Physical Education in Schools Needs an Extreme Makeover

Public Schools, Private Schools, Elementary Schools, High Schools, Middle Schools, and Even College All Need to Revisit This Issue

We all hear about childhood obesity and how something should be done about it. We also hear the lament of physical education no longer being a priority in schools. It would seem that these two trends are working in unison.

But children today aren't fat because the physical education programs in school are diminishing, and an increase in physical education in schools won't fix the problem. Most physical education programs in schools have the opposite effect of what is intended, and are in fact preaching to the choir.

With their focus on organized sports, phys ed classes are a place where physically fit kids feel at home and physically inept kids feel ostracized and worthless. If the goal is to introduce physically deficient kids to a healthier lifestyle, it needs to be done through a system that focuses less on competitive team sports and more on instilling values of health and fitness that will last a lifetime.

Let's start by overhauling the system of the overbearing basketball coach teaching phys ed, which creates an adversarial environment. He might win games at the helm of a basketball team full of enthusiastic participants, but in terms of teaching fitness he is ineffective. Some of them are also ineffective in the math and history classrooms they are hired to step into, but that's another topic entirely.

A lot of competitive team sports, such as baseball and volleyball, aren't even physically challenging enough to make a difference in a student's fitness. They don't keep the heart rate up for an adequate amount of time. Also, for the student already insecure about their fitness and sports in general, it is easy for them to hang back and not get involved. The students who are doing well and involved are likely to be students that would be fit and active whether or not the school offered phys ed.

A better alternative would be classes that offered students choices about the type of activity they wanted and gave extra support to students who struggle. Just as a failing English student might be given a tutor and extra help, those kids who struggle with coordination and being active need extra encouragement. Examples of this might be: offering dance or aerobics classes, having the students walk and learn about keeping their heart rates where they need to be, or having them do exercises with hand weights.

Even more importantly, the bad experiences that a student has in phys ed will stay with them for a lifetime. They may think of themselves as lazy or fat, and they haven't been taught they can change their lifestyle. They haven't been taught that an active lifestyle can be theirs too; they were shown it was just for those kids that could hit the ball well.

Published by Lisa Ross

Lisa Ross is a writer living in Minnesota. When she's not writing, she can be found at the barn. She is fascinated by viewpoints from off the beaten path, and frequently tries to provide those of her own....  View profile