Fat Gym – You’re Doing It Wrong

facepalmProspect High School has created a new PE program wherein students are tested on their physical fitness twice a year.  Those who get a “high” score get to pick which activities and sports they want to do in gym class.  Those who get a “low score” are forced to into separate classes where they do mandatory cardio, like running laps, three times a week.

Some of the students have called the lower class “Fat Gym.’  The stigmatizing of fat kids in is horrible, and is just the tip of the iceberg of horrible on this one.

Unless their goal is to make sure that some kids develop a lasting hatred of exercise, I submit that this program is a terrible idea.  I am not against movement programs in schools.  I do think that they should be created with primary goals of fostering high self-esteem, body confidence, and creating something on the spectrum of not being driven completely away from the entire concept of movement, to developing a lifelong love of movement by the time they get out of school.  Where on that spectrum any kid lands will depend on the kid. 

Of course to do that we would have to accept some basic truths:

  • Not every kid is going to excel in gym class and that’s ok.
  • Not every kid is going to be interested in gym class and that’s ok.
  • It’s very possible that the kids who don’t score well on the fitness test fall into one or both of the above categories, and forcing them do cardio while their friends play games isn’t likely to move them out of either category (which isn’t necessarily a worthy goal to begin with.)
  • As history is written by the winners, so gym class is often taught.  Many gym teachers are people who were/are naturally athletic and they can fall prey to the dangers of confusing their experience to everyone’s experience.

We also have to avoid making the mistake of believing that if most of the fat kids are in lower gym, that means that their fat is to blame.  Remember that fat kids are given the message from a very early age that they are lazy and un-athletic.  They may not be asked to play by their peers, they may not be chosen for teams by adults, when they are on teams they may be automatically placed in the least athletic role without being given a chance to develop athleticism.  In this way prejudice can be made into reality.  Looking at a kid’s body size tells you nothing about their athletic ability or how much they like or dislike athletics, and all kids should be given every opportunity to find movement they enjoy while scrupulously avoiding shame or stigma around the concept of movement.

I’ve seen the argument that if you struggle with reading you are put in remedial reading, and so if you struggle at gym class you should be put into remedial gym class.  Here’s the issue with that:  Reading and movement are not equivalent.  Reading is a specific skill, movement/exercise is a concept.  To get the benefit of reading 6th grade books, you typically have to read at a 6th grade level.  To get the benefit of movement kids simply need to raise their heart rates for a suggested 60 minutes a day. How they do that or how “good” they are at it compared to others their age is completely immaterial.   Winning at dodgeball, hell, being any good at all at dodgeball, is not a requirement for kids to gain health benefits from movement.

My suggestion is this:  Create several options for kids that change every six weeks, with walking being a constant.  So this 6 weeks it might be basketball, dancing, dodgeball, and walking the track.  Next 6 weeks it might be lifting weights, yoga, soccer, and walking the track etc.  I’d love to see two sets of sports – one competitive and one that is just about participating and having fun (maybe we could redirect some of that $60 Billion that we give to the diet industry every year to pay for it?) 

Even if one argues that none of those changes are possible, we can do WAY better than punishing kids who don’t score well on a fitness test by making them run laps while their friends play games.  Any school that has created a PE program which kids are calling “Fat Gym” needs to go back to the drawing board, very quickly.

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Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm  Comments (79)  

79 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a terrible concept, for everyone. Not only are they stigmatising kids, they’re turning cardio into a punishment activity, when many kids would find it an enjoyable thing to do, especially if it was presented as fun. Crazy.

  2. Amen!

  3. High school gym classes were horrible. “Fat” kids were bullied by the gym teacher for being “lazy”, “unmotivated”, or “failures.” “Skinny” kids were EXPECTED to be athletic.

    Seeing my own kids go through gym classes made me realize that things haven’t really changed. The methods just seem sneakier.

  4. Sing it.

    I have a daughter with dyspraxia. Until this year, she has been that kid chosen last for activities. She would opt out of doing things because she was unable. This scenario created a me and them situation at her school. Luckily, we switched schools and she has an enlightened gym teacher who noticed my daughter’s difference, and asked us if we wanted to seek help for it.

    I love the approach you suggested, but that would be too practical now, wouldn’t it?

    • Dyspraxia.

      Thank you.

      Never heard the term – and it would explain *so* much about my life… (I’m in my late fifties – a glance at Wikipedia suggests the concept was just being considered for the first time when I was already in high school.)

    • Huh, dyspraxia. Suddenly, my life makes a whole lot more sense. Comorbidity with autism spectrum disorders? Dysprax + Aspie = a good explanation for much of why I hated school. (The rest pretty much comes down to the name Mrs. Tracy. She focused my entire sixth grade year–I was only 10–on crushing my soul because I politely contradicted the textbook, and she absolutely destroyed my love of learning.)

    • Wow… the gross motor and some of the fine motor problems are me all over! And sensory processing disorder, trouble distinguishing right from left, hypotonia… there’s a name for the problems I had and have. Fortunately Mom got me physical therapy at a very young age and put me in a preschool for disabled students, both of which really helped. Still clumsy, still hypotonic, still have problems with right and left, but I can write (albeit with a different pencil grip from the norm) and do things like walk down a hallway without running my hand along the wall.

  5. In my PE class, every other day we had to run, but on the off days you could choose: team sports (basketball, volleyball, etc.), individual sports (ping pong, roller skating, golf, archery, bowling, badminton, etc), or weight training. I was never super athletic (and I hated running), but I excelled at the individual sports, so I still love playing badminton and roller skating.

  6. I thought that PE was about introducing sport or exercise options. In this way kids are given a chance to try everything from volleyball to yoga. It’s up to them to choose what they like. So later in school they can sign up for (or not) football, soccer, or whatever they liked. Elementary PE is how I learned that I hate running /walking but like square dancing and class aerobics.

  7. Up until middle school, gym was generally play time. We did everything from kickball to dancing (generally saved for wintertime or rainy days). We also got beginner-level instruction in activities like gymnastics and basketball. The teachers were pretty nice, and gym time was generally friendly and fun.

    Once the President’s Physical Fitness Test became a part of our lives, I hated gym. It became a test of who could run the fastest, jump the farthest, etc. My father’s criticisms — too slow, clumsy, a “klutz” — rang in my ears as my results weren’t as good as many of my friends. The test did nothing but make me feel Not Good Enough and was one of the things that set me on a path away from enjoying sports or physical activity.

  8. And that is why I always did hate gym class.

    Thank you for bringing to light what I always said.

  9. Oh, Lord does this touch a nerve for me! I was thin until I was an adult, and you would not have found a more inept athlete than I was! I despised gym class and the ‘teacher’ I had for that class in junior high (that’s what we call middle school in Canada). As an adult, I fantasized about working for the school board just so I could find him and fire him! It’s terribly run, singles kids out in the most painful way when they are the most emotionally vulnerable, and does develop a strong hatred for exercise. Why after all these years is there not a more effective approach?

  10. Excuse me while I shudder at the horrible memories, even though they are nearly forty years old.

    I also vividly remember when we were ‘taught’ baseball in my fifth grade class. When I asked what the rules were, I was roundly insulted by everyone except the other girl in the class who didn’t know the rules. And no, we were not told, even by the teacher. We were just put in the outfield and yelled at when we didn’t know what to do because we DIDN’T KNOW THE RULES, JUST LIKE WE BOTH SAID!

