Whatever Happened to Gym Class?.
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."
Award-winning physical education teacher John Williams, of
North Carolina's Ayden Elementary School, has heard the criticisms and
acknowledges some teachers still fit the clichÃ©. But, he says, most PE teachers
take their jobs very seriously and have incorporated wellness programs into
their classes to teach children skills that will help them stay fit for
The 25-year teaching veteran has gone one step further and
includes math, geography, and social studies in his classes through games the
"These days PE teachers are expendable, and they know
it," he says. "That is why I believe it is best to learn how to
integrate curriculums and work the whole child."
While some of those interviewed expressed pessimism about the
future of school-based physical education, others say administrators and public
officials are beginning to recognize its value. Late last year Congress passed
the Physical Education for Progress Act (PEP), which authorizes up to $400
million in grants over the next five years to expand and improve PE programs
for public schools.