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Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Stupidity of My Daughter's Middle School Gym Curriculum

They might as well have trial lawyers teaching my kid's middle-school gym class. What I'm about to write is so bizarre that you'll think that this blog specializes in sports fiction, with a science fiction twist.

Here goes:

1. The girls are not allowed to set picks in basketball because someone could get hurt.
2. They play field hockey with sticks with styrofoam ends because someone could get hurt.
3. They play soccer with styrofoam-like balls because someone could get hurt.
4. They taught the kids how to bench press -- with a four-pound limit -- because someone could get hurt.

And it goes on and on. You just cannot make this stuff up.

We're at a time in America's existence where obesity is an epidemic and the country has lost its competitive edge. So, instead, we'll play fake games with toy products and give everyone a certificate for showing up.

Meanwhile, few will learn how to compete meaningfully and American kids will continue to get fatter because few will learn in school that games can be fun and, yes, it's fun to win.

Basketball without picks?

Field hockey with styrofoam sticks?

Bench-pressing four pounds?

(In reading the first part of this post to my wife and my son, a third-grader, he told me that they're not allowed to steal the basketball while playing defense in their elementary-school gym classes. Again, what the. . .? Isn't the purpose of playing basketball on defense to steal the ball? Doesn't offense sell tickets, but defense win championships?)

So, in thinking deeply about the subject, you can guess that what's in the closets of the gym teachers results from a discussion with the school district's head of risk management, who discussed it with the outside insurers and, of course, the outside solicitor (read: legal counsel) to make sure that the risks of providing state-mandated physical education don't outweigh the rewards (the state could remedy this by placing limits on awards for tort damages arising from gym class accidents, but that would provide a clash among teachers' unions, which would support the limitation on liability for their members, trial lawyers, who pump big bucks into politicians' coffers -- as do the unions and live off of the contingency fees they make from, among other things, tort cases -- and school districts, which are under increasing pressure to do more with less).

No, I'm not wont to play the blame game -- I'm a generally positive person who laments mob mentalities and broad categorizations of groups of people, because that's dangerous and not what we want our society to be all about. All I can say that the current situation is tragicomic and troubling -- that we can't let our kids play meaningful games in gym class because the potential legal and financial liability is too much.

But what about developing healthier kids -- of mind and body, because studies have shown that those who exercise are probably better performers all around than those who don't?

But what about developing good, future leaders? Don't meaningful games in gym class and on playgrounds help create those?

Many would tell you that a measure of a person is not how they celebrate a victory but how they rebound from adversity -- getting hit accidentally by a stick, running into a pick and falling down, getting hit by a ball, coming back from a deficit, chasing down someone who stole the ball from you on the basketball court. The examples are endless. And apparently vanishing from the current physical education curriculum (and not all kids are good enough to play after-school sports, intramurals are vanishing, so where will kids get these experiences?).

Instead, we're warehousing our kids in badly needed and now poorly conceived physical education classes because we're playing to our fears and not to our hopes and dreams. This is a situation screaming for a common-sense solution that says "let the kids play games" and limit or eliminate the liability on all involved -- before its too late.

Because, after all, we're a better society than to permit risk managers, trial lawyers and insurers dictate how we develop our kids and how we play our games.

Or are we?


Blogger Escort81 said...

"Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" was how 19th Century Brits liked to put it -- that is, the stalwart competitive attitude was instilled at an early age, as a key part of the culture.

We live in a much more risk averse culture, because 200 years later, we have more wealth throughout all socio-economic levels of society. It is a basic tenet of economic theory that risk aversion increases with wealth.

I am all for safety -- it makes sense to bike or ski with a helmet, as Natasha Richardson's recent tragic death illustrates -- but taken to an extreme, as you illustrate, it begins to get ridiculous.

It is too bad that public school gym classes have been recast as litigated sterile rooms, but I think the upshot is that it means that parents are (and should be) ultimately resposible for teaching kids about exercise, diet, and learning how to use common sense to minimize risk while competing or recreating.

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