Gym in High School

by on Apr.14, 2009, under life, thoughts

I often hear from my friends (and I’ll admit to helping spread the rumor) that Illinois is the only state that still requires four years of gym in high school. Technically, the rumor is eight semesters, but I’m still not sure of its validity. I’m fairly certain that this is a state requirement, but is Illinois the only state with this requirement?

Being a computer geek, I’ve always found gym slightly useless. A class where they make you run around for however long they feel like it, for no reason. Usually, the teacher doesn’t even participate in the activity, or give demonstrations for activities. Teachers in gym seem to not be teachers, but lesson planners. They plan what the class will do each day. Sometimes, as is the case in my high school, this isn’t even up to them. The department chooses when each class will do each activity. Although, it’s still up to the teachers to decide how to go about doing this activity.

Regardless, gym has always seemed to be more of a punishment than a class. This is due to the fact that they only have two punishment options: make us fail (which doesn’t work for one-time offenses), or make us do more physical activity (running, usually). Because physical activity is so often used as a punishment, we learn to associate it with punishment. Let me give an example. Let’s say that you enjoy, or can at least tolerate, doing push-ups. You can do 30 push-ups without any problem. Your gym teacher decides to make ten push-ups a punishment for some offense. You don’t really mind push-ups, so you end up goofing off. You get “punished” once, twice, three times. However, you don’t realize that you’ve already done thirty, so keep goofing off. Eventually, you’ve done forty, fifty, sixty push-ups in a day: way more than you’re comfortable with. Now that you’ve been made to do the extra push-ups, you associate push-ups with punishment, and now loathe doing push-ups.

This, for me, has happened with running. My high school gym program works like this: six times a year, we do “fitness testing.” One item of this testing is a 12-minute run. If you get 19 laps (for guys… 17 for girls), then you don’t have to run at all on Tuesdays between fitness testing weeks. If you get under 19 laps… you are punished by needing to get “CV credit” (usually running) on some Tuesdays, instead of participating in an activity like volleyball or basketball.

Now, I understand that there are people that enjoy running, and really don’t mind this. But, for those of us who didn’t really care for running, this has created the mindset that running is a punishment. So, we loathe it in high school, but what happens later in life? I do realize that exercise is important, but using exercise as a punishment can create adults that don’t want to exercise in their free time.

I even see evidence of this now. Chicago is the fattest city in the nation. How did this happen? It seems to me that exercise being a punishment is partly to blame. Adults who view exercise this way won’t want to go to the gym, or just walk around the block every day, to stay in shape.

So, what can we do to fix this? For starters, we can turn gym into its official title: Physical Education. Instead of running around every day, set apart a day or two a week to be classroom time, where we learn how different activities can keep us in shape. Show us worst-case scenarios even. There are plenty of health channel specials on people who are morbidly obese. This is the same scare tactic that taught us we shouldn’t smoke, and I like to think that it worked for most of my peers. In addition to that, teach us healthy eating habits, and show us ways to build simple exercises into our daily routine: take the stairs instead of the elevator, ride your bike to the post office if you need to mail a letter, etc.

However, the exercise as punishment issue remains. I have no good idea of how to get rid of, or even reduce the effect of this. My school has taken a step towards this, however. There is no possible way to be required to run on every Tuesday between fitness testing weeks. This insures that you will have one day in gym where you choose what you want your activity to be.

Maybe requiring four years (eight semesters) of P.E. in high school is OK. But if that is going to continue, a change needs to be made. Just look at the name of the class for inspiration: Physical Education. Physical Education does not imply running around a track. It implies learning about physical activity, and learning to use it as a tool to stay in shape. Overall, it implies learning. Something that I don’t see happening currently.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • scott

    quit your bellyaching, push-ups and running are good for you, I don’t like doing them but I do them in my free time because I know the benefits, and if you do the work you realize how worth it it was when you see the results. I think diet pill and exercise equipment commercials are an issue because they always say that regular exercise doesn’t work and people buy into it but it’s complete bull. In short… DO THE WORK LAZY-ASSES.

  • TrueJournals

    I think you missed the point here. The point is that exersise in high school is treated as punishment. This attitude needs to change, or we’ll continue raising an obese nation.

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