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.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Teen-abstinence backers seek US aid

An article popped up in my RSS Feed today from the Boston Globe about abstinence based sex education programs seeking financial assistance after federal funding was eliminated. Abstinence only education involves excluding all other methods of birth control and contraceptives, and proponents argue that sex should wait until marriage.

Now, I am personally against abstinence based sex ed. If sex is to wait until marriage, what about the student who does not want to get married? What about someone who is homosexual and cannot legally get married in their state? I am not against abstinence, only the notion that abstinence be taught in schools as the only method of birth control. Yes, it is the only method of birth control that is 100% effective. However, more often than not it's an option that is unrealistic due to curiosity, hormones, and "love."

If you would like statistical information about teenage pregnancy in the United States or in your state, the CDC has a great PDF available for download. I looked at the stats and I almost added them to this post, but this I think the numbers are only part of the discussion of teenage pregnancy and sex education.

What I don't like about abstinence based education is that it fails, in my opinion, to teach personal responsibility. Instead, it separates a behavior, necessary for the continuation of life and also a demonstration of intimacy, into a "bad" behavior category. By no means am I advocating that teenagers everywhere go out and start having sex. Most aren't ready for that. But, I think it's important to provide teenagers with all the tools, knowledge, and skills needed in case they do make the decision to have sex. You wouldn't let a kid jump into a pool without making sure they knew where the floaties are, would you?

Many people will say that talking about sex with teenagers about sex will lead to them having sex. Then, they expect health educators to talk about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs without mention of their argument that "talking about it will cause teenagers to do it." Listen, sex happens. It's everywhere in our society, and because the media has a tendency to saturate our lives with it, teenagers are curious. Avoiding the issue does nothing to solve it. Why should we wait to deal with something until it's a big issue? (Here some will argue teenage pregnancy is already a big issue...they have a point)

With all health education, teachers and parents need to be proactive, not reactive. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (I lied, here are some statistics), 47.8% of high school students have had sex, but only 35% are classified as "sexually active" meaning they have engaged in sexual intercourse in the last three months. Another item of note from the YRBS is that 22.6% of high school students surveyed used drugs or alcohol before their last sexual intercourse. Drugs and alcohol affect decision making, which is why teaching responsibility and skills are so important for teenagers.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is a great organization with great goals and a very proactive mindset. I am in no way affiliated with the organization, but they provide education to males and females about unplanned pregnancy and teenage pregnancies. They are involved with politicians and advocate for the teaching of personal responsibility when it comes to becoming sexually active. Their website is filled with information from a variety of resources. Check it out!

People need to be more comfortable talking about sex. It's a part of life that cannot be avoided. I jumped around a lot in this post, and I'll try not to ramble in the future. I'm also going to try to focus more on the classroom in future posts.

As always, please comment or e-mail with arguments or any thoughts. As this gets off the ground (hopefully for real this time) I want people to share their points of view in healthy debate. Everyone brings something different to the table, and by sharing these everyone benefits.
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