The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

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The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Tue Feb 19, 2013 7:49 pm

I apologize to those of you who have read my posts in the old forum over the last three years or so and therefore are already familiar with my views. My intention is not to bore anyone. However, since this forum is new, I feel compelled to express my position on this issue for the purpose of presenting part of the message of this forum. Since the old forum has been lost, my comments and observations need to be posted in this new one -- which, I'm convinced, will eventually become part of a new website that will include other features as well. In my opinion, mandatory P.E. is a major issue in any forum for "sports haters."

This OP will not be the only post I will submit in this topic. My observations cannot be expressed in just a few paragraphs. I have too much to say. So, this post will actually be only the first in a series. Please feel free to interject with posts of your own.

In the United States, there has been a movement in recent years to require all schoolchildren to take classes in "physical education." Many people have professed to be concerned about a supposed increase of obesity in the population of this country. Seems to me that the increase in obesity has been caused by more than one factor, not simply lack of exercise. My intention is not to talk about obesity. First of all, I'm not well-educated on the subject; and, besides, as far as I'm concerned, what other people do or don't do with their bodies is none of my business.

In an ideal world, I would not favor any sort of mandatory P.E. program. Sounds libertarian, doesn't it? Wink As I said above, what people do or don't do with their bodies is their own business. As an amateur but dedicated bodybuilder, I don't look down on guys who are scrawny or those who are fat, because body build has absolutely nothing to do with character. Besides, I don't subscribe to machismo with all of its stupidities and bigotry.

But the reality of the situation is that most school districts will likely end up with some sort of mandatory P.E. So, the issue is what sort of P.E. program actually promotes physical fitness. There are different P.E. programs available today. Those school districts who have instituted P.E. as a mandatory class don't all have the same sort of program.

What has really irked me is that many, if not most, of those who are pushing for mandatory P.E. seem to not be concerned at all as to what approach is the most effective. They seem to believe that all boys, including those who are not athletically inclined (for whatever reason), should be forced to participate in competitive team games in the setting of a mandatory P.E. class. I maintain this approach simply does not work and actually hurts the nonathletic boys.

More later . . .


Last edited by Earl on Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:04 am; edited 1 time in total

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"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that.  You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!" -- Dale Hansen, Dallas sports anchor for ABC local affiliate WFAA
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Re: The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Sat Feb 23, 2013 6:04 am

My apologies for not posting again sooner to continue this series. I've been extremely busy the last three days.

At this point in my presentation, I am going to describe the mandatory boys' P.E. of my boyhood. My intention is not to call attention to myself, as I know of other guys who had a worse time. But my description of my own P.E. experience will serve to illustrate just how flawed the traditional approach was (and still is today). I will be speaking in the past tense, as I'm describing a past experience in my life; but remember that the "old P.E." is still with us today in some, if not many, school districts.

Until I started the fourth grade in the fall of 1960, there had been a period of unsupervised recess at my elementary school. I did not benefit from it in any way, aside from the break in the class routine; but at least I wasn't made to feel miserable. However, when my fourth-grade year began, the recess period was replaced with a version of mandatory P.E. without the gym. Of course, the gym was added when I advanced to junior high. What were the flaws of traditional P.E.?

Well, first of all, the policymakers professed to be concerned about those students who were physically inactive or out of shape, just as many people claim to be concerned about the health of fat kids today. (I'll be frank. I question their sincerity because most of them don't seem to support genuine fitness programs that have been show to actually be effective. They seem to care only about sports.) I remember hearing a lot of lip service paid to the notion of physical health. The policymakers claimed this was the reason why they had decided in their infinite wisdom that P.E. must be mandatory. They were nothing more and nothing less than hypocritical liars.

Before I continue with this monologue, please remember that I was ignorant about exercise programs. After all, I was just in elementary school. My father was a very busy man who had no time for exercise, and he was just a casual sports fan. The point is that I had to be taught about physical exercise. Yet in all of my P.E. classes from the fourth grade through junior high, none of my P.E. teachers or coaches taught about any exercise programs. I never so much as even heard the words "exercise program" and wasn't at all familiar with the concept.

So, the first flaw of the traditional approach to mandatory P.E. was that genuine fitness programs were not provided. When you think about it, this is truly outrageous. I certainly believe that exercise can be quite important in the maintenance of good health. For example, some people find themselves in a prediabetic condition. They can avoid coming down with diabetes if they exercise and watch what they eat. I could go on and on with examples.

When I was in the fourth and fifth grades, the boys were all required to take a physical fitness test. (I don't know what was required of the girls.) The P.E. teacher would write down how many push-ups and chin-ups each one of us could do, how fast we could run, how far could we jump, etc. In other words, they were keeping a record on each boy, each one of us. They knew which boys were physically weak or were falling behind in their physical development. As far as I'm concerned, the President's Council on Physical Fitness was nothing but a big joke. Were any remedial fitness programs provided for the students who were scrawny or overweight? Absolutely not! Looking back, I now wonder what the point was of having us take the physical fitness tests in the first place. Since the P.E. teachers did nothing to help the physically unfit students, it all seems rather pointless to me.

