Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Bring Back PE!

posted by Scot McKnight

Walking.jpgThe Greeks and Romans got this right. Part of education is a healthy body, and if our public schools want to educate students completely (and holistically) they need to bring back a vigorous and education-filled physical education program. Our First Lady’s childhood obesity program is focusing on food and food choices and eating healthy food, and I believe in those things. But there needs to be a vigorous emphasis on exercise as a way of life. 

My recommendation: Bring back PE classes for all students in public schools! What do you think?
Some of you may remember Mortimer Adler: as I recall his story, he refused to take an undergraduate course in swimming and that meant his courses were incomplete when he was admitted to a master’s degree, and before he finished the master’s degree he was admitted to the PhD program, and he finished the latter first … and he became the first American to get a PhD without having any other degree. I recall that he didn’t even get a high school diploma. 
But one of his legacies was his displeasure of exercise and his criticism of it as a part of a high school curriculum. And this from a man who emphasized reading the classics. Still, Adler was wrong on this one and he hurt American health by repeating his ideas.

Our daughter, Laura, was influenced profoundly by a high school teacher who taught her students that exercise was nothing something done just in the context of a game or competition, but it was something done for health. Our daughter has been running consistently since high school. Public education matters, and PE needs to be a part of public education — for our country’s health.

The point of PE classes is no longer competition and just a game during school, but is instead on educating students in the value of health and the nature of a healthy regimen for life. 
I make my appeal here to get PE back in all public schools. The sooner the better. (And while I”m at it, bring back shop classes too.)

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posted February 12, 2010 at 10:46 am

They don’t have PE in all schools anymore? That’s a blessing. PE was the worst part of school. It had nothing to do with academics, and it had everything to do with encouraging bullying and denigration of those not physically gifted. It was basically payback period for the dumb, instituted to make sure those who didn’t do well in academics could feel good about themselves too. It’s as big a waste as sports at college/university. I can’t say enough bad things about it, so I’ll stop trying.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

The idea might have some merit if it were implemented correctly, but my experience, which I admit was quite some time ago, tells me it won’t be. When I was in school your typical PE teacher was a washed up college athlete, generally out of shape himself, who organized team based activities because that was the easy way to occupy 20 or 25 kids. There was no emphasis on aerobic health, no mention of lifelong fitness and how to attain it and maintain it. The activities pursued in the “gym” class generally had absolutely nothing to do with the way adults live their lives. Upgrade the quality of the curriculum and this might be worthwhile, otherwise its just another boondoggle for the public schools.

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Travis Greene

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:02 am

Where do they not have PE? We always did. And I wasn’t in school all that long ago.
I agree that it should be organized more around fitness and health than around sports, although those should be available too.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:09 am

From someone inside public ed (er, government ed, rather), some PE classes can be fruitful if given the right instructor, especially on the elementary level.
As for why it’s not there in many places is the same reason that history, science, and art aren’t there: so much remedial work and attention has to be given to the basic of mathematics and reading that there is simply not time. And given the grant money attached to passing state benchmarks (which primarily test in math and reading, on the elementary level anyway) there will not be time for it, much less want.
Those are just my quick 2 cents, for whatever they’re worth.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:10 am

I believe in the State of Illinois is one of two states in the USA that has mandatory PE classes for high school students. I could be wrong; someone know?
PE, Larry, is no longer just about playing games with a coach who rolls a ball on to the floor.
Proper eating or good food without exercise is not the solution.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:16 am

PE, Larry, is no longer just about playing games with a coach who rolls a ball on to the floor.
Maybe, but from what I’ve seen from nieces and nephews, not much has changed since I was in school. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’m skeptical of claims of “reform” from the educational establishment, I’ve heard it before and usually the results are not good.

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Travis Greene

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

We did in Florida when I graduated in 2002. We had to take 2 physical fitness classes and a health class. I don’t know if that was a state requirement or not, but my impression is that it was.
High school is too late to emphasize PE, anyway. By then all the kids who aren’t good at sports (like me) already hate PE, and thus exercise itself, and need the scheduling room for electives. Detach PE from athletics early on and you might see better health outcomes.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

Yes! P.E. is necessary (and can be improved)!

