Physical Activity in Schools, Part 7

Franklin High's New Field

Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at fitness guidelines and recommendations for children in elementary, middle, and high school, and how little power anybody has, apparently, to make schools offer physical education. States can make their own rules, and so can school districts.

Last year, in the state of Virginia, fitness advocates and anti-childhood obesity activists introduced legislation that would have mandated 150 minutes of physical education (PE) per week in schools. At one step in the process, Rosalind S. Helderman wrote:

The physical education bill is shaping up to be the most hotly contested of the 1,600 bills approved by the General Assembly this year now awaiting McDonnell’s signature.

The bill’s opponents said its passage would lead to “significant instructional and practical problems,” steal time from the vital academic subjects, and cost a lot of money. The outcome was that Governor McDonnell vetoed it.

In Florida, many people believe that requiring physical education is a decision that should be made by the school districts, and not the state. Earlier this year, Dalia Colon reported on the controversy there, over an attempt to eliminate daily required PE in middle schools. Some people wanted the state to stop being in charge of this decision. One reason is, some school districts already require PE, they have no problem with that. But when it is demanded by the state, that creates a lot of extra paperwork for the teachers.

As usual, a certain number of citizens declared that money should be spent on improving the academic test scores, rather than on gym equipment and PE teachers. This is exactly the question that consumes so much mental energy. The paradox is, the other side agrees that America needs to elicit better test scores from its students.

But it can’t be done, it just can’t happen, if kids are sitting around like lumps of inert protoplasm. If we want to see better academic performance, kids must move, and move vigorously, throughout the day, so their brains can work optimally. With constant incentives to fitness and the daily necessity to get some exercise, they are not so likely to become obese. They will not be distracted from their important academic pursuits by minor irritations like chafed thighs, or by major traumas such as hostile bullying. This too is a powerful argument.

Matters are complicated by the basic political convictions held by various parties. Colon quotes State Representative Larry Metz, who introduced the bill, and who presents a point of view that many consider to be a bedrock American value:

Just because something’s a good idea doesn’t mean we use the power of government to force everybody to do it.

Florida’s Physical Education in Public Schools bill died in the Education Committee in March, failing to cut the middle school PE classes.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Education, government groups urge veto of PE bill,” The Washington Post, 03/18/11
Source: “Gym Class Villains? The Case For Removing PE From Middle School,” HealthyState.org, 02/16/12
Image by justinbaeder (Justin Baeder), used under its Creative Commons license.

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