Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jay Mathews Says PE Is a Bad Idea

I enjoy reading a blog entitled, "Class Struggle" by Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. It mainly deals with issues in the DC area, but his posts often have implications beyond DC. I like a lot of his writing and his conversations with blog readers via his comments section. He is not afraid to push buttons and talk about equality (or the lack of) in education, and the fact that he actually responds to readers gives him big points in my book. When I saw Mathews critique the recently introduced Healthy Schools Act in Washington, DC schools, alarm bells went off. Maybe it's the Springfield undergrad in me resurfacing, but anytime anyone tries to say physical education or health education are not important, I get fired up.

Before I begin, I would encourage you to read the article and the comments written from readers and Mathews himself. There is a lot of great insight going on, and Mathews does respond, keeping a relatively open mind and providing clarifying points when needed. He even admits when he makes a bad statement or compliments someone who proves him wrong.

The Healthy Schools Act would require, as Mathews writes, the following: "The new bill would require every public school student in kindergarten through fifth grade to have 150 minutes of P.E. (30 minutes a day). Sixth- through eighth-graders would be required to take 225 minutes (45 a day)."

These new physical education guidelines fit in with the guidelines set by the American Heart Association for most healthy people of at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. The 150 minutes per week also fits the guidelines set by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. AAHPERD consists of professionals involved in the fields of health education, physical education, fitness, recreation, sports and coaching, etc. The organization is a huge advocate for anything promoting health and fitness, and a great organization to be involved in.

Mathews argues that DC school children need to spend more time in the classroom due to underachieving test scores. However, physical education is important in learning. As pointed out on Ed Burke's The Slow Cook, many studies have been done showing that physical education classes can improve academic performance. This was drilled into our heads at Springfield as a way to advocate for our profession as physical or health educators. I won't repeat the stats from the other blog, but the information provided by Ed Burke is spot on.

The schools also provide a location for students to work out in gym class. Students living in urban areas may have difficulty finding space to play/exercise in or may not have the resources needed for programs that their suburban counterparts enjoy. The food section of the bill would serve local fruits and vegetables to elementary school students one to three times a week, depending on the season. Why is this a bad thing? This saves in fuel costs, contributes to the local economy, and will taste better too.

I'm not sure if Mathews understands the role of the coordinated school health program (CSHP) in education today. For basic information on the CSHP, see an earlier post I wrote last year. Ideally, a CSHP contains multiple parts working in conjunction with each other in order to help maintain healthy young people. Two critical portions of this model, physical education and food services, are positively affected by the proposed Healthy Schools Act. Hopefully, the other components are active in the DC schools as well.

Has Mathews spent time in a classroom with middle school students who simply need time to run around and burn off some energy? It can be very hard to control kids who have no outlet for their energy. I would prefer an odiferous, post-phys. ed class any day of the week over a class that has too much energy to handle. They're not focused if they have built up energy. I strive to set an example by my own physical activity, and I know in my district, the kids would be very upset if their physical education classes were cut.

Much of education has nothing to do with what students learn in classes they may not use in their entire life. This is the importance of physical education and health education: providing tools for a lifetime of healthy living. The long term, positive effects of this is for another post, but they are numerous.

My next post will have something to do with the classroom. Check back within the week!

As always, please leave comments telling me what you think. I, like Mathews, want to hear the whole side of the story.


  1. I bet Matthews would not have liked my proposed yoga study... seeing as it would be 45 minutes 3 x per week...

    I bet you just love having middle schooler's immediately after PE! Especially on a humid day in late June...HAH! Do health teachers have the right to distribute deodorant? What's the protocol for dealing with stinky kids?

  2. Jay never actually said he was against physical education, only that because we are not in a perfect world he feels there should be more time spent learning; basically he was against taking classroom time and making it phys ed time.

    What I failed to really highlight and only briefly mentioned (what the blog entry in "The Slow Cook" did) was the positive impact physical education has on academic performance. There was a rebuttal by the director of Healthy School Communities, Sean Slade, a few days ago which specifically mentions studies supporting the relationship between health and learning. I do realize research studies have to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Other posts mention the "old school" phys ed and they fail to mention that now most programs are focused on lifestyle activities (such as the yoga you mentioned) students can participate in for the rest of their lives...not team sports. I realize not every school is like this, but this is becoming the norm now.

    I jumped the gun on my post (I was fired up) and next time I'm going to take the time to cite the sources like Sean Slade did. I almost signed up to comment on the Washington Post site but decided I would wait until he gets me fired up again.

    As far as smelly students go, we cover hygiene in sixth grade but our district does not distribute deodorant. It's usually not too bad, bt my classroom doesn't have windows!


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