Gym class is inevitably portrayed on the silver screen as a time of awkwardness and embarrassment, and it is not surprising that today’s students and parents are questioning why gym class is mandatory. After all, according to a MSNBC
investigation, researchers have found that the average high school gym class only keeps students physically active for an average of 16 minutes!
Supporters of mandatory gym programs argue that public schools have a responsibility to encourage children to enjoy a healthy
and active lifestyle – especially as a rising number of young Americans are obese.
Subsequently, some school leaders are left without a clear answer in the debate. Should fitness classes be required to fulfill a school’s curriculum
Are Physical Education Programs Really Fit?
Further expounding on the issue, MSNBC also analyzes a major study of physical education programs conducted by Cornell University. The study, based on information from 37,000 high school students’ responses to surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals that most students do not believe gym class is effective. This has led nearly all states to create and pass new bills to reform public schools’ fitness education programs.
Unfortunately, while many states have increased the amount of time students spend in gym class, Cornell's study found that adding 200 more minutes of time to gym class each week did not produce substantial changes. Even by adding 200 more weekly minutes, the studies showed that boys generally engaged in only 7.5 minutes of more activity per day, while girls only participated in activity 8 additional minutes each week!
Attempting to explain these disappointing results, Cornell's lead professor of policy analysis and management asserts, “The rest of the extra gym time is likely spent being sedentary — most likely standing around idly while playing sports
like softball or volleyball that don’t require constant movement.”
Cornell’s results hit a familiar nerve, as a study of fitness classes in Texas elementary schools also found that the majority of students spent the class time inactive; specifically, the data suggested that students were only engaging in exercise or movement for approximately 3 minutes during the entire class period.
Should Schools Discontinue Gym Classes?
Despite the results, the lead professor of the Cornell study does not necessarily believe that gym classes should be banned in public school, arguing, “”We’re not saying schools should get rid of (physical education),” but “there has to be a meaningful change in the curriculum.”
While many of the nation's gym classes may not be performing at peak levels, supporters of fitness education aim to spotlight the potential of reform, as well as the accomplishments many public schools have achieved.
In examining the changing policies of fitness education, The Melpomene Journal
outlines how gym classes in public schools could be modernized. While the archaic methods of fitness instruction may have relied upon running laps and jumping jacks, many schools have diversified their options. “Physical education classes have evolved [...] No longer just a place to learn competitive team sports, many of today's phys ed classes [...] offer instruction in everything from bowling to aerobics and fly-fishing to weight-lifting.” Through more intriguing physical activities, many public schools are reporting positive feedback from both their students and community members.
Many physical education leaders are arguing for a complete paradigm shift in the area of fitness and wellness instruction. Elizabeth Spletzer, a highly experienced fitness instructor currently coordinating University of Minnesota's Physical Education Teacher Licensor program, strives to teach future fitness teachers the diverse learning benefits that children gain from physical activity. Instead of seeing gym class as only a physical activity, reformists like Spletzer want others to understand the psychosocial benefits of exercise, including improved self-esteem
, better behavior
, and decreased instances of depression and stress.
While schools debate the future of physical education, one fact remains certain: gym class will never look the same again!