should be provided for the nonathletes, or they should be given the option of joining a health club. I have been surprised how great my own health club experience has turned out to be. I'm now more muscular (at the age of 62!) than I've ever been in my life. My health club is like a community. All the trainers respect me because I work so hard. There is no bullying at my health club.

Anyone who is opposed to P.E. reform and insists that the "old P.E." be mandatory for all students not only is supporting an approach that definitely will not work, but also (in effect) is mandating some of the worst bullying in the schools -- which definitely is not very "progressive."
Posted by radicalliberal | Wed Jul 11, 2012, 11:38 AM (1 replies)
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