Well, someone might ask, "What did they teach?" In all of my P.E. classes, all we ever did was play ball games. (Well, in junior high we did spend a minute or two doing warm-up exercises; but that does not constitute a fitness program.) So, there must have been some teaching about those sports that were popular in the schools. Wrong again! Another flaw of the traditional approach: At least in my P.E. classes, there never was any teaching in the sports themselves! (Well, my sixth-grade P.E. coach once spent about a minute or two demonstrating wrestling holds; but that was the only time any instruction about a sport was ever provided.) The "educators" seem to have assumed that all boys aspired to be athletes and already knew how to play baseball, basketball, and football. Perish the thought that there might actually be a boy in the class (such as yours truly) who didn't know how any of those games were played. Again, was any remedial instruction ever provided for those boys who performed badly in any of those sports? Again, the answer is "Absolutely not!" So, there actually was no education in "Physical Education," which should have been named "Forced Sports" instead.

Incidentally, I haven't spent the last few decades dwelling on a bad childhood experience. I hardly ever thought about it. Ironically enough, I became obsessive about the "old P.E." late in life after I had joined a local health club, where I began to spend a fortune on a succession of physical trainers who worked with me on a bodybuilding program. My first trainer would occasionally vary the workout routine by exposing me to a sport. One day he asked me if I knew how to shoot a basketball.

Before I continue, I need to point out that I and my P.E. classmates were never taught anything about basketball by any of the P.E. teachers and coaches whom I had the misfortune to deal with as a student. Nothing at all.

So, skipping a few decades, I had assumed that shooting a basketball was simply a matter of thrusting the ball in the air toward the hoop. I was amazed when my personal trainer showed me what was involved in properly shooting a basketball. It was a physical skill that involved particular wrist and finger movements. A skill that had to be taught and learned with repetitive practice. Like learning how to type, I guess. He showed me that if someone had actually taught me how, I easily could have developed the skill. At that point I realized that I and all of the other nonathletic guys had been shortchanged by a P.E. establishment that forced us to take their class but neglected to provide any instruction in the sports themselves! This is education?

More tomorrow . . .

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"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that.  You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!" -- Dale Hansen, Dallas sports anchor for ABC local affiliate WFAA
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Re: The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:51 pm

When . . . when . . . when are people going to realize that "forced sports" does not equal "exercise program"? They are not one and the same. The sort of school sport that has traditionally been imposed upon unwilling boys is a physical contest between two teams in which a certain level of fitness supposedly has already been attained by its participants, who have also developed certain physical skills to some degree. An exercise program, even in the setting of a P.E. class, ultimately is an individual effort because exercise programs have been designed for individuals as a remedial effort. People who exercise for the sake of their health (which is, after all, the best reason for exercising) are in competition with no one except themselves. A classic example is bodybuilding, of course. The aim is to be able to lift heavier weights, assuming that proper form (the exact movements employed in the exercise) is always followed.

I know this sounds so Mickey Mouse. But people aren't thinking, and the nonathletic kids get hurt because of the unreasonableness or sometimes downright stupidity of the people who equate sports with exercise.

Some people (including many adults, unfortunately) insist that all boys, including those who have no interest in sports, be forced to participate in team games in the setting of mandatory P.E. classes. Oops! I've got to detour for just a moment . . .

There is another remarkable characteristic (and flaw, of course) with the mandatory P.E. I was forced to endure when I was a boy -- the "old P.E." that is still around today in some, if not many, school districts -- and that is, the following astounding fact: I really didn't get any exercise! And now comes a line I've posted many times at more than one website on the Internet: I get more exercise in a single workout session at my health club than I ever did in an entire year of mandatory P.E.! You knew that was coming, didn't you? But it's the plain truth!

Getting back to what I was saying about forcing sports upon the unwilling in mandatory P.E. classes: Sports are supposed to be a form of recreation instead of a supposedly necessary evil in the school curriculum that must be borne by every student. Forcing anyone who is unwilling to participate in a team sport is nothing less than a contradiction. Forced to "play" is a contradiction by the very meanings of the words "forced" and "play"! The concept of "play" involves the notion of voluntary participation. There's nothing more I can say about this particular point to shed any light in the minds of some people.

(Incidentally, before I continue, I do not favor the removal of team sports from the schools. Some, if not many, of the supporters of this forum may disagree with me; and that is their right. I don't favor their removal, although I would readily agree that way too much emphasis is often placed upon team sports in the schools. So, I favor the retention of the "old P.E." as an elective for the boys who want to participate in sports.)

