An Essay on the Superficiality and Naivete of Physical Education in High School

 

ďYou know, we had a saying, uh, that those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym.Ē -Woody Allen, Annie Hall

 

Physical education n., 1. Education in the care and development of the human body, stressing athletics and including hygiene.

 

Upon thinking, Iíve come up with a list of seven reasons that mandatory physical education classes are unnecessary and even contradictory in high school. I have no problem with such classes in primary schools or elective high school physical education, but the classes against which I am arguing are clearly unnecessary for these reasons, which I shall now explain. I would be happy to debate anyone on the topic, if any problem is found with my argument.

 

1. Uneducational

To begin with, though it may seem a bold statement, Gym teaches nothing. Iíve heard it said often that it teaches how to maintain fitness, how to measure fitness, how to tell if exercise is effective, and so on, but there are two answers for that: we already have a Health education course, for one thing, and otherwise if a student is interested in such things, they could take extracurricular classes or read books on the topic. Such research is easy to do without spending hundreds of hours in a class. The only real statement I can come up with to defend Gym in this case is that it teaches the valuable lesson, sometimes youíve got to do things you donít want to do. But really, doesnít the rest of school (and for that matter, life) teach it all the more effectively? It may teach how to play sports, but thatís really irrelevant compared to everything else taught in school. Sure, itís ďimportantĒ to learn to achieve lifetime fitness, but not so much that it should be forcefully taught in school. Iíd even go so far as to say that our Gym classes donít teach lifetime fitness, but thatís off the main topic. So, unless someone can prove something Gym teaches that nothing else could, this is a central reason. Clearly, all high school courses should teach something.

 

2. Distracting

Secondly, Gym class is distracting in that it takes a studentís mind away from the important classes, such as English, math, science, or history; these are classes which must be learned for the student to be effective adult or future college student. High school, as it is, affords literally thousands of things for students to remember throughout the year and having to remember additional facts each day for Gym doesnít help. Preparing, getting supplies, and thinking about it takes thought away from other classes, thereby confusing the student (to this, I can attest) and deducting from the focus they put on the rest of school. If there were no Gym class, all of this time could easily be spent thinking about other things, causing students to forget less significant information, which would be an asset in improving performance. This would open up whole new windows and possibilities to better our schools, all with the elimination of an unnecessary class. Obviously, high school courses should help students learn and concentrate more, not less.

 

3. Detracting

Yet another reason, perhaps one of the most important, is that Gym detracts from the school altogether. In several ways, it takes away from the rest of the classes and the entire school in general. For one, thereís time. Several classes full of students lose one class every day in Gym. Next, space, in that where the gymnasium, lockers, and offices are, plenty of other facilities could be. I donít know the specifics, but plenty of money, Iím sure, is spent on the physical education budget, taking away money that could go to many more worthy causes. Another thing Gym takes away from is grades: students (such as myself) may do almost flawlessly in other classes, but still have a lower average grade because of ďpoor performanceĒ in Gym. Conversely, students may do poorly in other classes, but perfectly in Gym, distorting their grade, however slightly, from their actual accomplishment in school. So many priceless resources are wasted on Gym. Even adding in the dubious education received and the supposed connection between exercise and learning, is it worth it? High school courses should add to the school and its success, not subtract, plainly.

 

4. Futile

This reason relates a lot to sociology and the real world. Now, we live in a postmodern age in which we donít have to run the fastest, jump the farthest, or fight the best in order to eat and live. We have peace and business, thereby making it unnecessary. Iíll admit people must stay fit and healthy to lead long, happy lives, but Gym class, especially the reasons given for it, donít really add to that, as Iíll go into later. This has to do with my ďgrudgeĒ against organized sport in general and the fitness testing in specific. Some would say the purpose of Gym is to help people stay fit for sports, at least for those who are in them (they may also say Iím in the minority, not participating in one.) In this way, you could claim Gym class helps in real life and actual skills. Then again, how? The ultimate goal, apparently, would be to be the greatest athlete one could be. What then? It accomplishes nothing and is therefore futile. The furthest you can go is to run the fastest in the world, play the sport the best in the world, or to be the best at what you do. Does this get anything done in your life, by any standards of what a ďgood lifeĒ is? No. Iíd be glad to argue the point outside of this essay. The basic design of Gym is utterly futile. High school courses should have some ultimate, relevant goal.