    Also, there was always a strong tendency on the part of teachers to confuse talent with effort. In my eighth grade gym class, we learned badminton. After a couple weeks, we were divided into teams of two for a round robin tournament. On the day the competition started, my partner didn’t show up and I had just badly sprained an ankle. I was told that if I didn’t play, I would get an F in effort for forfeiting the game. I played. Of course one non-athletic girl with a badly sprained ankle lost to two girls with undamaged joints… and I would have even if they had both been as non-athletic as I was. It was two to one.

    The tournament lasted two weeks. My ankle wasn’t healing because I was trying to play doubles badminton on it every day, I lost every single match because not only was I not a good athlete, i WAS INJURED, and my partner showed up on the very last day, plead menstrual cramps, and got a pass because I was there to play for the team… on my still unhealed ankle.

    Guess which one of us got that F for effort. I’ll give you a clue; it wasn’t the one who never showed up.

    After all, I lost all the games. I must not have been trying.

    • Twistie, I feel for you SO much. *hugs* GOD, I hated PE!!!!

    • ‘Scuse me while a build a time machine. I need to punch your gym teachers in the gonads with a spike.

  11. Yo Prospect High School …
    Way to introduce yet another generation of people with possible eating disorders/yo-yo dieting, low self-esteem. Way to introduce yet another generation of bigots to accompany them. Gah I can’t even … I’m so angry about this!!!

  12. Heh, my (private) highschool pretty much did gym exactly as you suggest (minus the walking option, and changed every 5 weeks along with all our other classes ), and it rocked! It was such a relief to get my athletic credits via yoga, dance, mountain biking, and recreational ultimate frisbee (popular team sports had a competetive team and a recreational team; on the recreational team nobody cared if you were terrible at it.) after the horrors of middle school gym.

    Also, dude, if they’re doing remedial reading classes with the same punitive “no choice about WHAT you’re reading” attitude, they should knock it off right now. I was horribly unathletic as a kid and didn’t realize my body had the potential to be anything but a weak, fragile case for my brain until I signed up for that yoga class; meanwhile my brother struggled with reading for years and years until they stopped trying to make him practice reading on fiction and got him a subscription to Scientific American.

    • “meanwhile my brother struggled with reading for years and years until they stopped trying to make him practice reading on fiction and got him a subscription to Scientific American.”

      You know, I loved reading from an early age, and I adore fiction, but if I’d been started on fiction instead of science articles in the encyclopedia, I think I’d have been bored out of my mind. Give your brother a technical reading high five for me. 😀

  13. I actually had an enlightened gym teacher (hope no one fainted) — we did trampoline, badminton, etc. For two girls supposedly unathletic, my partner and I beat every other badminton team.

    In California (where I went to school for a month), we got to choose first semester between tennis, swimming, touch football, and dance. Now those are decent choices and should be available in every PE program. We also had individual showers. There is no logical reason that PE should be another occasion for humiliation except that humiliation is our societal norm.

  14. @Elizabeth: Preach it, sister.

    It was an open secret in my school system that gym class for middle schoolers on up was just a selection pool for the P.E. teachers, who were all sports coaches. The naturally talented kids got attention and praise and the rest of us got rolled eyes at best, and our grades reflected this. The damn teachers pushed us over and over, year after year, through the same Presidential Fitness Test, up the same rope, et fricking cetera, and you know what they told the perpetual stumblebums like me? “You need to improve.”

    That’s nice, jackass. HOW?

    When they finally allowed options, I picked weight training, because I liked the sense of accomplishment and the physical burn. But, again, because I wasn’t already good at all of it, I got zero help with any of it. Instead of remedial exercises to build me up to pushing up my own bodyweight off the ground with my hands, or whatever, I just got a sigh and a headshake.

    Anyone want to bet that the “remedial” gym classes at this school aren’t just like what I went through for years and years?

    • That’s a sucker bet and I’m SO not taking it. 😉

  15. When my son was in middle school there was one day every other week where they had to run the mile- and if they did not do it in a specified time, they had to repeat it until they did. Which meant he ran the mile until the bell rang for class, because if he was too slow the first time, he was unlikely to get better on subsequent attempts. By the end the “good kids” were just standing around making fun of the others.

  16. I was not a fat kid.

    I was a kid with severe coordination and balance issues.

    Now, in some ways, I was lucky – I had pretty good teachers, who always seemed to be able to accept that I was trying, even as they were frustrated by my continued inability to make a basket after 7 years of playing basketball… The problem was less them than the system. Almost everything we did was, in some way, a competitive game, so I consistently got to be the one who lost, the one who lost the game for the team, the one who got hit by the ball (y’know, that can hurt…) which alone is a pretty good way to make you hate sports. And, in middle school, especially, it meant I was always picked last.

    My best experience ever was the year we had a small class, and I managed to convince the teacher to let me work on the balance beam. Just the beam, just me, just walking from one end to the other. By the end of the gymnastics section (two months, I think) I was able to get up onto the beam, walk from one end to the other, *turn*, and walk back, without anyone assisting or spotting me – sometimes even incorporating a little dip. That was where everyone else in the class had started – it took me two months of hard work. (I don’t know what the next year might have been like – I fell off the bars and sprained my ankle the first day…)

    But this was interspersed with months of not getting baskets and not hitting volleyballs and not catching anything thrown at me… and, of course, girls just didn’t do weights 40 years ago. (I was fascinated some years ago to read about a young woman who got into weight lifting *because* she was uncoordinated – and this was a place where it *didn’t matter.*)

    I can dance. Something about the rhythm and the music – it takes me twice as long to learn a new dance as it does everyone else, but once I’ve learned the steps it flows. I’ve been lucky to always have had at least occasional dance. And I can walk – even now, with some knee troubles, I walk. And, in my fifties, you know – I really have more chances to walk and dance than to play (shudder) dodgeball… or even basketball…

    What schools need is to find a way to stop making *everything* competitive. I have no trouble with some competitive sports – I know many kids find that fun, and it pushes them to do well, and that’s fine. But there needs to be something for those of us who just aren’t *going* to do well – so that we still have a reason to move without hating every minute of it. And that thing is certainly not to turn running into a punishment…

  17. I went to an all girl HS and you’d think I’d be safe there but not with my first gym teacher, I’ll call her Nazi gym teacher. I don’t remember how large I was in HS but probably at least 200 lbs and not built for all things that possibly a 115 lb girl could do. I remember being told to do some type of yoga position where I was on a mat and did a head stand so that my feet would bend on top of my arms. LOL! OMG I tried my hardest and still felt like a complete failure, just one more thing to make me stand out as a fat girl in the 70s. I think she gave up on me after a few attempts thank God!

    The worst thing that happened with that gym teacher is she wanted all the girls to see how they looked and what we needed to work on “body wise” so she made us all bring in leotards and tights to gym class and our “pervy” science teacher took pictures of us in said outfits, I’ll call him Mr. Pervy and then once developed she’d go over the pictures with each of us and critique our bodies!! I was a quiet kid so I pretty much went with everything without complaint plus I felt shame about my fat body so I thought this is how I should be treated.

    The good news is this teacher only lasted 2/4 of the years I attended and we finally got a good gym teacher who took us to tennis courts, bowling allies etc.. and let us have fun which is what gym is all about.