Why do many people demand that sports be compulsory in the schools? Well, let's take a look at some of their arguments -- all of which, in my opinion, are completely flawed.

Compulsory sports in mandatory P.E. prepare boys for war. This is utter nonsense (not to mention a terrible rationale for bullying). That's what boot camp is for.

Sports promote physical fitness. We've already covered this claim. As a matter of fact, some sports actually entail health risks. I think you already know about this particular problem. Who needs it? We understand that soldiers run the risk of being crippled, if not killed; but at least they're serving their country. What sense is there in ruining one's health for a game? Seems like a needless waste to me.

Participating in one or more sports is important in raising a boy to become a man. If your son shows no interest in sports, he may have homosexual tendencies. Pure garbage! Vicious stereotyping based upon false notions of masculinity! There are countless examples of men who have made outstanding contributions to society, but either never participated in any sport when they were boys or simply weren't proficient at that sort of endeavor. I hate to disillusion some people (sarcastic tone intended); but homosexual men have always participated in sports, including rough contact sports. They were always there, but were too scared to come out of the closet (except in ancient Greece) and for good reason. I must say that some gay guys put most of us straight guys to shame because we don't have the same degree of muscular development!

Participating in school sports is necessary to learn how to work with others in a team effort. Wrong again. That sort of learning experience is not unique to sports.

Sports build character. Are you kidding! Ever hear of the University of Notre Dame, the "Spur Posse Gang," Glen Ridge, Penn State, Steubenville, etc.? I once heard of a local high-school football coach who said football revealed character instead of building it. I agree with that statement to a degree. I certainly agree with the honorable Joe Ehrmann -- who said that sports don't build character, but good coaching can (with the implication that some coaches are bad characters).

No, I'm not finished yet. Not by a long shot. More tomorrow or Monday . . .

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"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that.  You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!" -- Dale Hansen, Dallas sports anchor for ABC local affiliate WFAA
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Re: The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:57 am

Oh, I almost forgot. There's another reason why some people support the "old P.E.," which is exclusively centered around sports to the exclusion of genuine fitness programs for nonathletic boys. Well, it's a dumb reason; but I'll go ahead and mention it.

Sports are important to society. This claim is debatable, to say the least. In fact, I reject it. Just because something is popular doesn't mean I should be forced to participate in it. For example, country western music and rock music are quite popular with many people in this country. Does that mean schoolchildren should be forced to take a class in which they learn the history of country western and rock music? As the tired, old cliche goes:

(I had to post an image somewhere!)
How many sports fans would appreciate their children being forced to participate in debate or chess tournaments? Would they appreciate their teenage sons being required to take ballet lessons in high school?

(For the record, I like only a few country western songs and some rock songs, and have no interest in debate tournaments, chess, or ballet. Not that I knock any of those. I'm just not interested in them. The same goes for sports. Well, as you can plainly see, I am quite interested in the negative aspects of the culture that is associated with but is not inherently a part of school sports, blah, blah, blah. I'm already tired of writing this post!)

Sports have been mindlessly popular in this country for generations and will continue to be so, despite the reaction against corruption of the Penn State and Steubenville kind. They will never go away. So, why should the relatively few boys who have no interest in them be forced to participate in competitive team games in mandatory P.E. classes? The question has been asked and answered.

I have had mixed feelings about the Internet, but there is a positive in particular that I truly appreciate. Historically the media has tended to ignore certain points of view, especially those that don't enjoy a status of dominance. The Internet gives the opportunity for points of view hitherto ignored by the media to be expressed in online forums. The point of view of the nonathletic boy insofar as traditional mandatory P.E. is concerned historically has been ignored by the media; but thanks to the Internet, they now can speak out.

I feared the period I had P.E. So did every other boy who was scrawny or slightly built or fat or who simply was uncoordinated. Fortunately, I was exempted from P.E. in high school because I was a band student. I heard tales of how hellish the P.E. classes at my high school were for nonathletic boys. Scrawny boys and fat boys were dead meat. They faced torment on almost a daily basis.

Now I shall return to the flaws of the "old P.E." There is an issue of prejudice here. I noticed that all of my P.E. teachers and coaches viewed nonathletic boys with either indifference or outright contempt. I was not alone in that regard. Over the decades I've heard the same report from other guys who were not athletically inclined when they were kids. I've heard it over and over again. Some of these coaches have sounded like frustrated would-have-been or should-have-been athletes who took it out on nonathletic boys.

But it's more than that. There is a particular mindset called machismo that unfortunately is not limited to just a few of the guys in the world of school sports. Athletic prowess is considered to be a test of masculinity. Boys who perform poorly at sports are deemed to be effeminate -- which is a demonstrably false, bigoted point of view. Over the years I've heard many tales of coaches who ridiculed boys who performed badly at sports.

