Whatever Happened to Gym Class?.
PE Under Siege continued...
"There are just so many more academic demands on high
school students than there used to be," NASPE executive director Judy
Young, PhD, tells WebMD. "Many kids are trying to get in computer science,
extra math, foreign language classes, any number of things, and there are still
only six hours in a school day."
Young says it is no accident that kids in the U.S. are getting
fatter as physical education classes are being cut. The CDC has declared
obesity an epidemic among children, and obesity-related diseases once seen
almost exclusively in adults, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, are
increasingly being diagnosed in adolescents.
Last fall, the Atlanta School Board did away with physical
education requirements for its schools in order to implement state-mandated
academic reforms. A school-board member was quoted as saying the action was
taken because kids in school need to be doing more serious things than
"That is ridiculous to me, but, unfortunately there are a
lot of people sitting on school boards who just don't get it," says Anne
Flannery of the physical education advocacy group P.E.4Life. "These days,
anything that isn't tested isn't valued, and schools are feeling the pressure
to do away with programs that can't be measured on a standardized test. But
there is a growing body of research that shows physical exercise to be sort of
a Miracle-Gro for the brain. Movement fosters brain development and growth, and
physical activity prepares children to learn."
In the war against physical education in schools, Illinois is
the main battleground. It is the only state that requires daily physical
education for all grades, but a state law passed in 1995 allows schools to seek
waivers exempting them from the requirement. Such waivers have been way too
easy to get, says Mark Peysakhovich, of the American Heart Association. More
than 20% of the state's school districts have requested and received them.
"The legislation was passed in a move to return control to
local districts, but it is being seen as a way to eliminate costly programs
like physical education," says Peysakhovich. "We don't think the
administrators who are requesting these waivers are bad people. Most of them
are doing this because they are faced with very tough choices."
One of the main reasons physical education is perceived as
expendable, Peysakhovich says, is that most adults have few positive memories
of their own PE experience. It is a sentiment expressed by just about everyone
interviewed for this story.
"In some ways, PE teachers did this to themselves," he
says. "In the past, most gym teachers were there to coach the football or
basketball team, and they placed little emphasis on PE classes. We all remember
classes where we stood around for 15 minutes to shoot a basket, while the
teacher sat and read a newspaper."