  18. I saw a commercial on Hulu last week about a program to help parents with nutrition and fitness where their children are concerned but the name of the site infuriates me — notmykids.net

    What if you feed your kids well and they get physical activity but they still end up a little heavier (especially as they go through puberty)? How do you handle that? Does the parent feel like they failed or do they transfer that onto the child?

    The world really needs an understanding of the human body that doesn’t keep going into right/wrong-land and just looks at what occurs and takes note.

    • PLUS, it costs much less to feed a family hamburger helper than Chicken & fresh veggies.

      • I get so angry about that. “Eat the rainbow!” chirps the nice lady in the PBS ad. Okay, who out there can afford to buy the entire rainbow? I sure as hell can’t. Can every parent even find a rainbow’s worth of produce? No!

        And the USDA’s “help” with “nutrition” (read: watching kids eat until they are full squicks neurotic adults out) and “fitness” (read: not looking like a gymnast = fat = HORROR) is about as much good as a hole in the head. I ate school lunch for the first time in 25 years today. The local school district offers free lunch to all children ages 1-18 for part of the summer; adults pay $5 for the same portion. Here’s what my kids and I got:

        1. A giant fish stick wrapped in a tortilla. Okay, so far not bad.
        2. About a third of a cup, total, of chopped lettuce and tomato.
        3. A scant half-cup of fruit cocktail. It’s just as flabby as it ever was.
        4. A little dab of refried beans.
        5. Skim milk–regular, strawberry, or chocolate.

        Everything was pre-plated on disposable (disposable?!) paper trays. No seconds, no substitutions, no asking the lunch lady for the chewy corners or for no chewy corners. And this school was purpose built with this one measly little window for handing out these measly little trays. At least there was unlimited salsa and ketchup. And they wonder why the kids head straight for McD’s on the way home!

        I was “test driving” their school meal program because we don’t have the money for McD’s anymore and that was the cheapest option for meals out when I don’t have time to make something packable. My kids plowed through some leftover pasta-mozzarella-sweet-pepper-and-onion casserole when we got home at two. Can’t imagine being still in school at two, after those little dabs of food, and not being allowed any snacks.

        This would have been my kids’ school if I hadn’t been able to homeschool. So glad they don’t have to live with this crap. So glad.

        The First Lady is on the screen again, talking about “healthy, colorful snacks,” and how “easy” it is to find oranges and bananas. How about she move someplace with nobody to watch her kids and nothing within walking distance but two White Castles and a bodega and say that again.

    • Notmykids.net?!? What a horrible name, especially for a publicly funded website.

  19. Like Lasciel above, I went to a private high school with an excellent P.E. program. Each trimester was a different sport (and different by year, too, so freshman fall was different from sophomore fall). We’d have one day a week learning the exercise room, where we had to log our exercise but were graded on improvement and doing a circuit, not on sheer strength. If we needed to use the assisted pull-up machine with half or more of our body weight balanced out to do a pull-up, that was fine! And the other two days were for the sport of the season, where again grading was based on enthusiasm and effort, not skill or raw physical ability. You could also get exempted from PE if you played an interscholastic sport as a sophomore or junior, and there were no cuts from teams.

    This program by comparison is designed to make the kids who most need exercise hate it. Who could possibly think that’s a good idea? I can’t stand boring gym workouts, but I curl throughout the fall and winter, hoping to go up to 2 matches a week next year (and for anyone who thinks it looks like light exercise on TV, try throwing 16 stones and sweeping 48 over the course of a 2 hour match). If a gym teacher or doctor told me I couldn’t play fun sports until I lost enough weight running in circles, I’d probably just stick to sitting on the couch playing video games.

  20. I have mild asthma that wasn’t diagnosed until my 30s. I also am very buxom. I didn’t like gym for many reasons, but at least I didn’t have to put up with stuff like the above, and we learned the rules of each sport we did and had to take written tests to prove it.

    I am so done with fitness obsession and fat phobia.

  21. Great. Way to make those who likely already don’t like PE class hate it even more. How could anyone possibly think this would be an improvement?

    PE class around here generally consists of the teacher praising the sporty kids because they know what to do, while simultaneously criticising the not-so-good ones because they don’t know what to do- although they never seem to bother to actually explain it to anyone in terms even non-experts can understand, or to actually, you know, show us directly how it works.
    Badminton? “Oh come on, you can’t tell me you don’t know how an overhead clear works.” YES I CAN, BECAUSE YOU NEVER EXPLAINED IT.
    Basketball? “You don’t know the rules? Come on, you can’t be serious.” YES I AM, BECAUSE NOBODY BOTHERED TO TELL ME.
    Swimming? “How come you still can’t do it? I showed you!” NO YOU DIDN’T, YOU MADE VAGUE MOVEMENTS NOBODY UNDERSTANDS.
    I could go on.

    And then, of course, there is the matter of the many PE teachers I had who either didn’t know a thing about what they were doing, expected impossible things, didn’t give a damn about us or all of it. Among my favourites is the one who expected me to one-handedly climb a rope because of a large unhealed cut in my hand (kitchen accident) that prevented me to close it properly (still not sure how I was supposed to do that), the one who watched me trip, fall down and stay down clutching my badly twisted ankle right in front of him and didn’t do a thing, the one who expected me to keep playing basketball with two broken fingers… again, the list goes on.

    PE class around here is generally described as a means to show kids how fun sports and movement in general are. The problem is that they expect that all kids to already like it. For those who don’t, it’s usually nothing but miserable, and at least for me, it took away any fun exercise might have once had. (Except walking; I love walking, but it’s seen as a cop-out of running here, despite the fact that I can walk along many joggers at ease.)

  22. All the PE teachers I had would have LOVED a system like this.
    When I was in grade 11-12 we had to do fitness tests twice a year, very much like what you talked about here. I was never good at running, not really built for it at 6′ tall and 225lbs, but I was reasonably fit. To do the test we had a buddy system: one of us helped measure how far and high we could jump, resting heart rate so on so forth and wrote everything down then we’d swap. When the PE teacher saw my numbers (she didn’t like me at all since I was ‘too fat’) she made me do it all again and measured it herself. I got even better numbers the second time (had probably warmed up) and all she did was snort and walk away. Unfortunately she was also the basketball coach so you can imagine how well that went.
    At the time I just accepted it, I mean as a teenager I was used to being treated poorly in sports even though I was decent at most of them. I was ‘too fat’ which, was a license for everyone who wanted to to deride me, I really didn’t expect any better.
    Now, the other side of this whole story is WHY did I stick with it all when teachers and other adults were so cruel? I put a lot of credit to my mother, who was a real team player and coached myself and other local girls in recreational sports. Also, the boys basketball team was very supportive of me and nick named me ‘shaq’ and would cheer me on encouraging me to get over 50 or whatever points per game.
    So I had some backup and some great moments of recognition from some and of course the stats sheets never lie, but a lot of people do NOT have any of that. I wish I could say I had some faith in PE teachers to do this for their students but my experience has been they are the worst offenders and a system like this just encourages it!