Do we find the same phenomenon to the same degree among teachers of academic subjects? I think not! Mrs. Earl taught high-school math for eleven years. She said such an attitude on the part of math teachers was unheard of and that any math teacher who did have such an attitude would soon be fired. Same for teachers of other subjects. But for some reason the "teaching" of P.E. was never subjected to the same rules as academic classes. No, I'm not saying that all boys' P.E. coaches historically have been bullies; but I am saying that more than a few have been bullies and they have been tolerated by those in charge.

For nonathletic boys, traditional mandatory P.E. has always been a bully's paradise. Again, if you don't believe me, just do Google searches on "phys ed bullying," "p.e. bullying," and "jock bullying." You will find plenty of testimony in the form of posts and messages submitted by men who formerly were bullied in mandatory P.E. or boys who recently have dealt or currently are having to deal with bullying in a class that is useless to them. Later I will start another topic for the purpose of copying and pasting such comments that have been posted at other websites. Yes, I realize that individuals are free to lie on the Internet and that there usually isn't any way to verify their truthfulness. I'm also aware that some people exaggerate; but I'm convinced that most, if not all, of these messages are factual and genuine.

Again, the media never expressed any concern for how nonathletic boys were treated in traditional "sports only" mandatory P.E. classes. Especially the sports media. But what would you expect of them? I don't consider the sports media to be a genuine journalistic institution. At best they're just promoting sports, which has been done repeatedly to excess for generations; or they're propagandists who seek to turn as many people as they can into sports fans. After all, there's a lot of money involved! Rolling Eyes

Here's just a single example of how team sports in mandatory P.E. classes can bring out the worst in boys. (Perhaps in girls as well with the promotion of women's sports). When a team game is played in a mandatory P.E. class, many (if not most) of the boys become obsessed with their team winning over the other. The way other people should be treated is discarded in the name of sport.

I know some of you already know about this, but I'm going to repeat this for new readers. One of the former members of the old forum, who is one of the nicest guys I've ever encountered on the Internet, grew up in London, England. Unfortunately for him, the British also had the "old P.E." It's found in other western countries as well. His P.E. classes offered no genuine fitness programs for nonathletic boys or provided any instruction in self-defense, which apparently was badly needed at his school.

One day his P.E. class was divided into two teams for a game of cricket. (Never mind that our former member wasn't even interested in the game.) His team lost, and one of his teammates -- an athletic punk who, if I remember correctly, would become a rugby player someday -- walked over to him and deliberately hit him in the face with a cricket bat and broke his nose because he blamed him for the team's loss! Evil or Very Mad (Well, big deal! So what? It wasn't even a game between two schools! It was only a game in a stinking P.E. class! Rolling Eyes ) Wow! What sportsmanship! Rolling Eyes Evil or Very Mad The punk was merely suspended from school for a few days. (It probably was like a holiday to him.) When the young thug returned to school, he showed how sorry he was by shoving our former member into a locker.

If someone walked up to you on a sidewalk and hit you in the face with a bat and broke your nose, you would see him in court; and he quite likely would spend at least a few days in jail. But because this crime of physical assault had been done to a nonathletic boy, it was considered to be no big deal.

QUESTION: When has any sportswriter or sports columnist ever written about the subject of bullying in school sports?
ANSWER: The sound of . . .

(Ahhhhh, another picture! Mr. Green! )

I will have more to say in a day or two . . .

. . . or maybe three or four. Mr. Green!


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"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that.  You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!" -- Dale Hansen, Dallas sports anchor for ABC local affiliate WFAA
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Re: The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Sat Mar 02, 2013 2:18 am

Unlike the members of the old forum, most of the new readers likely don't know anything about me. I can just picture what some people would think: Oh, he doesn't like to exercise. I bet he spends way too much time playing video games. Wrong! I haven't played a video game in over ten years. I'm just not interested in them. To the contrary, I'm not sedentary at all. I work out on a bodybuilding program at a local health club. I've spent a small fortune on physical trainers over a period of about four years. On those days when I don't have a workout session, I usually take a brisk hour-long walk in the neighborhood. Lately I've decided to replace as many of those walks with an hour each time spent on an elliptical machine back at the health club. So, there goes the stereotype.

The only justification for a mandatory P.E. class is to promote physical fitness and wellness. The traditional approach obviously does not work, especially insofar as sedentary students are concerned. I'm very concerned about promoting opportunities for all students to get into shape. If I had been introduced to bodybuilding when I was a teenager, I would have benefited greatly from the self-confidence I would have gained. To put it mildly, traditional mandatory P.E. does not promote self-confidence for nonathletic boys.

