Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Travesty That is Phys Ed and Why It Matters

Over the course of the last few months I have driven by almost every high school in Mercer County, and on every occasion I saw a phys ed class that amounted to nothing more than kids walking around the track for the entire period. And teachers get paid for supervising this?

I personally consider physical education and health to be one of the most important classes in a school day. Phys Ed is actually one of the few courses that has a four year graduation requirement. But from what I've seen and am personally familiar with (I was a high school social studies teacher, adviser, and coach for 21 years), these classes represent one of the great wasted opportunities to educate teenagers in one of the few courses where the potential for creating "life long learners" is palpable.

Students in phys ed should be learning physical fitness, learning how to stretch, learning about their body and physiology, learning sportsmanship, learning teamwork, learning sports that they can play themselves and with their children.

Some states, Illinois comes to mind, have turned their phys ed classes into fitness centers akin to a Work Out World or Planet Fitness. The kids are proactive, engaged, and receiving an education, not "babysat" as seems to be the case around here.

I knew one middle school teacher, Paul Glass,(he was the head wrestling coach when I coaced freshmen) who took his job seriously, who insisted that the kids actively participate, and who actually taught athletics and the attendent affective skills that went with them. He was a true teacher, and frankly he took alot of heat for insisting that kids actually break a sweat, learn something, and shower. I understand that it is tough to accomplish alot in schools with 40 minute classes, but that doesn't mean that teachers shouldn't try. Make phys ed a "double period" if necessary, or combine it with some health component to create a more comprehensive experience.

The one thing I know for sure is that phys ed classes, as they are currently constituted, are an academic "black hole," and phys ed teachers are all too often "stealing money."

There is a new, highly regarded book making the rounds called "Sugar, Salt, Fat." The book details the incredible lengths that the snack industry has gone to "capture" its consumers and literally get them addicted to their products. The book is a wake up call to those repsonsible for educating our children; that learning may be the only effective countervailing experience our kids have.

Those who regulary read this blog know that I think New Jersey's required Core Curriculum and HSPA exam are a joke. I won't recount my arguments here, but one thing I truly believe is that health and fitness should be a critical component in our Standards, and that our HSPA test should include a full battery of questions focusing on health, nutrition, and fitness.

Phys Ed and Health teachers have a VERY important role to play in the developement, maturation, and education of our teenagers. For far too long they have gotten a free pass. I also believe that teachers should have greater freedom to design their own curriclum and coursework, and this includes our Health and Phys Ed teachers. I'm sure they are each knowledgeable and passionate about some aspect of their department. It's time to hold these teachers more accountable, but it's also time to let them have the opportunity to create their own unique, compelling course.

Let's make phys ed class an invaluable part of the school day, rather than just a period to take a stroll around the track.