    Anyways i LOVE your blog, read every post and repost a lot of them to facebook. Its interesting finding out just how deep fat hating runs when people comment on them. I feel so lucky that I was mostly home schooled and spent all day every day in nature running around, riding the horses and playing in the mountains. If I had not had that start in life, where i knew my body worked really well for everything I asked of it, when I DID encounter all the fatkid hating I definitely would have crumbled. Thank goodness for that inner core of strength that has been a backbone for everything I do.
    What I love about your blog so much, is that even while I never let fat hating stop me from doing everything i wanted to, i did accept a LOT of very poor treatment from a lot of people in my life and internalized a great deal of it as well. You’ve helped me many times identify and clarify what felt wrong but always seems just out of my grasp to comprehend. Which was basically being treated as second rate just because of being ‘the fattest’ and that my achievements were not significant because of that.

    Keep up the good work!

  23. That concept is just so backward. It’s like Prospect High School is trying to teach “non-athletic” kids to hate movement entirely. I’d wager that the fitness “criteria” are completely arbitrary, and that weight is factored in somewhere. Even IF meeting the standards would indisputably improve the health and well-being of the students, this program is going about it in completely the wrong way. The kids who are movement averse are the ones who need more options, to give them the greatest chance of finding exercise that they enjoy. Why not set up some Wii-fit stations the students can use, and/or DDR pads? Why not offer some rotating options like Ragen suggested, maybe two or three every six weeks, and let the students choose what they want to do? Instead, they might as well give the gym teachers tasers and tell them to shock every fat student or “klutz” who looks like they might be starting to enjoy themselves.

    • The increasing prevalence of “helpful” programs like this one lead me to believe that being fat is now just as much a target of the OH NOEZ THEY ARE GOING TO TAKE MY MONEYZ AND I WILL NEVERRR BE RIIIIIIIICH nonsense that makes the lives of poor people increasingly miserable. Punish those fat kids. Punish ’em good and hard because otherwise they might someday be so fatsick that they USE TAX DOLLARS OH NOES.

      (BTW, i did the math a while ago, using the best figures I could find. The annual horrible insupportable tax burden of supporting all those lazy poors amounts to a big dinner at Applebee’s per taxpayer per year. OH. HOW. AWFUL.)

      (Also, the fat-punishers and poor-punishers will NEVERRRR BE RIIIIIICH because their mommies and daddies didn’t leave them trust funds and they didn’t marry a spouse from the right background. But no, if they can just squat on top of enough loose change for long enough, it will turn into a billion any day now, yep.)

      • To clarify:

        *Food aid to the poor costs every American taxpayer about as much as a big dinner at Applebee’s per year. That includes people who both receive aid and pay taxes–like my household, we’re on WIC and also pay taxes.

        *Shifting all government aid to the poor to private donations would require every taxpayer to come up with some thousands of dollars per year in “spare change.” Including the taxpayers on welfare. Aid to the poor is not funded solely with MAH TAX DOLLAHZ.

        *Shifting all aid to the poor to “the churches,” even counting all organized religious congregations as “churches,” would require every churchgoing adult to kick in more than $20,000 per year! Again, including the parishioners who are on fixed incomes or on welfare.

        But back on the topic of punishing kids for looking wrong: I want to swoop in dressed in a magical thinsuit and promise to “whip those kids into shape.” Then I want to take them all for “special remedial work” at the park. With soap bubbles and sidewalk chalk.

  24. I hated gym. Passionately, utterly and completely despised it. Partly because our gym teachers were the ones to weigh and measure us each year, and they let a “popular” girl take down the weights one year. I was in 5th grade. I was 5’2″ and 98 pounds, which for the record, is underweight on the BMI charts. But I was MUCH heavier than all the other girls and all the boys. I was much taller, too. There was one boy taller than me, and I was otherwise the tallest in the class. Well, said girl told everyone how much I weighed. I’d already been teased because I’d been the “fat” kid since Kindergarten.

    I hated competitive sports. I wasn’t good at them, and I despised them. I also hated running or basic “calisthenics.” It was boring as all hell.

    But outside school? I was crazy active. I rode my bike all over the place. I loved roller skating. I desperately wanted figure skating or gymnastics or dance lessons. I swam every day in the summer, often for 7+ hours. They had to force me out of the pool to eat. I tried doing cartwheels. I was great at handstands and could even do walkovers sometimes. I rocked round-offs, even if I never mastered the cartwheel.

    If my gym teachers could’ve seen me outside of school, they’d have been shocked. They were both naturally athletic (a married couple, well… after she had an affair with him, divorced her husband and married the new young gym teacher, anyway). The favored – very fucking clearly – the athletic students, who were usually also the popular ones. They chose them, without fail, to be captains. I was NEVER chosen to be a leader of a team. Not once in four years with those teachers. And ofc, I was always picked last.

    I despised PE and I think it is, as it is usually run, a tremendous waste of money and resources. I think the way it is usually run, it’s also a breeding ground for bullying, self-esteem issues and all the things it should be the exact opposite of… it should raise kids up, not break them down.

    Oh, and those Presidential Fitness medals can kiss my big fat ass. I imagine they still do that crap, and I think it blows.

    This story makes me really sad. Way to make sure kids hate physical activities. But it also doesn’t surprise me at ALL, and I’d expect to see even more on it, assuming the “war on obesity” continues as it has been. And that really sucks for an entire generation of non-athletically inclined kids.

  25. Gym class is a dinosaur, a relic left over from the 50’s mentality that everyone must learn the same information, exercise the same way every day, be exactly alike. Methods of learning have changed so much in the last 20 years (ie, independent study, on-line courses), so why can’t Gym class be the same way?

    I played soccer from the time I was 4 until I was twelve. I played in highly competitive leagues and was a top scorer. But put me in a gym class and tell me to do pull ups or run a mile in 12 minutes or do the 50 yard dash in 7 seconds? Forget it. I was slow but sturdy. And big. And muscular. I had soccer practice 2 times a week, games on the weekends, and in my spare time I rode my bike up and down my hilly neighbourhood and roller skated, ice skated, and swam. And I still felt like a failure at gym because I couldn’t run fast.

    And when I blew out my knee playing soccer one weekend, it all went downhill. And then I was the Fat Girl Making Excuses For Not Doing Her Best.

    Yeah. You can keep gym class and its mortifying Locker Room Changing Incidents, the body shaming, the whispers behind the hands, the showers, and all the humiliation it has always entailed.

  26. Clearly the people in charge of creating this program did not consult a child psychologist or even a child to determine whether or not this was in the best interest of the students. Schools should not just be concerned with intellectual and physical health but also with emotional health. Any program that results in the separation of the “haves” (athletically inclined) and the “have nots” (less athletically capable) is a terrible idea. All they have accomplished is the creation of yet another clique from which some children (many of whom may already be marginalized and bullied by their peers) will be excluded, to the detriment of their emotional well-being. Chances are that many of the “remedial” gym students already hate gym class; at Prospect, they’ve just been given a gigantic reason to hate it all the more.

  27. Ugh, my clearest memories of PE are being forced to run laps for an hour despite wheezing so badly my lips turned blue (and my second grade PE teacher making fun of it–“Looks like you got some blue lipstick, there!”), and being told by a different gym teacher, “If the boys make fun of you, it just means they like you!”

    Weirdly, that second teacher was relatively cool. If you participated, you got to pick a toy out of the Mystery Bag at the end of the week. I always felt around until I got one of those awesome monolith crayons with all the colors in it.

    It was kind of a mercy to be send to a psych ward with no diagnosis when I was 11 and basically forgotten about. (My quack was trying to milk my insurance company for money. He even put me on a deadly dangerous antipsychotic for *depression*.) There was no PE unless you got permission to go outside. I was so drugged I was in no state to do anything but follow orders, anyway. That place was hell on earth and truly the end of my childhood, but it got me out of gym.