Over the last four years, I've done some research; and I've discovered an interesting fact about traditional P.E. Nonathletic boys who were required to take this class (with its institutionalized humiliation and bullying) were not encouraged to become physically active by the time they had graduated from high school. In fact, many such guys have ended up with almost an aversion to any physical activity because of the association of physical activity with the miserable time they had in P.E. I've read a number of posts at different websites from guys who were actually turned off to any physical activity. Other guys who did become physically active didn't do so soon after they had had to take the old P.E. in school. Some may have waited more than a decade before they found some physical activity they could enjoy and thereby get some exercise. I didn't set foot in a health club until I was 57 years old because (at least in the back of my mind) I believed that health clubs were the exclusive property of jocks. Nothing could be further from the truth! But I didn't know that.

Many people believe there is no difference between a nonathletic boy struggling and being humiliated in a mandatory P.E. class that is exclusively centered around sports and, say, a high-school student with a math block in trigonometry; but there is a difference. Young boys frequently receive cultural messages that athletic prowess is a measure of manhood. This really puts a role strain on young boys who simply have no interest in sports. So, when a nonathletic boy struggles in a P.E. class that is centered solely or mostly around sports, he gets the message that he is inferior because he isn't good at a sport. Low body self-image may also intensify the feelings he experiences. Especially if he's quite young, he may not understand the social dynamics that are at work in this sort of situation. There are reasons why nonathletic boys have truly dreaded traditional mandatory P.E.

Getting back to my hypothetical student struggling in trig, culturally speaking math is not a test of manhood. If a boy struggles in a math class, it's no big deal to him, unless he feels like he's being wrongfully stereotyped as being dumb.

I'm not inclined by nature to be receptive to conspiratorial claims, but I really have to wonder about traditional mandatory P.E. I really have to wonder about the intent the originators of the P.E. curriculum, since the class only serves to humiliate nonathletic boys and place them in situations where they're likely to be bullied. I can just see it now: "Look at that sissy four-eyes sitting over there with his nose stuck in a book! Who does he think he is, anyway? He probably thinks he's better than other boys; and, besides, he's probably a queer in the making. Tell you what, let's cut him down to size!"

I mean, it does seem to fit. As I've already said, the scrawny or slightly built boy and the fat boy are dead meat in "old P.E." classes. At least they stand a good chance of being bullied. But that's not all that happens. As I've already pointed out, the nonathletic boy is frequently discouraged from becoming physically active, thus depriving himself of the healthful benefits of exercise. To sum it up, traditional mandatory P.E. is useless and detrimental to nonathletic boys. The class seems to be an expression of hatred.

(I will repeat myself at this point: I have no problem with traditional P.E. as an elective.)

Believe it or not, I'm going to end this particular series of posts with a positive. (Members of the old forum already know what I'm referring to. Mr. Green! Please bear with me, guys! Razz )

I'll post here tomorrow or Sunday or Monday or . . . Mr. Green!



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"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that.  You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!" -- Dale Hansen, Dallas sports anchor for ABC local affiliate WFAA
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Re: The Issue of Mandatory P.E.

Post by Earl on Sat Apr 20, 2013 4:26 am

* grown * Oh, no . . . Wow! What a jerk I've been! I broke a promise: I said I would post again in this topic. It's been more than a month since! Embarassed Sorry about that! Embarassed Oh, well . . . Embarassed Confession: I have a bad habit (Well, I have more than one): I tend to procrastinate. Besides, I've said this all before. Sometimes you get tired posting the same comments over and over again.

I said I would end this topic on a positive note; and, so, I shall. There are at least a few P.E. programs around that actually promote physical fitness without subjecting nonathletic students to prolonged misery. Ironically, I learned about one of these programs as a result of posting at Ray's website. So, I've become a big promoter of one such program (which is probably the best one around) called -- and members of the old forum know what I'm about to say -- PE4LIfe. I've copied and pasted an article about this innovative program below, as follows:

http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-22-fall-2002/feature/personal-best

Personal Best





Number 22: Fall 2002

Titusville is tiny. Tucked into the hills of northwest Pennsylvania, off a back road between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, the town looks like a Norman Rockwell backdrop gone ever-so-slightly to seed. Hang a right out of Titusville Middle School, cruise down a couple of blocks of aging but tidy clapboard houses, and you’ll suddenly come to the edge of town. On your right will be a bare field stretching toward the Titusville Wastewater Treatment Plant; on your left, a little drive-in with big windows called City Limits Ice Cream.

Titusville is friendly. It's the kind of place where you walk back to your car after paying for a tankful of gas, fumbling with your keys and a Dr. Pepper, and find your door being opened by a passerby — a rosy-cheeked boy no more than 5, with thick glasses and a mighty cowlick. "You're welcome!" he'll say, ambling away.

Titusville is dwindling. Its main claim to fame dates all the way back to 1859, when Col. Edwin Drake picked this spot to drill the world's first producing oil well. Soon after, the town was incorporated with 8,000 opportunistic souls. But the oil wells that attracted them stopped churning long ago.

