Do we VALUE physical education?
Brett Klika C.S.C.S.
As the mighty ax of budget cuts swings once again through our education system, an already decimation physical education institution appears to be eye to eye with the chopping blade. Outnumbered, undervalued, and underpaid, PE teachers struggle to save what is left of a once integral part of the American education system.
One does not need to be a statistician to observe the relationship between the extinction of physical education and the proliferation of health problems in our nation’s youth. The true burden of creating health lies in the home, but what our public education system provides for our kids is a reflection of what we value as a society.
Physical education has lost value in American Society. While we wouldn’t deny that it’s important, when we are making decisions about allocation of limited funds, it’s a value proposition. How are we going to get our biggest bang for our tax buck? Teach kids exercise and they will hopefully exercise one day. Teach them math and they may invent a fuel-less automobile. I mean, we’re not planning on jogging to work, are we?
After all, the money trail for education begins and ends with standardized testing. Enough students properly identify when Train A will arrive at the station traveling at 60 miles an hour for 70 miles and their teacher just might get to keep their job. If the entire class beats the national obesity statistics, hopefully they know about trains, because from a funding perspective, their physical aptitude means jack squat.
Unless of course, we switch the notion of “funding” to our ever more defunct health care system. The 1/3 of our nation’s youth considered obese are beginning to display serious health problems at younger and younger ages. As the baby boomers strain our health care system entering their final stage of life, the next generation of baby ba-boom-babbas will strain the system their entire life. Still jack squat?
As you can see, the presence or absence of physical education is a value proposition that has unfortunately been marred by short-sidedness. A plethora of data suggests guided and unguided physical activity is an essential part of proper physical, mental, and emotional development. However, test scores drive funding. We don’t value the process, we value the endpoint. However you do it, get those scores if you want to keep your job.
To create change, we have to re-arrange this value proposition. Part of that process is bringing the abundant data on physical activity and learning to the forefront of the issue. Physical activity prior to testing has been displayed time and time again to increase test scores on logic and reasoning tasks like math. Furthermore, teachers report their students are more receptive to learning after physical activity.
The other, more controversial part of that process is re-building value into the physical education system by increasing its relevance to our modern needs for physical proficiency. This involves re-evaluating and possibly re-purposing our current curriculum.
Physical education initially functioned to:
- Advance skills kids learned and developed from playing on their own.
- Create a robust work force (the agrarian and manufacturing based economies of the past required a great deal of physical labor)
- Prepare a physically capable army (Kennedy’s priority on physical fitness was largely in response to a possible war with Russia)
- Introduce kids to sports (this was prior to the billion dollar club sports industry)
Currently, we have an information/innovation-based economy that requires nearly no physical labor and our schools are no longer charged with creating soldiers. Exposure to sports is starting at an ever-increasing young age through the billion-dollar club sport industry.
To be relevant to our current societal needs, PE should:
1. Teach kids how to play. PE is no longer “perfecting” developmental skills kids picked up running around, climbing trees, playing games, and throwing dirt clods. When most kids are nearly inactive, or they only practice the skills for one specific sport, they don’t develop the roots of general physical proficiency.
Since specific sport skill is the focus outside of p.e., general skill and guided play should be the focus in PE.
2. Expose kids to activities that will be the most available to them when they graduate high school. Exercise is not necessary for, or a result of, a majority of vocations. It must be a voluntary, conscious decision.
The data doesn’t support the notion of continued team sport involvement after high school (or middle school, for that matter), so kids should be familiar with activities like triathlons, mud runs, group exercise classes, personal training, etc.
If fitness industry practitioners and PE teachers were to collaborate on curriculum and class design, kids would be better prepared for their exercise options once they leave school and/or sports.
When money does become available in PE, I would recommend spending it to develop a better educational paradigm; not buying more equipment that will go unused.
3. Function to prevent overuse injury due to athletics. Statistics show that kids either play sports or do nothing. For those that play a sport, a majority of them will receive a bevy of athletic injuries varying in degrees of severity.
Our club sports complex is worried about one thing: winning at all costs. These costs involve our youngster’s health and happiness. We now know more than ever about preventing injuries as well as assessing their likelihood do to expanding research in that field. The modalities and assessments are basic and easily implemented by all levels of fitness professional.
If general sports injury prevention protocols were implemented into PE, particularly in middle and high school, this would function to significantly decrease the instances of sports injury. Valuable?
Now that the taxpayers are picking up more of the health care tab, you think significantly fewer $45,000 ACL surgeries and rehabs would be of interest? I think so. It’s no coincidence that a good share of injury prevention research is funded by countries with government paid health care. They’d rather invest in the front end than the back end.
It’s not that we have to change everything we do in physical education; we just have to think about it differently. We may have to put our business caps on. To increase the value of the product, we have to make it more relevant to the consumer.
Maybe we change what we assess. Maybe we change the language we use to market PE to parents, administrators, and society. When “childhood obesity” is such a buzzword, how can we not capitalize on this to increase the value of physical education in the schools?
This is all sounds “easier said than done”, but it is being done. I’m helping do it. I found a committed group of teachers who will stop at nothing to improve the system. There is grant money available that if spent wisely, can change the future of physical education. Here’s to the future!
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Brett Klika C.S.C.S., Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10, is a world renowned human performance specialist, motivational speaker, author, and educator. In his 14 year career, Brett has accrued more than 20,000 hours of training with youth, athletes, executives, and every day people. He uses this knowledge and experience to motivate individuals and audiences around the world through his writing, speaking, DVD’s, and personal correspondence.