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Dave Leigh

posted February 12, 2010 at 11:52 am

Bob and Larry describe my experience as well. PE was for me–a fat kid in NJ who got otherwise good grades–a humiliating and life-scarring experience. That said, I REALLY needed a good PE program, with a caring, knowledgeable instructor and supportive peers. I just never got one. Later in life I hired a personal trainer and today I work out regularly. If I had known as a child what I know today about diet and exercise, I might not have adult-onset diabetes today. I’m working to reverse this, however, and am almost there!

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

Michelle IS talking about the importance of physical exercise as well.
In fact, her new campaign is called “Let’s Move.”
Check this out. There is an entire section on “Improving physical activity.”

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

PE should be abolished. As noted above, it is a place where the non-athletic kids are bullied and denigrated. We had to take our son out of a good Illinois public school system because he was traumatized and went into psychological survival mode for the rest of the school year.
There may be places where PE does teach wellness and health, but most do not, judging by the kids who live in my neighborhood.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

“most” is perhaps an overstatement. In my school district it is a time and credit filler.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I agree we need to get rid of the bullying in PE classes, but then who would teach the class?

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posted February 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm

What school doesn’t have PE? I think you’re attacking straw men… and leave Adler alone!
BTW, I think they should bring back the swimming requirement… and add a new one for CPR…

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posted February 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm

CPR was a Health class requirement in my high school. PE was mandatory unless you overloaded your schedule with counselor approval. Seniors tended to get out of it, but then, my senior year, alternative PE classes (outdoor adventure) was offered to attract more students.
I have fond memories of PE. I was never an athlete, but I did learn a lot. I learned to swim in high school; to play kickball, European handball, and baseball in Jr. High gym class; and to bowl and play basketball in elementary school. In high school, we were actually tested on the rules of the games.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Yes to PE. I’m an old person now–but I grew up in a University town and received a good High School prep education AND we had PE EVERY day from 7th grade through 12th grade.
like Jinny above–I’m not an “athlete” but back then there were no real sports for girls. BUT I did enjoy PE and I found that most of my friends enjoyed it and those that protested probably look back fondly.
ditto for shop classes & cooking classes, etc.
I’m sorry for those who found PE a bullying experience–that’s a different problem–people can be bullied in any class even choir or band.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

As an instructor of future PE teachers, I understand the bad experiences many people have had in the “old” gym classes. There are many of us out here who recognize the incredible value of a class where people moving together can learn not only about movement and fitness, but about positive social skills and values as well. True, there have been many instances of bullying and other negative social experiences in PE for many of us, but the fact is that the gym setting is conducive to social skill development and we can impact students for as much good as there has been bad in the past! I would urge you to support your local PE teachers if they are generating this kind of learning, and encourage your local school administrators to settle for no less if that is not the case.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I agree with Scott. But here is my twist that will NEVER go over: get rid of competitive sports programs like Football, Basketball, Soccer, etc. in primary and secondary schools. In other countries these are handled by children’s clubs, not by the schools. The schools could then focus on academics and general physical education (complete with exercise routines, etc.)
I was surprised to discover in Ukraine, for example, team sports is not part of the school system but done through private clubs and organizations. Children still are able to participate, but not as part of their schooling.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm

By eliminating team sports you can help kids focus back on academics and even make “heroes” out of those who achieve academic excellence instead of those who can throw a ball further or run faster. And you can still encourage physical fitness.