Slowly but surely, every other major industry in the area took a powder as well. Now there are just 6,400 folks in Titusville. More than one-third of them — 2,500 — are enrolled in the local schools. And as Titusville Middle School principal Karen Jez says with a wistful sigh, "We know a lot of these kids are not staying."

The reason is simple: Jobs are scarce. "It's a unique community," Jez says, putting the best face forward. "There’s a lot of families that live in town and don’t own automobiles. They just see that as a luxury, so they walk. We have a lot of families that don’t have telephones, because they don’t see that they can afford those kinds of things right now. Half of our kids are on free and reduced lunch. But we’re striving to give them the best education. They need to be ready when they leave us."

As part of that effort, Titusville schools have given the town a fresh claim to fame: a ground-breaking physical education program that is fast becoming a model for schools all over the United States.

At a time when wealthier school districts are slashing the funds and class time once allocated to gym, Titusville has joined a small-but-growing movement in the opposite direction, investing serious time and money in a wellness-based curriculum known as the "New P.E." In the process, they're reshaping the social climate of Titusville schools.

Gym class used to be the bane of non-athletes' existence, a place where kids were often humiliated, and where social hierarchies formed and flourished. Now it's an essential part of Titusville's campaign to cut down on peer harassment.

"We're working very hard on creating a caring community across the board," Jez says. "The fact that kids are equalized in P.E. helps. We don't have as much name-calling, teasing, bullying as we have had in years past. That all comes from being a healthy being."

"Ask any group of 10 adults for their memories of gym class," A. Virshup writes in Women's Sports and Fitness magazine, "and seven of them will launch into litanies of frustration and humiliation: the groans when they came up to bat, the failure to do a single pull-up on the annual fitness test, the gruesome uniforms.

"P.E. seemed less a class than some tribal ritual for jocks to enjoy and the rest of us to endure," Virshup recalls.

In most American schools, it hasn't changed much. True, uniforms are generally out — but skills tests, competitive team sports and embarrassed non-athletes remain phys-ed staples. P.E. has been sick for a long time. And lately, it's been dying.

While the number of overweight children in the United States has doubled in the last three decades, the number of kids taking daily P.E. has plummeted — from 42 percent to 25 percent from 1991 to 1995 alone, according to a Surgeon General's report.

Only one state, Illinois, now requires daily physical education for all its students. New academic standards have necessitated more class time for traditional academic subjects — so, administrators reason, why not cut down on gym?

Three years ago, Tim McCord was beginning to wonder himself. After two decades at Titusville Middle School, he had plunged into a gym teacher’s version of existential angst.

"I was a drill sergeant," he says. "For 19 years, I taught the same way. We were your basic everyday phys-ed program. The athletes dominated. The kids who were not as talented skills-wise, or as physically gifted, basically fell by the wayside. How much good was I doing those kids?"

Then McCord went to a statewide workshop where he discovered a little piece of technology that resuscitated him — and ultimately transformed P.E. in Titusville into a curriculum that breaks down barriers between students, rather then creating and reinforcing them.

It starts with heart-rate monitors. Mounted on a band that wraps around a student’s chest, monitors track the heart rate during a workout; a wristwatch displays the results as the level of exertion rises and falls.

Using the monitors, students and teachers can determine individual target heart-rate zones — basically, the students’ ideal levels of exertion, based on their aerobic fitness at the beginning of a semester. Then teachers can tie grades to how long students are exercising in their personal target zone.

The upshot struck McCord as positively revolutionary: "Using the monitors, every kid could be successful in P.E." Goodbye, tribal ritual.

"We’d always based grades on whether kids dressed for class, how they did on skills tests, and a totally subjective idea of whether they were working hard," McCord says. "But I couldn’t really tell. How did I know whether a kid was working hard? Now, here was a way to know for sure."

Of course, you had to get them moving first — and that meant rethinking the traditional activities of P.E. as well. It would do no good to strap a heart-rate monitor on a 12-year-old who was going to spend 40 minutes standing idly around a volleyball net.

So as he plotted his strategy for buying monitors — they go for $140 a pop, hardly small change for a public school in a cash-strapped district — McCord studied innovative ways to turn gym class into perpetual motion. His research led him to the patron saint of the New P.E., Phil Lawler.

Fifteen years ago, Lawler went through his own gym-teacher’s crisis. "When P.E. was being cut, we were forced to look at our offerings and say, ‘What do we offer that’s of value?’ I mean, I can’t stand there in front of my school board and say, ‘Hey, I teach volleyball, basketball and football skills. You can’t cut my funding!’"

Determined to make P.E. a subject "of value," Lawler ended up transforming his junior high school’s gym in Naperville, Ill., into a high-tech fitness center whirring with exercise bikes, stair-steppers and rowing machines — anything, basically, that would get every kid’s heart pumping for an entire period. Now Lawler is National Institute director of PE4Life, spreading the gospel to angst-ridden ex-jocks like McCord.

