That Old Independence


July 4, 2010 by David Gillaspie

Would a School Board cut PE during the time of one-room school houses?  Did they have PE to cut?  If kids on the prairie got up early to do farm work, went to school, then came home to more farm work, did they need PE?

The short answer is yes. 

Physical Education gives movement a different context than shoveling a cow stall or stretching fence wire.  How many great athletes got left behind because they didn’t find their sport?  How many unhappy people are around today because they don’t know the joy of that particular freedom?

If Independence Day means more than writing your name in the darkness with a sparkler, maybe it’s time to reflect on the roots of July 4th.

The words sacrifice, enduring, and hardship describe the youngsters who grew up in The Great Depression.  Those kids weren’t on the top of anyone’s list of things to pamper.  The teens of those years, judging by their expressions in photos, posed in stunned silence along with their parents.  They all look hungry. 

From newborn to adult, their faces are a challenge to study.

The older kids fell into line as the Greatest Generation who wrapped up WWII.  From Depression-era privations to storming beaches and living in fighting holes, the experience the men went through changed America.  From ‘women’s work’ around the house, to all work everywhere, the ladies opened American eyes, and the world, to their power.

Did they believe in the importance of PE when every day was an example of physical education?  Maybe not, and here’s why.

Talk to a scrawny person about someone physically fit and they same something like, “Yeah, but when they stop working out all that muscle goes to fat and they’re no better off than anyone else.”

Or, “excercise is a waste of time.  If you’re going to sweat, you should get paid, and a ditch digger sweating over a shovel will never be rich.”

Or, “people with big muscles have little brains.  That’s why they look like Neanderthals.”

Most everyone has a good excuse to let themselves go.  An injury, a disease, the wrong clothes or shoes to workout in; it’s too lonely, too hard, and they don’t know where to start.  How many have a treadmill/clothes rack, or a weight bench/storage platform?

If you don’t have a good excuse, then any one will do.  Just park yourself in one place long enough and let nature take it’s downward spiraling course.  And that’s the fallacy of PE.  At some point in life you might say “I don’t have to do it anymore, I’ve done enough.”  And you’re right.  With those words, you don’t need to stick a fork in to know you’re done.  

Once you quit on yourself it’s all over.

Would PE make a difference?  Think of the neighbor who worked a hard job in a factory for thirty years, retired, got the gold watch, then faded away.  We like to think they’ve earned their rest; we don’t like to think they’ve sealed their doom, but they have.  Little by little every small task becomes harder, but the retiree is old so no one fires them up. 

No one drops Uncle Buck for twenty.  No one tells Big Frank to get outside and take a walk.  They’ve earned more than enough respect over the years to be able to do what they want.

It doesn’t take a skilled social worker to compile a study of statistics to show no one wants a Deep Vein Thrombosis.  No one requests heart disease.  Diabetes is on no ones to-do list.

A PE teacher, and everyone who’s had their share of PE classes, knows the difference between a gym and a pharmacy.  Is health care expensive?  Of course it is.  It costs a ton of money to go to college, medical school, specialize, and open a practice.  It costs a ton of insurance money to see that doctor for the initial visits, procedures, and the follow-ups even if it’s not reflected in the bill.

It takes a ton of self-motivation to move toward fitness.  That’s what a PE teacher delivers, motivation.  And it sticks around.

Without checking a year book, which teachers do you remember best?  Chances are good it’s the PE teacher.  They made you do things you didn’t think possible.  The insisted you’re better than you are.  And they do it in front of the class. 

You don’t get a folded piece of paper with a secret grade inside you can lie about.  You don’t get a mark in a book that only a teacher will see.  Instead, you get to perform.  A timed run?  A measured jump?  An anatomy discussion?  PE brings it all for better and worse.

Memo to school boards voting on a PE cut: Do the math and science teachers a favor, help the history and english teachers, keep PE so kids have proper balance, or they will not achieve in those classes.  Make PE a priority so kids won’t slip into a retirement slide in fourth grade.

Board members, interview each other and be honest, did you ever go to a school that cut PE?  Is that what you want for your legacy, that you lost PE on your watch?  Maybe you’re on the School Board because you dream of a political career and this is your platform.  Maybe you’ve decided to stand up and be counted.

You deserve extra credit for the time and energy it takes to be a leader, so lead.  If you vote to cut PE, you’re cutting the legs out from under students who will want to stand beside you one day. 

They deserve your best effort now.  When you cut on PE, you’re cutting on America.  No one wants that.


One thought on “That Old Independence

  1. […] invited Professor Billy Joel to give his annual Fourth of July lecture titled ‘How The Power of Personality and Electronic Communication Changed The Face Of […]

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