• author
    • David Weinshilboum

    • December 4, 2013 in Columnists

    So much for the ‘physical’ in physical education

    As a young boy, I constantly heard my parents condemn the state of the world. In their minds, my generation was responsible for many of society’s ills. Of course, my actions reflected the transgressions of my generation. If I walked to the bus stop in subzero weather wearing no more than a jean jacket, it was not a singular incident; it was a reflection of Generation X.

    “When I was your age, teens were responsible,” my parents would collectively grumble. “We didn’t care about fashion or fitting in,” they would continue. “We cared about not getting hypothermia.”

    Whenever a child (me) complained about attending the opera, my mother would turn to me and say, “When I was a your age, children were obedient and did not complain.” My generation proved to be lacking in a number of areas.

    Now that I am a parent, I have tried to shy away from the aforementioned expression. Many times, I have had opportunity to justifiably use the phrase on my children. I’ve heard complaints about the Internet being down for five minutes. When I was your age, we had to take the bus to the library to perform academic research. I’ve been chastised for my generation’s destruction of the ozone. When I was your age, the issue wasn’t a slow, drawn out deterioration of the world; the concern was whether we’d nuke the planet to ashes.

    Despite thinking up a litany of snarky “When I was your age” rebuttals, I have refrained from verbalizing that oh-so-familiar line.

    Until now.

    For the record, my complaint is in no way directed at my offspring. My beef is with the state of America. Specifically, I have a problem with the way the American school system defines exercise.

    ***   ***   ***

    Not long ago, I struck up a conversation with my son. This is a relatively unexpected event since Alex — a junior-high student — usually answers parental queries with a single-word response. (How was school? Fine. Anything new to report? Nah. Figure out the meaning of life yet? 42.)

    Me: So, what are you guys up to in gym?

    Alex: Stacking.

    Me: Huh?

    Alex: (slowly) Staaaacking.

    Me: So, is that a game where you jump on stuff and “stack,” a la gymnastics or parkour?

    Alex: No. It means we arrange cups. In a stack. Stacking.

    Suddenly, I found my mouth moving involuntarily:

    When I was your age, physical education would never, EVER involve stacking cups. When I your age, when people stacked cups, it was called doing the bloody dishes!”

    I just can’t accept stacking as a reasonable phys ed activity. It’s the equivalent of the English teacher who plays movies to pass time. It’s bullcrap. It’s lazy! Here’s the kicker: Alex agreed. He hates stacking.

    I’m fully aware that today’s athletic landscape is quite different than the 1980s and ‘90s. In my day, just about every kid took part in multiple sports. None of this “specialization” crap. Back then parents just wanted their kids out of the house. As a result, kids participated in several sports — anything to get them outside. Despite being a skinny, uncoordinated kid, I played tennis, soccer, baseball and football — football!  My parents didn’t care that Lance Papenfuss — the biggest guy on the team — might inadvertently rip my head off in practice. The point was I would be out of the house when the aforementioned decapitation took place.

    Another difference between then and now is the kind of sports that are popular. I’m perfectly fine with alternative athletics. Skateboarding and snowboarding are fine examples of activities that weren’t exactly du jour when I was younger. Of course, the Olympics have taken alternative sports to the extreme. Now we’ve got bloody synchronized diving and rhythmic gymnastics instead of baseball and wrestling.

    But even with the evolving landscape of athletics, I just can’t condone stacking.

    Whatever happened to the “physical” in physical education? Sure, one could break a mild sweat when stacking. I recently saw a YouTube video of a kid who could speedstack like crazy. Still, a few beads of perspiration do not necessarily make an activity worthy of physical education. I mean, people sweat when they are taking a crap—but I don’t expect loaf pinching to become a PTA-approved physical education pursuit (though the Olympic committee is considering sphincter-related events for the 2016 games).

    And don’t tell me that stacking is a sport. It isn’t. Yes, it requires hand-eye coordination, but so does the game of quarters, and I don’t expect that one to make it into the phys ed curriculum anytime soon.

    I mean, if stacking is considered “physical,” America just needs to admit that we’ve lost the war on obesity. That’s right, Lard 1 America 0. Game OVER.

    We are headed down the road to pudgy perdition. We might as well just accept that in a generation or two, the term “American” will be synonymous with double chins and growing gluteus maxima. Sure, we’ll still have some lithe bodies here and there, but the torporous shift toward bodies that resemble Jabba the Hut has already begun.

    But there’s no need to worry. Americans will be able to stack the shit out of cups, which makes us the perfect labor force in restaurants across China’s eastern seaboard.

    David Weinshilboum, who is perfectly fine with silly hybrid games like “football basketball” and “tackle badminton,” can be reached at david_weinshilboum@yahoo.com. 

    • Did he choose stacking as his physical education or is this what they are doing now and will proceed to other activities within the PF program? Sad.

      • Kimy

      • December 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm
      • Reply

      Holy overreaction, Batman! Weinshie, you know how I feel about this… 🙂

      So, P.E. (Physical Education) is narrowly defined as learning a “sport?” And sport is narrowly defined as an outside activity that uses all small and large motor muscles for a period of time sufficient to keep the heart beating at a rate that burns calories in amounts that lead to weight loss or muscle gain?

      Did you freak out when Montessori curriculum had him playing with blocks and called it “Math”? No, of course not, that fit within your definition of math and/or concepts of math. You were able to see that spending time with these objects would eventually help your child in other areas – such as math. Consider: If spending a unit on stacking helps a kid (any kid, yours or otherwise) with his/her eye-hand coordination, confidence, improved reaction time or even just a reprieve from other (typical) physical activity that he/she may not excel in, then it has been a successful P.E. unit. YIKES, what if none of that happened? Well, then maybe it was 30 minutes/day for 5 days that your child did not raise his heartbeat into the recommended max aerobic heart rate for the recommended period of time for his age group. *yawn*

      I am thrilled to have P.E. in public schools and that our kids experience a range of exposure to sports, groups and experiences that they may otherwise not encounter- yet I must have missed the part where providing a child with the space, motivation and expectation of health and good nutrition is anything but a parental responsibility.

      It’s only sad if public school P.E. is the only training in exercise, nutrition, LARD… and sports that a child gets.

      • davidlacy

      • December 5, 2013 at 7:45 pm
      • Reply

      Kim, David … MUST. Have. Enterprise. Reunion.

        • Kimy

        • December 6, 2013 at 9:38 am
        • Reply

        YES, reunion, YES! 🙂 December?

    • Great column. Not only is physical education lacking, it seems to be undervalued. Moreover, physical FITNESS doesn’t seem to be even on the radar. School PE classes teach many children to despise exercise early on. What a tragedy. Running is used as a punishment, rather than teaching kids what a joy it is to run. Even recesses are cut short – that’s the time to get out and move.
      I am in total agreement… “Stacking” as PE? Pathetic.

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