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Posted at 12:08 PM ET, 01/ 8/2010

P.E. humiliations can be lasting

By Valerie Strauss

Were you ever humiliated in gym class when you were a kid, and do you remember the episode as if it happened yesterday?

Well, according to one researcher, phys ed humiliations are so powerful that they can keep someone from pursuing active physical fitness later in life.

The study, written by University of Alberta researcher William Strean, was described in Science Daily and reported in Education Week in Debra Viadero’s interesting blog, “Inside School Research.” (The Sheet is going to have Viadero as a guest in the coming weeks.)

Strean’s study was based on 24 qualitative accounts from adults who swore off sports because of a terrible experience in gym class earlier in life.

Are 24 accounts enough to make a broad conclusion?

I’m going to say “not a chance,” but I don’t doubt that for some people, gym class humiliation has a deep and abiding impact.

So gym teachers, go easy on your kids. In fact, I vote for phys ed programs that are geared toward personal fitness and less on competitive sports that leave a lot of kids out of the action.

Yes, I know, sports helps kids learn how to cooperate on a team and realize that there are always other people who are better or worse than they are at something. Still, I think more kids get more out of the gym programs that help them develop their own fitness by testing and challenging themselves.

Any of you have any gym class stories to share?

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 8, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  physical education  
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What needs to be asked, by both school staff and administrators, is what are we trying to achieve via PE?

I am of the school of thought that PE, physical activity and the arts are indispensible parts of the school, key to school culture, and to the education of the whole child ( However, as we see by the report and we hear too often, the PE classroom can be a setting that ignores the mental, social and emotional development of the individual, in favor of merely the physical.

If one takes the broad view of PE, that its ultimate goal is to promote lifelong health and physical activity, how is this achieved when some students may be marginalized or made to feel inadequate during PE lessons.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education states that “Quality physical education programs are needed to increase the physical competence, health-related fitness, self-responsibility and enjoyment of physical activity for all students so that they can be physically active for a lifetime.”

In particular they highlight:
1) Improved physical fitness
2) Regular, healthy activity
3) Support of other subject areas
4) Self discipline
5) Improved judgment
6) Stress reduction
7) Strengthened peer relationships
8) Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.

Of these only two relate to the physical (1 and 2), whereas the remainder relate to the mental, social and emotional.

PE is a key component to educating the whole child – but it is only truly effective when that teaching encompasses all aspects of the individual (mental, social, emotional as well as physical).
For full disclosure I am a former PE teacher, Department Head and now Director of Healthy School Communities at ASCD.

Sean Slade, MEd
Director - Healthy School Communities

Posted by: SeanSladeASCD | January 8, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I have many humiliation stories, from elemetary through high school. I graduated in 1985 and they are still fresh. I am against high school PE classes. The grading is bizarre and nobody is really getting an exercise. How many of us professionals would want to get sweaty for 45 minutes in the middle of the day? (And the "showers" are a joke -- five minutes to shower and change. How can you redo your hair in that time?) Let's give kids lots of access to gym equipment, intramural teams, aerobics classes, etc. before and after school. Stories to share include being laughed at by teachers and classmates alike, having a basketball hit me square in the face on my glasses, being picked last for teams ALL THE TIME, etc.

Posted by: drl97 | January 8, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

One word: dodgeball.

I never played an organized sport again.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 8, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Actually, dodgeball had advantages; if you stood still for a moment, you got hit and could sit out the rest of the game!

When I was in school, there were few outlets for athletic women, so they became phys ed teachers. There were also few varsity sports for girls, and the phys ed classes were a mix of super-athletes and klutzes. I clearly remember the exasperated looks I got from the "jocks" when I ducked away from a volleyball to protect my glasses and the elbows I got during basketball games. (Years later, I learned of the existence of safety goggles and that my parents had thought all along that the school would provide them.)

I have a friend who has had heart trouble since childhood. Her doctor told her to do as much as she was capable of. It wasn't enough in the opinion of her phys ed teacher, who dragged her around the gym at a run until she nearly collapsed. Her doctor sent a note saying the teacher could have killed her that way and he would be willing to testify to that. After that the teacher never spoke to her.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | January 9, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

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