  28. Oh man, I hated gym with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. The day I found out that my high school allowed members of the band and color guard to substitute that for traditional PE, I squealed with joy. Marching and doing field shows with a nationally competitive high school band isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a POINT. I hate pointless exercise. Treadmill or laps? Kill me now. Possibly contributing to my band’s victory or hiking and seeing interesting rocks and plants? Still not my idea of fun, but I’ll do it because there’s something to make the possibility of keeling over from overheating worthwhile. (I overheat so easily it’s ridiculous.)

  29. At one of my schools the senior students decided to do a project to ‘improve the fitness of the school’. To do this they made a survey that the students had to answer (how do you get to school, how often do you eat fast food, ect). Now at the time my mother was a personal trainer, so while I didn’t look fit I was. My family also only ate out once a fortnight.

    But that didn’t seem to matter because since I was a fat kid obviously I was lieing to get out of doing anything.

    I went home in tears because I was pulled out of class in front of everyone to partake in the extra exercise and ‘diet education.’

    I was 10. My mother called the school and said I wasn’t allowed to partake in anything extra that she hadn’t given permission for.

    • WTF is it with schools and teachers humiliating kids at THAT AGE? Do we smell like delicious berries? Are we wearing signs? WHAT IS IT?

  30. God, that sucks. I always like PE (or gym as we used to call it) because I was pretty good at most sports. However, I remember the shame that my good friend felt when she could not run the mile. She was in no way overweight, but was later (much later) found to have a metabolic disorder. Seems that everything these days is a damn competition. I have no problem with team sports and games and winners/losers at games, but the PE teachers have to recognize that not all people can be great at everything. Stigmatizing those who “can’t” is mental abuse.

  31. I credit high school gym class with helping me to be a lifelong despiser of sports and exercise. We had the President’s initiative – where you had to run the track in a specific amount of time. If you failed, your gym class consisted of – you guessed it – running the track, every single day. I had knee problems from the time I hit puberty and running made them worse, so of couse I could never pass this ridiculous requirement. It hurt to run. After dislocating my knee [more than once] I finally had a doctor sign me out of gym class all together. Joy! It was years later after having kids that I took a ‘fun’ exercise class and actually worked on my knee strength. I still will never run for fun, but my knees are actually in better shape now at 46 than they were when I was 16. Too bad for the gym teachers it was all about performance rather than health – if they were better informed, it might have spared me a lot of pain.

  32. I couldn’t agree more with this. Punishing these kids by not letting them choose their exercise is completely counterproductive (also, it’s not like high schoolers need more fuel to make fun of others). And the walking is a great idea! When I was younger, there were several physical activities I enjoyed, and running was not one of them. Not to mention walking is much easier on the body anyway.

  33. Oh boy, PE. I hate it with a passion and when my kids are old enough I will help them get out of it in any way I can.

    I live in a country which puts athletic ability on a pedestal, and I was chubby and not athletic. I could always walk for hours and hours without a break but I couldn’t run for (literally) 2 minutes without stopping and gasping for air. And I just wasn’t good at any sport.

    At primary school PE consisted mainly of playing team sports. It was fun, and although I knew I sucked (the other kids made sure I knew and my teachers would roll their eyes) I didn’t care. Intermediate changed all that, though, as I went through a horrible amount of bullying and started to hate myself. Plus we changed to the ‘usual’ model of PE – everyone ‘performing’ in front of the rest of the class. I don’t remember the teachers doing anything to stop the jeers from my classmates as I failed to do the long jump or a forward roll *again*.

    Luckily my parents didn’t think PE was worth much and they had my back. I remember in form 2 (I was about 12 years old) we would have to do a run before lunchtime. The run was ‘supposed’ to take 30 minutes, so we were set off 30 minutes before lunch started. If you took longer it was tough – you had less time for lunch. I always took longer. One day the teacher announced that anyone who took longer than 30 minutes would spend the next series of PE sessions running sprints up and down a steep hill near the school. I was terrified and I tried so hard to run that day… to the point where I was dry retching. But of course I still took longer than 30 minutes. I went home crying that day and Mum called up the teacher in a fury. He tried to argue that I needed the sprints – being fat and slow and all – but she let him know in no uncertain terms that there would be a sh*tstorm of huge proportions if he made me do it. The next day we were all assembled (several classes of us) and the teacher made a big speech about how slack we were, taking more than 30 minutes for this run and how some of us were just losers, etc. Then he made all of us who ‘qualified’ for the sprints stand up. A few more lines about ‘personal responsibility’ and the like followed before he abruptly told me and 1 other fat, un-sporty girl to sit down and took the others who’s been standing to do sprints.

    So by the time I got to college/high school I was taking every loophole I could to get out of PE, which was mainly based around athletics/running and team sports. I was sick of being held up for ridicule in front of my class. But I recall my shock the day we did volleyball (the first time I’d ever played). I was so used to sucking at everything that when I served the ball and my serve was *perfect* I just stood there, staring, dumfounded. No praise came my way, of course… but I was so used to being useless that I couldn’t get my head around the idea I’d done it ‘right’. For a moment I actually, seriously thought I was going slightly crazy.

    I would have loved a PE session that was a) fun (why not dancing or aerobics??) and b) non-competitive. But it seems that just doesn’t happen.

  34. Here’s my thing about PE, sports and being athletic: not everyone is the same!!

    Some people are really good at speed and agility type movement. Some are really good at slower and endurance type movement.

    I have always been n the second group. I have never been “light on my feet”. I am not quick and agile – I will never be good at playing any kind of,sport that requires me to be able to move with speed and dodge tackling or tagging. But I am good at being able to handle weighty things (weights, discus, shot put…you know, heavy things!) and incredible levels of stamina/endurance.

    That said, I was never given any options in PE that might allow me to showcase what I COULD do well. No, it was all about who could run the fastest, jump the highest, go the longest with getting pummelled in dodge ball.

    Needless to say, I was picked on (by my fellow students AND teachers) because I was a terrible cardio-based athlete, and then told I was a bad sport when I would refuse to participate, even if it meant getting a bad grade. Had I been given access to, say, free weights or other controlled, weight bearing options, I’d have gotten stellar grades in PE. I am an ice breaker in a sea of speed boats.

    My point is, not everyone is equally great in everything, and schools, teaching professionals, need to remember that. Sports are no different than career – not everyone is a gun basketball player, just like not everyone is a gun chemical engineer. Some of rock shot put, some of us rock manual labour.

    We all have our own talent in every area, and the schools SHOULD be helping kids find and hone theirs.

  35. It’s ironic that when so many schools are embracing new technologies and new ways of teaching academics, PE is stuck in the 1950’s and apparently refuses to move into the modern age. The schools that realize PE has to change with the times too are far and few between. I’m sorry, but making kids run laps because they score low in class is ridiculous. We’re not training for the Olympics or the major leagues here. This is supposed to be teaching that physical movement can be fun. When will schools and teachers get it that not every student is going to be the next Cal Ripken or Serena Williams? Hopefully enough kids and parents will protest and this stupid program is revamped.

    Also, we need to get rid of the President’s Fitness Test (I know it as “Superfit” when I was in school). It does nothing but cause shame in kids, regardless of body size.