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Andy W.

posted February 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I’m not sure if PE as it exists in most schools is the answer, but there does seem to be a link between exercise, brain development and mental health. Here’s an interesting article about exercise and ADHD as well as a book about the powerful effects of exercise on the brain.
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:
Riding is my Ritalin:,6610,s1-3-12-21050-1,00.html

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posted February 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I am married to a Elementary PE Teacher and we live in Illinois, which does require PE. While it is true that some of us remember PE as merely a few balls thrown out on the floor with the ensuing bloodbath for the pleasure of the sadistic Teacher/Coach/Driver’s Ed instructor, that is no longer the case. The link between Physical Education/bodily movement/exercise and learning and healthy brain function is well documented. My wife doesn’t simply oversee a few games, but teaches how to eat right, be heart healthy, exercise safely, and offers a wide variety of physical activities from yoga and dance to skating, along with the traditional sports. Kids also learn how to play with each other and enjoy helping others compete. Every year she designs a course which replicates the Cardio-Vascular system and has the kids race through the heart and lungs to learn how their bodies work. By making them carry a weight through the course, they learn the effects of tobacco and obesity on blood flow. I often have observed a child running up to her in the middle of summer vacation and saying, “Mrs. Moore, I have been doing heart healthy stuff this summer!” Of course, that means I don’t get to lay around on the couch either! So thank your kids PE teacher…and the other devoted teachers also!

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posted February 12, 2010 at 8:05 pm

If you don’t mind a slight tangent, I have a question for PE boosters. When I was in school (in northern California in the ’70s and ’80s), all PE was co-ed. Except one time in high school where the girls were taught self-defense while the boys did something else, I forget what. Now that I think about it, that seems exactly backwards: in the real world anyone could need self-defense skills, whereas in the real world of collegiate and professional sports, everything is gender segregated. And speaking for myself, I’d say nothing about co-ed PE advanced gender relations in any way that I remember. So, was my experience typical? Should it be?

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posted April 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I am a 60-year-old man who has spent two years working with a personal trainer at a health club on a bodybuilding program. I wish that someone had introduced me to bodybuilding when I was a teenager. This is one way that teenage boys can gain self-confidence. The point is that I speak as someone who is not sedentary, but is more physically active than many men of my age.

The P.E. of my generation was a disgrace. The worst place for a nonathletic boy to be is in a mandatory sports-based boys’ P.E. class. In the P.E. classes I was forced to take beginning when I was in the 4th grade through junior high, I didn’t get any exercise (honestly!); and instruction in the sports themselves wasn’t even provided. Every single one of my P.E. teachers and coaches viewed nonathletic boys with either disinterest or outright contempt. All I learned from mandatory P.E. was to fear coaches and athlete classmates. This is the way to encourage physical fitness?

The sports culture has denigrated nonathletic boys for generations. When I was a boy, nonathletic boys who had no interest in sports were called sissies. In the 1970s they were called wimps. Today they are called fags. All this despite the fact that there have always been nonathletic men of great courage and the fact that there is overwhelming evidence of no connection between homosexuality and disinterest in sports. This sort of negative stereotyping is vicious and often begins before the boy has reached his teens.

Over the decades I’ve heard some real horror stories from guys who were forced to take P.E. classes that were essentially useless to them. Barb says “people can be bullied in any class even choir or band.” Funny, but I’ve never heard of someone physically assaulted by getting his face smashed and his nose broken with a bat when the game was over or someone being ganged up on and urinated upon while trying to take a shower in choir.

(Before I continue, let me say that I favor the retention of the old P.E. as an elective for the athletes and other students who WANT to participate in sports.)

The old traditional P.E. does nothing to encourage nonathletic kids to become physically active, but instead actually discourages them from exercising. I’m amazed there are so many people who fail to recognize that promoting sports and promoting physical fitness are NOT one and the same. What a physically unfit student needs to do is to get on an exercise program and NOT be forced to participate in sports.

Those of you who demand that P.E. be mandatory, what sort of P.E. program do you support? Do you support genuine fitness classes? (PE4Life is an excellent innovate program that actually works.) Or do you support the same old P.E., which is nothing less than institutionalized misery for nonathletes? How can anyone who claims to be a Christian support a program that clearly promotes bullying of the worst sort? If you’re TRULY concerned about physical fitness, support genuine fitness classes for the nonathletes instead of the bully party that is so inappropriately designated as “Physical Education.”

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