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Nina In New York: Gym Class The Way I Always Hoped It Could Be

Phys ed class

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A new controversy is brewing when it comes to PE class in schools. An article in yesterday’s New York Times brought attention to increasingly common practices in school districts in which gym teachers have revised the curriculum to incorporate academic learning with movement and exercise. For instance, simple math and counting problems paired with sprints and toe-touches. Complex vocabulary sneaked into activity instructions. A mini-lesson on angles as they pertain to a golf swing. Hopping around on letter mats to learn spelling. Even lessons in nutrition.

Is it just me, or does this sound like a helluva good time?

Some parents are concerned that their kids are getting hit too hard with academic pressure, homework at a young age, and too much importance placed on test scores. They worry that their little ‘uns will get the wrong idea about gym and grow to dislike it because of its association with other learnings. Okay, it’s all perfectly valid. But I am here to represent the other side.

I was raised in the public school system and received what I assume is a rather standard physical education. You know: dodgeball, kickball, basketball, softball, indoor field hockey, soccer, and various other games with promising names which were essentially glorified dodgeball. Here is what I learned:

  1. I am bad at sports.
  2. I don’t really mind that I am bad at sports.
  3. Other kids seem to mind very, very much. Especially when you are on the same team as they are.
  4. I don’t much care for team sports.
  5. Gym is a good time to get a tummy ache and have to go to the nurse.
  6. If you never get near the ball, you don’t have to worry about what to do next with the ball which will inevitably lead to getting yelled out.
  7. If you get out early in dodgeball, you get to sit out on the sidelines until the game is over.
  8. No one ever loses in giant parachute. Giant parachute is the best.
  9. Counting the minutes until the whistle blows doesn’t make it blow any faster.
  10. Why isn’t boxball a sport?

Now, if some of the more traditional, organized sports had been eschewed for activities in which kids solve problems that challenge their brains and allow them to run around like little maniacs, I may have developed a less bitter taste for physical activity. In fact, I may have even enjoyed it. And been good at it. And looked forward to rather than dreaded it. And willingly participated instead of racking my relatively unformed mind for ways to avoid it. It’s not as though this new style of PE involves sitting down and doing algebra for an hour. They’re learning incidentally as they play. And at the end of the day, won’t kids with more agile brains and a better understanding of nutrition go on to serve themselves and our society best? I mean, being good at kicking a soccer ball is great for one’s social standing as a child, but let’s assume most of these kids don’t turn pro.

Not that my hatred of gym class didn’t help form my character in some integral and irreplaceable way. I mean, without that, my college friends would never have wound up referring to me as “Daria.” La la la la la.