"Now, fifteen years later," he says, "I’ll go head-to-head with someone from any curriculum and defend ours as the most important at the school."

Parents appear to agree. For three years running, they’ve ranked P.E. the best class offered at Naperville Junior High.

Lawler estimates, perhaps optimistically, that as many as 30 percent of U.S. schools are "moving in the direction" of New P.E. Some have begun to emphasize movement over team-sports skills, with activities like dance and aerobics.

Others, like Titusville’s middle and high schools, use heart-rate monitors in fitness centers packed with aerobic equipment. Full-blown exemplars of the New P.E, like Roosevelt High School in Seattle, supplement the fitness centers with non-competitive, sweat-inducing activities such as roller-blading, rock-climbing and mountain biking.

For gym teachers struggling against cuts in time and funding, the New P.E. can sound prohibitively expensive. But, as Lawler says, "It costs nothing to get kids walking, or jumping rope." And McCord adds, "Hey, Titusville’s rural, out in the middle of nowhere. If we can do it ... ."

It took the re-energized McCord only a matter of months — and $30,000 for the monitors and fitness equipment — to transform Titusville Middle School into a New P.E. showplace. He quickly sold Titusville’s school board on the link between aerobic fitness and all-around well-being.

The kids didn’t take much convincing. Principal Jez still marvels at the way their attitudes changed after the wellness center opened. "Before, we had a lot of girls, especially, who just wouldn’t dress for P.E. They would just come and sit in the office and say, ‘I’m not going.’

"Now we don’t have kids refusing to dress," she says, still sounding a tad surprised. "They enjoy P.E."

Above his busy desk, on a wall students see when they come into the locker room, Tim McCord has hung a sign that expresses his newfound philosophy: "Physical education is the only subject which by the very nature of its content has the potential to affect how a person will feel every moment of every day for the rest of his or her life."

With his hard jawline, flat buzz cut and shiny track suit, McCord might seem like an unlikely philosopher. But his wisdom is in heavy demand. At least 40 other schools have visited Titusville since it became the "Little P.E. Program That Could." McCord carries his success story to workshops all over the state and country.

Not that he doesn’t meet skeptics along the way. "I remember this teacher at a workshop telling me, ‘We can teach our kids a lot about the real world in P.E., a lot about survival of the fittest.’

"My response was, ‘Why is it that physical educators always have to teach their real-world lessons in a negative way? Why can’t we take a positive approach?’"

McCord has already written out the day’s activities on an erasable board. It’s a Wellness Center workout day. They’re to strap on their monitors, pick up their heart-rate watches, jog three laps and start working out. McCord doesn’t like to waste precious time calling roll and barking instructions.

"After the beginning of the semester, when they learn what to do, I become non-existent," McCord says. He’s exaggerating, of course. Once the boys have done their laps and started pedaling and rowing and stepping, McCord has a very important role: manning the boombox.

"Mr. McCord!" hollers Josh, a broad-shouldered boy who’s already broken a sweat. "You got that CD with ‘Born to Be Wild’ on it?"

"Yeah, but you have to promise to sing."

As the boys pedal and row and check their watches, McCord cranks the old Steppenwolf tune. Twenty teenage voices bellow the refrain: "Born to be wi-i-i-i-i-ld!"

A few minutes later, "Hand Jive" comes on and elicits a similar response — along with a hand-jiving demonstration by McCord, the ex-drill sergeant.

Compared to the orderly rigors and glacial pace of Old P.E. ("Everybody behind that line — alphabetical order!"), the New P.E. looks like chaos. In this narrow, L-shaped room — originally designed to store nets and balls — you’ve got 20 adolescent males in constant motion.

It would seem like a recipe for tension, aggression, boiling over. Instead, cooperation rules: The boys move fluidly, cheerfully, from one machine to the next. If they have to wait a minute, they jog in place, jump, chat, sing.

"You’ll notice they don’t hang out in groups of athletes and non-athletes anymore," McCord says, flipping through his CDs. "The kids talk to each other now. They don’t worry so much about being different."

Gym class used to be an incubator of difference, tape-measuring and certifying athletic superiority – which so often translates into social privilege outside the gym. Now, what emanates from Titusville’s P.E. classes is just the opposite. "There’s not so much tension between the groups," says John Wiley, P.E. chairperson at Titusville Senior High. "The athletes and the techies work together."

Incidents of bullying have decreased in Titusville. But with the New P.E. in just its third year, it’s too soon to measure its broader impact on the schools’ social climate.

For anecdotal evidence, you could turn to Ryan McGarvie. Two years ago, Ryan was a wheelchair-bound 6th grader who wanted nothing to do with P.E. After all, how was someone with cerebral palsy going to fit into a gym class?

