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Physical Education in School
The focus on academics in school – English, History, Math and Science – places less of a priority on physical education, but working toward a healthy body is as important as building an educated mind. When you’re in school, it’s not unusual to think that is a waste of time – it wasn’t all that long ago that students were made to run laps around the track and learn just enough of a particular sport to play it for 45 minutes a day during class.
Since the mid-1980's, schools have cut their budgets for physical education programs, focusing almost exclusively on raising scores on required standardized tests. Illinois is the only state that currently requires physical education for public school students – many other states have guidelines for P.E. classes, but the individual school districts decide how much, and what type of, physical education students will receive.
More than Sports
P.E. is a lot more than tennis and volleyball. Encouraging physical activity is more important than ever, with studies showing that weight and fitness issues are affecting children at ever-younger ages. One such study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, found that students age six to 19 are more sedentary and overweight than previous generations, and that physical activity tends to decrease even further as students grow older. Health experts believe that students need physical education in school to begin a lifetime habit of frequent exercise.
Getting that education is becoming more and more difficult, however. In states where school-based P.E. has been cut or drastically reduced, fitness tests in schools are showing an alarming rate of failure. State fitness tests in California found that 77 percent of 5th, 7th and 9th grade students were unable to complete the most basic requirements. In order to raise desperately needed funds, many schools provide soft-drink machines in the school hallways, and school lunches feature pizza, burgers and French fries, because that’s all that kids want to eat. Between the lack of physical education, increased consumption of junk food and increasingly sedentary lifestyles revolving around computer games and the Internet, kids are starting out their lives with bad health habits that will continue for a lifetime.
Working Together, Playing Together
Playground games, team sports and physical education classes teach children the importance of working together as a team and good sportsmanship. Contributing to a group effort, learning ethics and good behavior – those are as valuable a part of P.E. as the physical exertion. Previous generations were able to play softball in a vacant lot, or join a pick-up basketball game on the local playground. These experiences are becoming more and more rare as kids are ferried from school to the mall and then home by moms driving SUV’s, never letting their children walk or even ride a a bike anywhere on their own. If they aren’t encouraged to run, play, and ride bikes at home, and they aren't getting P.E. classes in school, os it any surprise that more and more children are becoming obese before their teens?
The solution lies in the hands of teachers and school administrators, and with parents, too. Parents need to insist that their children get exercise – and that means not indulging their desire to play Nintendo for hours on end, and not driving them a half-mile to the mall when they’re perfectly capable of walking. Parents also need to demand that their schools create workable solutions to the lack of funding for physical education courses. Otherwise, our children will grow into unhealthy adults – if this trend isn’t reversed, in fact, they will be the most unhealthy generation of adults ever produced. The healthy physical exertion, coupled with the psychological benefits of working toward a team effort, are necessary for strong bodies and minds.