Many may have been shocked to hear a recent news report highlighting that schools are now making opting out of gym class easier, even offering an online course as opposed to the typical scenes of burly coaches barking for you to climb that rope. You could imagine the chorus of gasps, dropped jaws, exclaims of outrage as people thought about the obesity epidemic, the sheer number of currently overweight, out of shape kids, never mind the projections for coming decades. Other numbers heaped on America to cause, what many call justified concern, cases of type 2 diabetes, rising healthcare costs the estimated shorter lifespan of the current crop of young people vs. their parents. Leaving receivers of this news bite scratching their heads especially considering startling revelations that only 5 states require daily phys ed K-12; the online option appearing more ludicrous in light of the fact that the mobile phone generation is less and less physically mobile. No doubt it can be seen as another blow to the education system courtesy of budget cuts, loss of funding one more thing making us less than we once were.
But hold on a moment, all of us remember gym class right; forced to compare physiques at our most awkward ages, whether we were the fat kid, the 98 pound weakling, long before 98 pounds, or just gangly and uncoordinated, klutzy, forced to compete with the jocks, those destined to become jocks long before they were? So maybe opting out of gym class is better than we think; we already know the catastrophic determent being different from your peers can have on self esteem, the issues plaguing people later in life after years of being known as the fat kid, humiliated at dodge ball, humiliated at other physical tasks. Those who went through it also understand what it’s like to fear dodge ball when you’re a 98-pound weakling, the smallest or shortest kid in your grade hoping you don’t get hurt. Other positives for students, no gym means no dressing out, showering during the school day at a time when kids are most self conscious about their bodies, eliminating a source of anxiety, humiliation, ridicule for middle/junior high school students. No dressing out for gym likewise leads to one less chance for middle, junior high and high school kids to be abused at school during a time when bullying has taken on horrific proportions, no chances for bullies to snatch their clothes, take pictures of them nude or semi dressed to be posted on the internet and commented on via social media, no chances of being physically or otherwise assaulted in the locker room. It takes away the worry of having to explain scars from a car accident, burns from a house fire, anything that is different from those around them when all they want to be is the same.
In all the talk about obesity, disease, healthcare costs and premature death as it pertains to this issue, some have forgotten that gym is still a class where you receive a grade. Those who read my piece regarding the New Jersey school district banning the D saw my, however rhetorical, question about holding kids back a grade for flunking gym class; while phys ed primarily consists of grades based on participation, effort enthusiasm, how can they exhibit such qualities if they are the fat kid or fear activities like dodge ball due to their stature, when they can’t do as many sit ups as their peers or struggle to achieve one pull up, if every day is some form of degrading to them? Here too is where taking an online gym class begins to show more promise than at first glance, because kids still learn about healthy vs. non healthy food, healthy habits like exercise, drinking enough water, how much you should drink daily, yet they can apply the knowledge in their bedroom lifting weights, in their backyard, somewhere in private or around their block away from the taunting eyes of fellow classmates, presented in a format that is more easily assimilated and understood in the digital era . And they don’t have to worry about flunking a grade, being held back or dragging down their GPA, once they reach high school, because they don’t meet the average physical standard, or the average in class physical standard.
Another factor that may well remove hands on, practical, physical gym class, make it a thing of the past involves the number of kids hurt in sports practices, dropping dead on sports fields along with the sheer number of otherwise healthy looking students found to have heart defects, genetic defects or genetic high blood pressure discovered when a group of cardiologists went into one school conducting a study to see what they would find. Letters were sent home to the effected students’ parents, in at least one case saving the child’s life, as the genetic anomaly was surgically corrected. Already there is a push for portable defibrillators and CPR trained personnel at every school sports game; imagine having to have the same in every gym class just to keep students alive, due to the alarming fact that even though these kids were physically cleared for sports conditions were missed. Now add in your average kids with no such clearance, kids, unlike the ones happened upon by the studying cardiologists, who are overweight, kids who may have diagnosed conditions like asthma. This is especially true considering some gym class requirements, running the mile was popular for upper elementary grades in the ’90’s; high schools can offer everything from swimming to aerobics giving kids plenty of interesting options towards fulfilling their gym credit, but for those signing up for more rigorous classes, hoping to get in shape, hoping to gain a physique vs. shapelessness, it can lead to disaster. Either academically they can’t keep up because their lack of physical ability translates to a lower grade or such exertion becomes life threatening.
Removing gym class as we know it bears the mark of a better future for kids everywhere, giving them choices; individuals interested in sports, having an inherent need for physical activity or not bothered by the critique of their classmates can have all the gym class they want. Parents who still want their kids in gym get just that. On the other hand those embarrassed by their bodies, those incapable of climbing rope, doing pull-ups and set numbers of sit ups still get the benefit of learning about fitness without the humiliation, embarrassment or harassment by peers, over zealous gym teachers, something for undecided parents to think about. An online class is perfect for those with disabilities relieving at least some of the need for special PE teachers, modified classes, alleviates the daunting task for a regular gym teacher of trying to integrate such a student into this particular type of class. It similarly provides nutritional and health education to students suffering from diagnosed cases of asthma, heart conditions, brittle bone disease, juvenile arthritis and a host of other health problems hampering their participation to begin with, while creating one less area where their diagnosis becomes obvious, via doctors notes, always sitting out of gym being unable to interact but forced to watch, earning the envy, jealousy of classmates who must participate.
Still the resounding question of critics, skeptics, remains what about the obesity epidemic and the overwhelming mentality, in recent years, that we must mandate behavior rather than educate people into making better choices. However such enforcement of behavioral standards doesn’t work with issues where freedom to choose should apply; children instinctively know there should not be laws regulating what a person eats, how much physical activity they do or do not get. Children who are overweight will resent their parents for forcing them to diet, forcing them to exercise, forcing them to take gym class when they don’t have to instead of accepting and loving their kid for who they are, making better choices as a family and finding fun ways to incorporate physical activity, respecting their current ability level while trying to get them closer to where they should be. Neither is setting your child up for humiliation and degradation daily going to entice them to exercise, eat right; of those it does motivate into would be healthier habits, your more likely to create an obsession, compulsive behavior around food, exercise or both. When all is said and done it is a choice to be made between parents and each individual child; opting out of gym class means more than opting out of activity, it means opting out of things that can scar you for life.