Robert Wood: The real shame is they have to choose

Las Cruces Sun-NewsBob Wood

POSTED:   02/05/2014 01:00:00 AM MST

I was so saddened to see the comments by a parent that appeared in the Jan 30 Las Cruces Sun-News that “AP calculus is more important than Physical Education.” And, I am afraid we are developing into a culture that accepts such a philosophy without applying the critical thinking skills we should be teaching our youth in schools; that is, without truly considering evidence to the contrary. So as a concerned citizen, parent, and educator, I would like to take this opportunity to argue the other side.

The childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics are crushing our financial security in this country. In New Mexico the problem is especially dire, with 28 percent of Hispanic boys being obese, and many more overweight. Further, this year it is estimated that for the first time in recorded history more people worldwide will die from obesity-related diseases than from starvation! Yet, we continue to put our heads in the sand.

I recently spoke with one physical educator whom I respect and who indicated that it is so disappointing as she watches these young people get more and more obese from the time they are freshmen until the time they graduate. Try as they may, there is little even the best physical and/or health educator can do with one semester of physical education and one semester of health to promote a lifetime of wellness.

Consider also the evidence indicating that teen-aged suicide attempts are particularly high among Hispanic girls. Approximately 14 percent of Hispanic females will report at least one suicide attempt by the age of 18. That’s about one in every seven Hispanic girls. These attempts are often linked to body image issues that could be addressed to at least some extent if we had strong health and physical education programs in our state public education system.

class excercisingLet’s not forget to mention that physical activity plays a crucial role in cognitive development. This is not an opinion. It is well established in decades of science. One would think that, as an educated society, we would take advantage of our understanding of how important human movement is to our overall development to ensure that youth are moving every day! To have a student sit still for hours at a time is tantamount to willingly and knowingly hindering their cognitive development. If we want young people to not develop, then “waiving” physical education is certainly one way to do that.

Clearly, I disagree with this parent. There is plenty of time for calculus, and nothing is more important than the health of our children. But really it is not this parent with whom I disagree. In fact, I sympathize greatly with his/her position. I think this person’s angst is not really directed at physical education. Rather, I believe we are both disappointed with a system that believes (no, insists) that a student cannot do both.

It is so discouraging to read about a student cannot pursue challenging mathematics courses without sacrificing opportunities for his own health and wellness, and vice-versa. This is really a shame, and it does not speak well of our education system, I am afraid. Moreover, it really is inexcusable when we consider that there are many examples of top-performing public high schools where students receive a strong college preparation and, by the way, happen to have strong health and physical education experiences for their students.

girl playing soccerThe top academic performing public high school (according to TBS rankings) in the country is the Bronx High School of SCIENCE where the students are required to have physical education every semester. The second-ranked high school is Northside in Illinois. Again, physical education is required every term. The third-ranked public high school is the Connecticut IB Academy, which is in the Hartford school district that requires daily Health & Physical Education; their slogan being “Every Child, Every Day!” Wait just a minute, No. 4 is the Boston Latin School which also requires eight semesters of Physical Education. Shall I go on? I think you get the picture. It appears that the one thing that actually distinguishes NM from the top public high schools in the country is that our students are not getting consistent physical activity during the school day.

So I would ask this parent and others who lament that their children are having to choose between Physical Education, Music, Art, and other areas of growth to frame their argument differently. I would ask them to consider demanding that legislators and school administrators find ways for our young folks to be able, encouraged, and assisted in choice “e”…all of the above. Perhaps if we were to embrace such a philosophy then maybe, just maybe, a NM school will one day emerge on the list of the top 50 public high schools in the country.

But until then, we are hindering our children’s opportunities to achieve their academic potential, and further exacerbating the most pressing public health epidemic we are facing today.


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