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» Thursday, January 20, 2005
Touch Those Toes!
More Schools Benching P.E.

Frankly I think this is a really bad idea.


Now that everyone who knows me the bookworm has picked his or her jaw off the floor... :-)

I hated gym class with a passion. But I think the idea of no gym class is bad. Kids are getting fatter. They're driven everywhere instead of walking. They play videogames instead of tag. And the exercise does clear the cobwebs of the school day away.

But what P.E. needs to be is user-friendly to the kids like me, who are bad at games and have phobias. Gym class was a horror most of the time simply because every kid got stuck in a generalized class that included participation in softball, basketball, volleyball, and (gah) field hockey. These games were great for the kids who had competitive spirit and who were actually coordinated enough to hit a baseball or get a basket. The rest of us were miserable being trampled on by the aggressive players (once we played volleyball with the boys—what a nightmare! to get the ball the boys would knock other players down; the competitive girls only pushed you out of the way) or being teased and harassed and called named when we couldn't hit/kick/spike the ball correctly.

(The teachers also assumed because it was a well-known sport that everyone knew the rules. I never did figure out who I was supposed to throw the ball to when I played outfield in softball, but I didn't want to ask the teacher lest she exclaim scornfully about this kid who didn't know the rules of the National Sport, for Gossakes.)

Other kids had problems with certain things, I had my problems. I have a very strong phobia about heights and also about being upside down. As a kid I wouldn't even let my dad carry me on his shoulders as so many dads did, or hold me upside down. Even if I were strongly supported, I was afraid of falling. I lived in fear of the gym classes where we had to swing from rung to rung on one of those horizontal ladders above the floor (whatever they're called). The one we had in elementary school was eight feet off the floor and even though Miss Moran said she was spotting you and there was a mat underneath, it was a heck of a long way down for a 12-year-old! I had nightmares about that thing.

Then there was swimming class. You couldn't learn to swim until you put your head under the water. I wouldn't do it. So every two weeks for three years in junior high there was the misery of being bussed out to the Gladstone pool and their cold changing room and standing waist-deep in water either being ignored or being clucked at by an impatient teacher who kept telling you there was nothing to be afraid of. God knows how many kids caught cold that winter going out in frigid weather with wet hair (no blow dryers back then and the bathing caps leaked). I never learned to swim and frankly don't care.

The article talks about a school in Victor, New York, having alternative choices:
Victor's nationally recognized program includes rock-climbing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, archery and aerobic dance as options for students.
Man, I would have killed for options like that in gym class! I loved to run, but there was no track team for girls back then. I liked to square dance. Heck, I didn't mind doing calesthenics--jumping jacks were one of my favorite exercises. I loved to bicycle and didn't mind walking. Archery and aerobic dance would have been wonderful.

Showers were also horrible. Maybe the kids today are less body shy, but I couldn't think of anything worse than having to strip naked in front of a bunch of strangers to take a shower. Worse, the teacher used to come by and make sure you weren't cowering in the corner of the shower stall covering yourself with your hands and make you shower. I think if a kid wants to smell all day after having P.E., that's his problem. Showers shouldn't be mandatory.

So I don't advise getting rid of gym--but I think the teachers need to be a little more considerate of kids who aren't jocks and don't do well in team sports and offer them more alternatives.