  36. This is why I hated gym class… it was a nightmare for me every single time. It’s literally bullying that is sanctioned by the teachers and the system. Non-athletic kids, who are often outsiders anyway, are singled out and ostracized for something that isn’t really their fault.

    As an educator myself, I know that the way to help a kid do well is to make them interested and to make them feel that they can attempt the work in a safe space where they won’t be made fun of for making a mistake, but instead, praised for their efforts. Imagine if I separated the seating in my English classroom by ability and gave the kids who excelled a bunch of fun movies to watch and forced the low level students to write essays about boring subjects.. as they watched their “superior” peers do something fun. Imagine that I did this while lecturing everyone on the “dangers” of not being at a certain level of English ability and showing shameful images associated with that. Imagine if I pulled each student aside individually (but IN FRONT OF the entire class!) to do some meaningless measurement of their ability and publicly announced their grade (good or bad) to all the students. I wouldn’t be a teacher for very long… but it’s ok for PE teachers to get away with this sort of thing?

  37. I always was the chunky but very active kid so it confused my parents to no end why my gym grades were always nothing but Fs. Never mind the teachers letting other kids make fun of me, never mind it was all “fitness” tests and sports. Never mind my excelling any time we did something that wasn’t wasn’t a test or sports. In middle school I was so happen to get to choose between gym and dance…until I found out that dance was actually just ballet. I have scoliosis and it is bad enough to throw off my balance and shoulders and hips. Add in mandatory leotards and tights and still being a chunky kid and yeah, I always conveniently “forgot” to bring my dance clothes. I knew I wasn’t going to be doing en pointe work and that was all the teacher was interested in funneling the kids towards. The only highlight in school was in high school there was a proper fitness class that I got to do for a gym credit. We got to work out how we chose for the time. I could just do leg weights and bicycling or just use free weights and the leg press, or whatever I chose. Oddly enough it was the only gym class I didn’t fail. Gee, wonder why.

  38. My child is super skinny. like 5’5″ and 76 pounds. He is super un athletic. He hates sports and gym. But he loves going outside and hiking and camping and doing outdoor tag. You know all things not offered in school. He would get this remedial gym for sure. I dont like the idea of this at all.

  39. I liked gym in junior high. The teacher was a nice, ladylike married woman (she wore those gym suits with the little skirt attached). We did gymnastics, swimming, a sort of synchronized dance routine with hula hoops, volleyball, basketball and street hockey. I never liked basketball or street hockey because, as so many here have already said, I didn’t know the rules and nobody ever actually taught them. We were just supposed to “know” what to do, and I didn’t.

    I did hate the communal shower thing. My parents were very modest, and I was an only child. I never saw either of my parents naked, and once I could toilet and bathe myself, they never saw me naked either, unless I was really sick or something. And now I was expected to get naked with a bunch of strangers. No, thank you.

    Fast forward to senior high. The school had just hired a new gym teacher. She was young, and scary. Very butch, and she very obviously favored the “sporty” kids (which I was not). She liked to be called “Coach,” which seemed silly to me. She acted like a guy, including yelling like a guy. Did I mention, I hated yelling and still do?

    Sad to say, much of the emphasis was on team sports, at which I sucked (I was never interested in any of them past the grade-school kickball games we played in the street). Again, the rules were not explained, so of course I didn’t do well. The entire time, I was thinking what a waste of time this was, when I could have been reading a good book or something.

    We did a few alternative things – badminton and square dancing, and I was good at those. The exercise fad of the day (it was the mid-70s) was aerobic dance. I still remember when the teacher told us we were going to do “aerobics,” and I thought, “Oh good, dancing!” Then she informed us that aerobics meant running. Oh fucking joy. I would rather have all my fingernails ripped out by the roots than have to run. Of course I wasn’t good at it, and it was dead boring besides.

    Needless to say, the communal shower with the scary teacher watching was even worse in high school.

    The happiest day of my high school life came when I was accepted to music school as a piano major, and my mom went to the principal to get me exempted from anything that could cause me to hurt my hands. That pretty much limited the gym crap to floor exercise gymnastics, badminton and square dancing – no more hated ball games of any kind, which was fine by me.

    I still like to dance and do yoga. I would still rather have all my nails pulled out than run, or do any other kind of gym crap. I cannot believe we are still torturing children with gym; I would prefer to see it made an elective. Then, the sporty kids could have something to do that interested them, and those of us who loathe sports could be left the eff alone.

  40. Oh, Ragen! Excellent column, but torturous to read. The memories freshened. It took so long to recover from the harm that was done. And, damnit, the harm is STILL being done. The status quo has got to go. And in ALL ways.

  41. Without going into detail about PE (it wasn’t good, but it wasn’t nearly as bad what people are describing here), I keep thinking that thank God I’m naturally good with words and fairly good with numbers– if I’d been untalented and gotten the treatment I had with PE and singing (“just move your mouth”), it would have cost me a lot.

    I’m inclined to think that (American, at least) schooling doesn’t have much purpose beyond adults having the pleasure of telling children what to do.

    • Not true! It also teaches children multitasking: how to occupy themselves quietly without being noticed while a person in authority drones on about something they already know, and still pay enough attention to answer questions. 😉 I learned that teachers rarely *look* at what you write during class as long as you don’t act as if you’re having fun… a great deal of my amateur fantasy and later worldbuilding for DnD campaigns was written during school.

      That’s for regular academic subjects. PE is an exercise (har har) in pounding all blocks into round holes regardless of whether they are round, square, triangular, or some other shape.

  42. I mostly lurk here, but this post really hit a nerve and I had to comment. Some of my worst childhood memories are of gym class. I was NEVER coordinated with sports. I was always the kid picked last for the team, and the one hit over and over by the dodgeball. I hated it, and those feelings stayed with me. I think it has a lot to do with why I never liked formal exercise. The thing that pisses me off, is that I did have some physical abilities, but because I couldn’t do some of the stupid gym stuff, I always felt inadequate. I was great at gymnastics type stuff. I loved riding my bike. I was a great roller skater. I was a daredevil on the playground. I would jump off anything and did all kinds of crazy stuff. I was so flexible. I just didn’t have coordination for things like kickball or softball or volleyball, and this body was never meant to run or do pullups. Gym was like punishment for me, and it had a lasting affect on my psyche.
    Being called fat by the other kids didn’t help. I don’t remember what I weighed before I was 11, but I weighed 110 then, and I was 5’0″. In high school I grew to my final height of 5’3″ and weighed 163. Luckily, I went to a school that had alternative gym classes and I took a dance class, which is something I enjoy, and am not bad at, so I didn’t feel as much like a loser, even though I was “fat.”

    It makes me SICK that Prospect High School can treat children like this. I don’t even have words. How can they NOT see the damage this will do to kids? I KNOW this damage from personal experience. I am almost 42 years old, and I am absolutely certain part of the reason I weigh 300 pounds is because of my experiences in gym class.

  43. I am (and always have been) thin and tall. You think I’d be good at PE, right? Not at all.

    My scoliosis and lordosis make running for any more than a few hundred feet agonizing. I have chronic pain from my back issues. I am not flexible. No insurance, no doctor, no treatment (still).

    My exercise HAS to be low-impact. Walking, recumbent cycling, swimming, dancing, and yoga are all things I can do but are generally not offered in schools.

    I’d probably get put in the “fat classes.”

