High school gym class. It’s the stuff of comic nostalgia and adolescent nightmares. (Anybody watch The Wonder Years?) The gym teacher personalities, the locker room air, the laps, the team picking, the annoying whistle. Maybe you were one of the jocks, automatic buddy of the instructor, who got away with doing very little because it was your season and you already worked hard. Or maybe you were among those who just tried to stay under the radar and do just enough so gym wouldn’t ruin your gradepoint. Or perhaps you were truly an earnest participant, athlete or not, who found gym a refreshing break from textbook lectures and worksheets.
Whatever our respective roles in high school gym, it was somehow a universal, albeit at times absurd, bonding experience. (Of course, everything seems absurd to a 15-year-old.) We all had to do the drills, and it got us up and off our duffs for a while if nothing else. If we were lucky, we got a gym teacher who was kind of nice and didn’t yell at us too much. Once in a while, it was kind of fun.
But what’s the deal these days with more high schools dropping gym as a requirement? According to  the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, “little more than half of students nationwide are enrolled in a physical education class, and by high school only a third take gym class daily.”
The following video out of Canada (the neighbors to the north are having problems as well), while it isn’t particularly flashy or clever, highlights the increasing educational trend in making gym optional, particularly at the high school level. While a few of our adolescent selves might be jealous as all heck, in the back of our minds we know something isn’t right about this trend.
And it gets worse. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education , 30% of states don’t mandate physical education for elementary and middle school students. Mississippi, ranked the fattest state in the nation, is only now trying to reverse the policy of “optional” gym in its districts, including for grades K-8!
As much as we might joke about our gym class experiences, don’t we agree that they were important? In a time when childhood obesity is at an all time high, can’t we find a way to make sure kids get some activity? It kinda seems like an important lesson to teach.
We agree that gym classes need some work. And we acknowledge that it’s not easy trying to keep 25 children or adolescents in line and vaguely amused enough that they stay out of trouble. But what can a good, affordable physical education program look like? And why do so many states say they can’t make it happen?
And what will come of this hole in the curriculum that won’t allow students enough exploration to find physical activities and outlets that they can enjoy into adulthood? Why can’t we give more than lip service to kids’ health?
Send us your thoughts, answers, arguments and questions.
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