This article has been written before. All the statistics you need are publicly available and there is no need to continue harping on about them. Despite all the research that says physical education and physical activity are necessary to the development of a child, we are watching it disappear right before our eyes. Just like the shorelines of coastal communities of the world are already being affected by rising sea levels due to climate change, we see the obesity epidemic play out in front of us every day while physical education time in schools slips quietly into the wind.
As physical educators, health teachers, educators, principals, and parents, we are watching our youth become prone to deadly diseases at younger and younger ages because of their lack of physical activity, especially in our schools. Diabetes, for example, used to be reserved for older adults, yet now we are seeing its onset in our treasured youth at earlier ages. I do not have to spell out what this means for our future, do I? This will tax our systems. From social security, if it still exists, as our youths age, to medical care and costs skyrocketing, the issues we are facing, much like climate change, touch us all, whether we are directly connected to it or not. And this is frightening.
What makes this so scary is the fact that we have been watching the shorelines of our eroding physical education time in schools decrease for years, decades even.
This should not be new or news to any of us. Bit by bit, academics took priority, schools became crowded, new programs came, families joined communities from other countries, money came and went, and in the end, the arts, specifically, physical education time dropped. What used to be something I remember as a child on a daily basis is now, in many cases, reserved to one day a week for 30 to 45 minutes. Take out the holidays and other school events and the actual time students spend engaged in physical education in school is paltry. I am not good at math. I do not even like it, but I do not need to be good at math to see we have a problem: a one day a week problem.
I cannot give you names or numbers.
I can tell you the physical educators I have interacted with across the country through writing and teaching courses and social media have expressed the same concern. This is a collective conversation that needs to be had. We have to start pushing back. This is unacceptable. One day a week is not enough to teach the proper skills and cognitive knowledge to allow students to experience physical education the way they need to. One day a week is not enough time to keep a consistent routine, especially when breaks in the school year happen. One day a week is just not enough.
So here we sit at what may just be rock bottom for physical education in America.
And there seems nowhere to go from here. But how? How to we find institutional and systemic issues out of our control? I wish I had all the answers. I am no guru on social change. I am not an activist by nature. I am just a physical education teacher who has had enough. And I hope you are fed up too. Physical education should not be relegated to the bottom of the priority list anymore if we are to save our youth. In fact, it needs to become a priority again. Yet despite the fact everyone knows this, it is not happening. Not from what I see and hear anyway.
It won’t be easy.
It will take time. We will not get here overnight and we will not get back to the way it needs to be in a day, a week, a year, or even a number of years. It is going to take a number of little battles at the local school level to start a tremor. That is how a movement starts, right? Little things lead to a bigger rumble, which leads to a collective angst, and that leads to a revolution. Or, perhaps I watch too many documentaries. This is a call to action. To every physical education teacher, health teacher, parent, principal, and stake holder out there, do something. Do something small. And maybe, just maybe, we will start to feel the earth shift beneath us and it will open up and swallow all the excuses and misdirection that have gotten us here. Maybe, just maybe, it will leave open a little space for us to march forward in progress to get to where we want to be. If we just sit here and accept this, we are dooming our youth to a miserable experience. Our jobs are to care. So start now. Do something. Save physical education, as only you know how it can be saved where you are.
What will you do?
Me, I am starting by trying to raise funds for equipment so I can teach high-quality physical education consistently in the space I am given. What will you do? What will your contribution to the collective become? Let’s solve this problem just one day at a time. Ask yourself every day, what am I doing to make meaningful physical education happen in the face of the greatest odds? What small contribution will you make each and every day so the fascists hear the mighty physical education lion roar?
Let me know what you or your school is doing to improve student’s physical activity opportunities, I would love to hear from others who are aware and tackling this problem.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, ericbikes.