  44. As a fat kid named “Wednesday,” school was pretty much relentless bullying anyway, but gym was especially horrible. In 3rd grade, they started weighing us and posting our weight on a big board that everyone could see. When I complained, I was told I was “too young to be sensitive about my weight.” They compared our weight at the beginning of the year, several times during, and again at the end–grading us based on a combination of participation and how “well” we did managing our weight.

    The reading analogy is a good one. What these schools are doing it the equivalent of testing everyone’s reading skills and then saying the good readers can pick something fun to read, while the “bad” readers have to muddle through The Old Man and the Sea. You’d be setting those kids up for a lifetime of thinking that reading is boring, a punishment, and far too difficult to do for fun.

  45. I guess I don’t see what makes this so different from having special classes (learning resource rooms) for those who are learning disabled. There are specific fitness-related abilities that, like reading, can make it easier to function in life. If it’s OK to expect children to perform at a certain level in reading or math, and to receive special help if they fall behind, I don’t see why it’s not OK to have fitness expectations, and give children extra help if they fall short. In fact, based on the stories in the comments, and on my own recollection of PE, I would think it would be a relief to be separated based on ability. You wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by an inability to perform at the same level as the other kids. It’s actually similar for kids with learning disabilities. Sometimes they experience lots of shame, frustration, and anxiety in their regular classes, because they do not have the same abilities as their peers. Asking a learning disabled kid to read aloud in a regular class is like asking a physio-kinetically disabled kid in gym class to play a game of H-O-R-S-E or climb a rope.

    I should add that I think that the “extra help” provided to children with any sort of disability should be nurturing, and foster interest and enthusiasm rather than frustration, but this often isn’t the case. For example, I can’t believe how much math seatwork is assigned to learning disabled students. It’s bad enough for regular students, but when you assign it to kids who are already highly frustrated by math, it’s like torture.

    • The problem isn’t necessarily the separation, it’s that the tracking is punitive. The analogy isn’t having the special ed kids in a separate class where they don’t have to compare themselves to the average and gifted kids. It’s having the special ed kids in a separate class where they do nothing but boring reader exercises, math facts drills, and science and history lectures, while the average kids get to read fiction, do projects, and go on field trips.

      It’s also a problem if we’re measuring fitness solely by “ability to run a mile in 10 minutes” or something similar. The kid who can’t run distances well may have great hand-eye coordination and be one of the better tennis players. The kid who can’t do a pull-up may have really strong legs and be a top swimmer. Or the kid whose short legs don’t let him run well might be an excellent wrestler. If we want an ideally fit person, do we want to emulate Olympic runners, swimmers, divers, gymnasts, weightlifters, skiers, or curlers?

      • When I was in elementary school, the normal kids were left in a boring classroom, while the gifted students were whisked away to a different school and got to participate in tons of fun activities, like creating a math board game, making origami animals, dressing up like an explorer and giving a presentation, and going to Six Flags. I was one of the privileged kids. I think the idea was that since we had mastered all of the basic stuff and scored in the 99th percentile on all of the standardized tests, we had time to do a bunch of fun and creative stuff. I’m not sure if rewarding the gifted kids in this way is wrong, but I do suspect that the push to get test scores up is crushing creativity in the normal kids, since their classrooms no longer have time to foster creativity (and keep in mind that NCLB also requires that students with learning disabilities take the standardized tests). I do have this idealistic notion that ALL students can reach learning or fitness goals without feeling extremely bored or frustrated. As I stated in my original comment, I think that separating students based on ability makes sense, but that the “special” classes (as well as the regular ones) should foster interest and enthusiasm.

        Regarding measuring fitness, I do agree that there are many different fitness skills. However, there are also different math skills, different reading skills, etc. If a kid has a keen understanding of symmetry and space, but struggles with arithmetic, they will force him or her to work on the arithmetic. I do think that we should reevaluate which skills we consider “highly desirable” (I will not say “necessary,” because there should not be a single ability that is considered “necessary” for a person to participate in society). If a skill is not highly desirable and a student is not interested, introduce the student to the skill, but don’t push the student to perfect it after that. For example, I think an ability to do basic arithmetic is highly desirable, but the ability to do long division is not. As for fitness, I think flexibility, agility, strength, and endurance are highly desirable because these things help people function in their day-to-day lives. I would not consider the specific ability to run long distances to be highly desirable, but sprinting short distances probably would be for most people (to escape danger, catch up with a child or pet, catch a hat or paper that has blown away, etc.).

        • My personal feeling is that physical education needs an entire revamping. We want the goal to be helping kids find activities they like enough so that it doesn’t matter as much if they excel in that area. Some children, like some adults, are just never going to be “athletes” in the traditional sense. The goal is to help them find ways to move their bodies, which helps health, in ways that doesn’t compromise their self-esteem or demoralize.

          Gym class should be about fun, not competition. There are plenty of competitive arenas for students who want that, including organized sports.

          I’ve worked with preschool students and toddlers, and with that age group you have to find ways to help them get out their energy, so that they can focus on other things like academic learning. It’s all about fun, though. And as a student, so was gym class until about 2nd grade when it suddenly shifted into competitive endeavors. I had no interest in kickball or flag football or volleyball. None. Nothing was likely to change that, but it MIGHT have helped if it was about having fun and there wasn’t so much emphasis placed on scoring.

          My alternative high school didn’t have “gym.” We had “recreational arts.” There were a multitude of athletic options, and students got to choose. Walking was one. Step aerobics was one. Bowling, twice a week, was also one. But we weren’t ever scored on how fast we walked, how many steps we used, or how well we bowled. It was about participation. If we participated, we got credit. Both because of that, and because bullying was not tolerated (and rarely occurred anyway), I was brave enough to go bowling twice a week and to do step aerobics. I’d never in a million years have done step in a public school at 300+ pounds. In fact, in my public school, I flat out refused to do ANY gym activities. I didn’t care if I failed. I was so traumatized by it, I wouldn’t do it.

          The point is, maybe it’s not a terrible idea to take kids and break them into groups based on abilities, but… it shouldn’t be overly obvious, and there needs to be no favoritism or preferential treatment with the more athletic students, and that includes EVERY student should get the opportunity to do EVERY activity. Frankly, if a superior athlete wants to do the “boring” stuff, that should be allowed, too. Some kids love running or jumping jacks. Why should they be forced into what is perceived to be more suited to their abilities/likes just because they’re “gifted?”

          • “We want the goal to be helping kids find activities they like enough so that it doesn’t matter as much if they excel in that area.”

            Couldn’t we do this in the core classes too, or am I just not in touch with reality?

    • Well said, Brian. Add to that the fact that we know from experience how kids tend to torture and bully kids they feel are different, and you have a recipe for disaster.

      • It’s the bullying that’s the problem, not the special classes. You don’t get rid of special classes just because some kids are cruel and disrespectful. That would be treating the wrong end of the problem. Can you imagine getting rid of special education rooms, because learning disabled kids are teased for being “special ed,” “sped,” or “retarded”? Actually, I participated in the “Gifted and Talent” program in my school district, which was technically a special education program. I was called a nerd by two students in 5th grade because of this, but I still enjoyed the program and would have been upset if it had been discontinued in order to spare me the teasing. Some kids are different and need extra help in certain areas. The “normal” kids should be taught to appreciate differences and treat others with compassion and respect.

