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Physical Education's Stepchild Status

In an attempt to prepare students for life after graduation, we've forgotten the importance of physical education ("The New Science of Exercise," Time, Sept. 1). Whenever cuts are necessary because of tight budgets, it seems that PE is the first to go.  

For example, nearly half of high school students lack weekly PE classes, and only 15 percent of elementary students are required to take PE three times a week for the school year.  I realize that correlation is not causation, but it's interesting to note that obesity rates have risen every year since 1999 when the accountability movement gained traction.

By focusing exclusively on academic subjects, the movement has shortchanged students. Just as inculcating students with knowledge and skills needed for career and college is indispensable, I maintain that PE is equally important.  What kind of a life will students lead if their health suffers?  There's no assurance, of course, that PE provides immunity from disease, but exercise is a good way to protect oneself and feel good in the process.

The trouble is that PE is too often thought of strictly in terms of athletics, which is sure to turn off large numbers of students.  A better way to involve them is to incorporate, say, tai chi, yoga and dance.  They all qualify as exercise, and they often have more appeal than traditional types. 

It may be impossible for PE classes to ever satisfy the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week and twice-weekly resistance training, but it's worth a try.  Quality and quantity of life lie in the balance.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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