 

5. Superfluous

This reason is mainly supported by the rest. As Iíve stated previously, the knowledge taught by Gym can be obtained by any inquisitive student in community education which already exists, or through books easily found at the library. In general, through the media, sports, government, and more, society already influences students to be physically active. In fact, itís common sense to and natural behavior to be active on a basic level. The forced, nonsensical activities promoted by Gym rarely even help. If anything, they merely herd students along like sheep, with yet another barrage of encouragement to stay fit, this one costing money and time in school. What with school sports (even though I essentially disagree with those, my incessant unsatisfaction and revulsion showing themselves) and voluntary activity, it becomes completely unnecessary, contributing to the point of this essay, which is the ďunnecessityĒ of Gym. We just donít need it, like we need so many other classes so much more. To make Gym an elective would be to make this a nonissue. All high school courses, it should be apparent, need to be necessary.

 

6. Ineffectual

Continuing off of other reasons, Gym is ineffectual and hereís why. A central reason given for the class, as I have said, is to improve the general fitness of American students. With obesity and lack of fitness as a leading cause of death and illness, the government is pressured to do something about it, causing some people to deem Gym class more necessary than ever. But if you think about it, does Gym (especially our own) really benefit students in terms of health? I know for a fact that our schoolís ninth and tenth grade classes do not. They simply ďencourageĒ students to, perhaps, take a more active role in their physical well-being, or something of that sort. For one thing, the time, while able to deprive students of so much when it comes to other potential classes, doesnít achieve much when spent on Gym. One class a day for a semestre with virtually no homework and most of the time spent on basic, mild physical activities hardly has any advantage, in my opinion. The only motivation I can think of is the grade, which to me hardly matters, because for one, Gym is an unimportant class to me, and for two, Iím already getting a lower grade thanks to the biased, unrealistic fitness tests which I donít have time to discuss now. I donít know about anyone else, but I get no profit from Gym that I can think of. I personally doubt that students throughout America get any unless enrolled in rigorous, time-consuming, and all the more unnecessary classes. Comparing the time spent in and out of class, the enforcement of physically healthy behavior, and the actual gain reaped, Iíd say it adds all the more to Gym being unnecessary. Surely, all high school courses need to be effective in schools and throughout the country, to fulfill their purpose, whatever it may be.

 

7. Irrelevant

The final reason relates to the others, especially the futility of the class. We do live in a world where, though it may seem as if sports are sometimes akin to a religion, athletic ability is unnecessary and irrelevant. Unless you are a professional athlete, for whatever reason, you donít need to be able to ďperform at your peakĒ to succeed in work, relationships, and life. An average level of fitness, or whatever may suit the individual, tends to be perfectly fine for living. The unrealistic standards set forward by Gym class (at least ours) have nothing to do with life in the real world. Will everyone need to run a mile in five minutes on the average day? Answers may vary from person to person and lifestyle to lifestyle, but in general, itís no. Gym is required for all students, clearly not fitting the reality of life. All students will not be athletes and all students, unavoidably, will not be physically fit. Regardless of Gym and its many mantras and concepts, little changes. As explained before, itís futile and ineffectual. Perhaps in ancient times, such as in prehistoric caveman dwellings, or in ancient Sparta, where militaristic order was taught to schoolchildren, or in Rome, or even as recently as a few centuries ago, it would have been necessary to be (by todayís standards) an accomplished athlete in order to survive. But now we live in an age of technology, business, and stores. It is no longer ďkill or be killed.ĒThe fitness tests say I am ďunfit,Ē despite my ability to function (at least, physically) in everyday life, sometimes beyond expectations. Are these tests, and by extension the requirements and beliefs set forward by Gym class, realistic? To insert a pro-Gym argument, students enjoy it and find it fun. Perhaps thatís part of the reason so few have complained or done anything about it. Well, in school, fun doesnít matter. Classes are meant to educate and prepare. As demonstrated here, Gym does neither. There are complaints that cutting physical education budgets in worse-off schools deprives students of a necessary class. As Iíve just shown, Gym is unnecessary. I think everyone can agree that high school courses should be relevant to real life. This course is not.

 

Those are my seven reasons that physical education in high school is unnecessary. I personally propose turning it into an elective. This gives a choose on the decidedly unneeded class, lowers class sizes, and makes it into a less major class. This has already been done in our school for eleventh and twelfth grade; why not the rest? I have often wondered why Gym hasnít been argued against before and previously been made optional. I suppose itís just one of those idiocies thatís been around for a long time and no one thought to complain about- like slavery, centuries ago, but on an infinitely minour scale. Well, Iím complaining and I insist that anyone who reads this and continues to hold an attitude in favour of mandatory physical education in high school should put forward their argument to me immediately. Otherwise, I hope that at the very least, gradual changes will be made. I have had to suffer through years of idiotic, unnecessary physical education classes and currently am, classes which contribute to the shallowness and thoughtlessness of the school. Gym is but a (I say it once more) unnecessary relic of a bygone era, and one that needs to be eliminated or made elective in order to make the education of students as efficient, focused, and inexpensive as possible. If not- I feel sorry for the hundreds of thousands of students and (perhaps I hyperbolize) the future of America.