        • LOL – I reveled in my “gifted” status and loved being called a nerd and smart. 😀

          • Normally it wouldn’t bother me, but these girls were doing it to be mean. They also made fun of my shoes and clothing, and one of them asked me why I “talked that way” (she was referring to my moderate stutter).

            • Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. We had a few of those, but enough of the cool kids were in the gifted program where I was to make it mostly enviable.

              • I think if I had attended the elementary schools that were in the more privileged parts of town, it would have been different, because you had more “gifted” children at those schools. At my school, there were only one or two per grade.

        • The problem is the bullying isn’t necessarily limited to kids. It happens from teachers, too. Especially on the high school level… there are teachers who will decide an uncoordinated kid is just lazy or unmotivated or even obstinate. If said teacher is also a coach – and they usually are – it can be even worse.

          Beyond that, it’s just plain WRONG to punish kids with less athletic ability. Oh, you suck at this utterly irrelevant skill set? Let’s force you to do it every day for years. It’s insanity, and it’s guaranteed to cause a lot of students to despise physical activity entirely, which is entirely opposite the entire point of these programs.

          Kids who are naturally athletically inclined get to have fun. Kids who aren’t get to do boring crap day after day. It’s absolutely a punishment, and frankly I think it violates students’ civil rights. If my child were in one of those classes, I’d be furious.

          Differentiation is one thing… doing so in a way that stigmatizes students is entirely another thing.

          • “Kids who are naturally athletically inclined get to have fun. Kids who aren’t get to do boring crap day after day.”

            Hmmm…that sounds incredibly familiar. Just substitute “intellectually gifted” for “naturally athletically inclined.” That’s the way our society works–if you have greater abilities, you are rewarded. I wonder if people who complain about gym class have ever struggled in the core subjects. I always struggled in gym, dance, etc., and while it sucked at the time, I think it was good for me to do something that I didn’t excel at, and see other kids who were far more talented in a specific area and rewarded because of it.

            I am curious as to what you mean by “utterly irrelevant skill set.” Who gets to choose which skills or abilities are valuable?

            • You will NEVER convince me that climbing a rope in gym class is a relevant skill. For students who WANT to climb, sure. For the rest? Nope. Not relevant. We ALL need to be able to read, write and at least do basic math. We do NOT all need to climb ropes.

              I’m also opposed to kids who are “average” not having creative outlets and opportunities. I’m a graduate student in an education program, and I can tell you there is significant focus on how to successfully differentiate, not only among various skill levels, but also various learning styles.

              My issue is that you can’t apply a “one size fits all” approach to education PERIOD. That includes gym classes. While this differentiation program seems, on the surface, to address that, it does so in a way that’s not likely to actually HELP the students.

              I’d say the same thing if this were math… and since I was HORRIBLE at math, mainly due to teachers not understanding how I best learn (and not a lack of ability), and frequent disruptions in my education (moves, family drama, etc), I have personal experience at “sucking” in both an academic area and phys ed.

              I had the opportunity to learn that I don’t actually “suck” at math when I began my alternative program. I was basically tutored one-on-one with that program, and it worked. I earned As in algebra (still hated geometry, though… spacial perception issues big time) instead of failing.

              It was only in retrospect, though, that I realized I had the skills to be a dancer or a swimmer. I just didn’t have the opportunity to have that realized. I would’ve been very good at any sort of individual sport. I was never going to be good at team sports. This is an example of what I mean. Dance is something students can absolutely do in a gym class… my 8th grade gym teacher (the mean bitch was on maternity leave for a while) did a dance unit. It was the only time I participated in gym all year, and she actually went out of her way to help me feel more comfortable. She didn’t just write me off as “fat and lazy” as the other teacher had years before, when, btw, I wasn’t even fat.

              • Yes, I definitely think a one-size-fits-all approach is harmful. I’m sort of a fan of the Montessori approach, but not sure if it produces the test scores that are required, especially in disadvantaged areas.

  46. I went to the endocrinologist yesterday and she treated me like absolute crap. Insisted I had to START eating right… Not even considering that maybe I AM eating right… But I should start. I eat lean meats, chicken, and fish, along with vegetables, and whole grain anything I can get my hands on. She wouldn’t even let me get a word in edgewise AND insisted I eat 5 small meals a day but wanted me to keep my calorie intake low. Um. How does that work if I’m eating 5 meals? No. Also wanted me to give up coffee. She didn’t understand how dangerous that is for everyone involved.

  47. And I thought things sucked when I was in school. Shit like this makes me weep for our children.

  48. The President’s fitness test was crap. How many times did we do sit-ups in PE class? Zero. How many times did we do pull-ups in PE class? Zero. How many times did we do a sit and reach in PE class? Zero. Surely I was not the only 9 year old who’d never done a sit-up before. How many times did we run a mile in PE class? Zero in elementary school, which is where it began. We were told to pace ourselves, however a person does that. I didn’t get the hang of it until I was long out of school with the assistance of hip-hop music to keep a cadence. I figure skated in my teens until I took my knee out but that just didn’t carry the same weight as tripping over hurdles, getting hit by a volleyball, or standing in the outfield. I hate gyms to this day. There’s nothing fun about having to deal with smaller people in cuter clothes taking a break from lamenting their epic weight gain from an XS to a S to suggest my fat butt gets on the treadmill so that said fat butt on said treadmill can be laughed at later. Don’t get me started on the fail that are sports bras.

  49. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I found gym class terribly traumatizing, and it made me hate exercise for many years. I had a butt ton of ear infections as a child, and consequently, my equilibrium is not so great. I was never any good at gymnastics. Girls are supposed to be good at gymnastics. My coordination was lousy. I did well with individual-focused sports like track and field when I was younger, but I was terrible with team sports.
    Consequently, I got put in the “special” gym class. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten over that stigma.

  50. Late comer here. In Canada we had a similar thing to the fitness test. Starting in grade 2 we had to get tested on how well we did jumping jacks, push ups, sit ups, etc. None of us had ever seem most of these done before, so we didn’t know what to do. Those who did the 5 reps got prizes, but I had to continue doing them until I got it right. I had no idea how to do a push-up, I would always go straight to the ground, and try to get up from there. The teacher would get all mad and say “that’s not how you do it”, so I probably had only 2 right in all that. Plus there was a deadline for getting the results in to the gov’t or whatever was doing it, so I was late and didn’t get any prize or such. The teacher doing it, also taught math to me and she interpreted my failures as lateness all around.

    In high school grade 10, it was the only high school level where gym was required. There were 3 of 4 options available in 5 week blocks. My gym teachers there were the only ones who accepted my limits and worked with me to go around them. There was a swimming and dance unit that everyone had to take, and for the swimming, after it was shown that I couldn’t swim (after going off a diving board) I did the games only after that (there was a diving board, games, and 4 other swimming stations). I liked dance the best, learning waltz, foxtrot, jive. In another unit I learned self-defense (we had a female police there to teach us the moves), orientation, and bunch of cool stuff.

    I remember in jr. high gym that we had to run 1km, and those who finished early got to go home early, while those of us with asthma or couldn’t run were still running 20 mins later (or walking) while the teacher was on his bike telling us to “get a move on”. I’d be coughing for hours afterwards.

    I had no idea when gym started to be taught, but 1950s in the post-war era seems right. In other comments I’ve read, nobody before that exercised, and if you did you were considered a weirdo.

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