Physical Education Gets No Respect
Posted: February 27, 2018
According to Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Education is the process of creating a sound mind in a sound body.” Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body), a famous Latin quotation, supports that concept. Yet centuries after these pronouncements, what’s the first thing that gets axed or limited, or is used as a form of punishment when a child falls behind in his schoolwork or grades? Extra-curricular physical education. In other words, sports like Judo. And the reason for sports taking such a big hit is that in spite of all the positive information available regarding the value of participation in sports, physical education still gets no respect.
Team sports tend to fare better than individual sports. Parents are less likely to withdraw a child from a team sport practice or season because there is an acknowledged responsibility to the rest of the team members. Individual sports are altogether a different animal. The reasoning goes something like this: if my child doesn’t participate, it’s not impacting anyone but my child. Of course, this is an utterly silly notion when it comes to Judo because, although it’s an individual sport, Judo still takes two to tango. So, not only does your child suffer when being taken away from Judo, but so do your child’s partners.
Since the start of this school year, a Southern California colleague of mine and I have been hit with a larger number of no-shows or permanent removals from our programs due to homework or poor grades. Having raised eight kids, I find this excuse hard to understand and accept. I understand the politics of education, so I get it when parents tell me Junior has lots of homework. What I don’t get is the solution to the homework excuse. Junior has to miss practice. Oh, and by the way, Junior is often still in elementary school!
Junior’s problem is not that he has lots of homework, but that he has poor time management skills. So the solution to the homework problem is to look at what Junior does on his spare time. Is he watching TV, playing with his darn electronic games, or texting his buddies instead of hitting the books? The average teenager spends four hours watching TV and 73 minutes a day texting friends if he has a cell phone. Even if your child isn’t wasting this much time each day entertaining himself, my guess is that eliminating entertainment time rather than physical education time will fix the homework problem.
I believe that children at an early age need to understand that there are consequences to poor decisions and poor time management. Even if Junior has lots of homework, poor time management should not absolve him of fulfilling his other obligations; i.e. sports practice, chores, etc. If parents allow an option to opt out of a commitment, how does this prepare him for the realities of life? Yes, it means that Junior at times will go to bed very late at night, perhaps even past midnight. It won’t kill him, and it will help him make better decisions in the future.
While we know that the financial burdens of our entitlement programs are taxing our economy, a more disastrous issue seems to be flying just under the radar- the healthcare costs associated with treating the growing number of Americans who develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes at an earlier age than in the past. Both of these are caused by poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, and thus poor fitness. It’s estimated that nearly 30% of our children are obese and will develop diabetes before they reach their thirtieth birthday! We can ill-afford to continue to dismiss the positive values of physical education. Rather than dismiss, cut, or minimize physical education, we must increase the time spent on exercising and developing mens sana in corpore sano.
For parents who continue to look at sports as an elective rather than as a life-changing, mandatory subject, I urge you to educate yourself on how sports enhance your child’s development. Looking to the future, here are a few facts that might help you change your mind about extra-curricular physical education: student-athletes (kids who play a varsity sport) in high school have a higher grade point average than the general population, and they have better time management skills. Modern research recognizes that brains function better when the body is exercised, thus reinforcing what I call the concept of a strong mind in a strong body. Better fitness is associated with better health and longer life spans.
If your child is struggling in school, for heaven’s sake, the last thing you want to do is to prevent him from exercising! The transformative power of Judo can’t work its magic if your child doesn’t get to practice. Find other means to change his behavior. Take away electronic distractions or peers that lead him on the wrong path. Help him develop better time management skills. Above all, for your child’s sake and the sake of the nation, embrace Mens sana in corpore sano.