"With a walker and a heart-rate monitor," McCord says, stepping out into the gymnasium where a few of the boys continue to jog laps and jump rope. "Once I’d convinced him that he could make an A, that he could do just as well as the other kids if he got himself into his target zone — well, look. Ryan’s out here in his walker, challenging the other kids to races."

"Hey, you want to see me pull myself up?" Ryan says. "I’m very good at it; I’ve got a lot of upper-body strength." With a steadying hand from Lea Roseman, his educational aide, Ryan slides out of his walker and lies flat on his belly before hoisting himself slowly back up, gripping the rails of the walker.

He checks his monitor. "Oops, too high!" he says, flashing a toothy grin. Two years ago, he couldn’t lift up like that. "Now, I’ll tell you a secret," he says, leaning forward confidentially. "Sometimes I lay down on my bed and prop up the mirror so I can look at my muscles."

Today, Ryan’s classmates include a kid with a cast on his leg, huffing away on a rowing machine; another boy with a sprained ankle is working his arms on a weight machine. Nowadays, instead of medical excuses, doctors are asked to fill out "Can-Do" lists, checking off activities injured kids can safely participate in.

"OK, thirty seconds!" McCord bellows, clicking off the boombox. The machines grind to a stop. The kids circle around McCord, unstrapping their watches, checking their times. "Today’s an 18-point day," he tells them. Points are awarded for each minute a student stays in his target heart-rate zone; you have to stay in your zone 60 percent of the period to make an A.

McCord calls the boys forward and collects their watches as they report their times. "Twenty-seven!" huffs the red-faced boy who spent most of the class jumping rope.

"Sixteen," Josh reports.

"Five," says a tall, athletic-looking kid who turns back to the locker room with a sheepish look on his face.

That’s one of the more startling things about the New P.E.: Now the athletes have to struggle. Not that they, or their parents, always appreciate the new egalitarianism.

"The only complaints we get now," McCord says, bustling back to his desk, "will be from parents of athletes who call and say, ‘My kid has to work too hard to stay in the target heart-rate zone.’ " But the point, he tells them, is that the kids who excel in the New P.E. are all working equally hard — from different starting points, with different physical histories and abilities.

"I see a level playing field now," McCord says, making a quick check of his voice-mail while the boys dress for fourth period. A TV reporter from Erie wants an interview. There’s another request for a presentation about the New P.E.

"Hey, I’m just this little podunk guy in Titusville," McCord says, punching the buttons on his antiquated answering machine. "What’s going on here?"

"Um, Mr. McCord?" A bespectacled head pokes tentatively into the office. "Did I do OK today? I mean, I wasn’t sure."

Ronnie Manzini is understandably worried. A brand-new transfer from a local private school, he just had his first dose of New P.E., and he’s never seen anything like it.

McCord forgets about his voice-mail. "Did you do OK?" he says. "Did you do OK? Hey, listen: You got a 19. You’ve already got an extra-credit point. You did a lot more than OK!"

The new kid grins and shrugs, pleased but embarrassed, then turns and sprints away to his next new class.

Significantly, when PE4Life was set up in the school district, bullying actually decreased. "Jocks" and "techies" actually started socializing with each other instead of being cliquish and keeping to themselves. The reason why is because the athletically inclined students were no longer being pitted against their nonathletic classmates. Besides, this program is actually an exercise program instead of being just another form of compulsory sports.

If the old P.E. had actually promoted physical fitness, I would have supported it. But the truth is that it has never done that. The President's Council on Physical Fitness has always been a complete sham. It has never provided any remedial exercise programs for the students who are out of shape, and it has never advocated the reform of traditional mandatory P.E. or even endorsed any innovative programs (few though they may be) such as PE4Life that actually work. The President's Council on Physical Fitness is nothing but just another empty "feel good" government program.

Just using myself as an example, bodybuilding (which is what I'm now doing late in my life) would have been of great benefit to me as a teenager. It would have greatly boosted my self-confidence (well, at that time in my life, I had none) -- which, in turn, would have positively affected my academic performance. But neither bodybuilding nor any other sort of exercise program was even mentioned in any of my mandatory P.E. classes. As I student I would have thrived under PE4Life! As I've said before, the old P.E. is a hypocritical sham. Those who truly are concerned about the physical health of schoolchildren should favor P.E. reform, but most people seem to not care. After all, all they're concerned about is sports, sports, sports. As in other considerations, school sports (as America's sacred cow) trump all. They have nothing but complete disregard for nonathletic boys and favor nothing but compulsory sports -- which has clearly been shown to be a complete failure, as far as the goal of promoting a healthier lifestyle among sedentary kids is concerned. In fact, I actually charge the school sports establishment with discouraging physical fitness!

Oops! I had said I'd conclude on a positive note. Well, . . . Who cares? Twisted Evil Wink

Well, that's all I've got to say on this issue. Well, at least for now . . . Mr. Green!

_________________
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