NYTimes: Gym Class Isn’t Just Fun and Games AnymoreSubmitted by mdefarge on Tue, 02/19/2013 - 20:22
This paragraph sums it up: "Spurred by an intensifying focus on student test scores in math and English as well as a desire to incorporate more health and fitness information, more school districts are pushing physical education teachers to move beyond soccer, kickball and tennis to include reading, writing and arithmetic as well." http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/education/gym-class-isnt-j...
I remember when, years ago, this idea came to our New York suburban county, focused on students' poor language arts skills. No doubt coming from some government directive (with likely an incentive attached), teachers were told that they ALL had to start teaching literacy: math, social studies, and science teachers; chorus, art, gym teachers...
A teacher friend of mine balked, saying that, first, she was challenged enough trying to teach her students algebra (some students arrive in junior high unable to do basic arithmetic); second, it wasn't her area of expertise to be correcting essays for grammar, composition, etc. How about elementary school teachers, reading teachers, and English teachers just figure out how to do *their* jobs, so she could concentrate on her own!
In my own district, in the teacher meeting at which this was announced, an orchestra director readily agreed to help the English teachers teach reading... "if English teachers will, likewise, help me teach students how to read music."
One high school student I know simply refused to do the extra assignments. He said that he was loaded up with academic classes - either required or those he was taking as electives, foregoing his lunch hour and study period to participate in band, orchestra, and chorus. He took these for enjoyment and to *balance out his day*. (Well, that latter reasoning was to be expected for how often he'd heard me tout Waldorf education, with its holistic approach dubbed "education to the hand, the heart, and the head," referring to physical, emotional, and intellectual development, i.e., acknowledging the different and interrelated aspects of who we are as human beings.)
This free thinker decided to take a stand and took his case to the principal. He explained that, first, he chose music electives for enjoyment and to balance out his day. Second, he had enough homework from his heavy academic schedule. Third, it wasn't fair. He said that he himself did well academically, with music being more of a hobby. But there were those who devoted themselves to and excelled in the arts, some who might *not* do so well academically. It wasn't fair to them that what should be an assessment of *their* particular talents could be diminished from not doing well in a different subject altogether, that part of this had to do with solidarity with those of his peers.
The principal heard him out. She noted that although the district was above the norm, nonetheless, there was always room for improvement. She said it was now school policy, and so while it was his prerogative whether to do assignments or not, if he chose not to, he'd need to accept the consequences of a lowered grade.
He said, no problem. He wasn't in school to acquire good grades. He was there to learn and to take full advantage of what the school had to offer. (Not that he brought this up, per se, but he had this notion that schools were there to serve students and not the other way around.) The principal also spoke to me after their meeting, so that I, too, would understood that not doing assignments would lower his grades. I guess she assumed that grades for grades' sake might be important to me, if not him. They weren't.
One of his music teachers took this edict seriously, not to mention he was a bit disgruntled at any student's overt non-participation. So be it. The other teachers, while needing to comply, simply made those assignments not count for much. So there really wasn't much of a penalty after all.
In any event, this student continued to thoroughly enjoy his music electives and spend his after-school time doing (some of his) academic homework, while participating in a plethora of after-school activities he found more challenging than schoolwork and/or just enjoyed: Model U.N., Mock Trial, Mu Alpha Theta & math competitions, chess club, student performances of original works (poetry, stories, or songs), student government, acting, theater production (sound, lighting, direction), serving on crew building theatrical sets or stages for other school performances (e.g., battles of the bands)... also reading at home, e.g., Dune or Star Wars novels, The Fountainhead... honing DJ skills... hanging out with friends... along with participation in a VFW multi-county oratorical contest on THE CONSTITUTION.
It's one thing to integrate the various disciplines in a meaningful way. (For instance, it's a great idea to have gym teachers cover Olympic sports the year students learn about ancient Greece - with area schools competing in their own Olympics!) It's another to go looking for places within gym or music or art curriculum to squeeze in academic-review activities.
To begin with, what are the OBJECTIVES of gym, music, and art within school curriculum? I'd think the primary purpose of GYM would be to get perhaps otherwise sedentary students MOVING. Children sit all day in school; so many then sit for hours in front of tv sets or computer screens. American children now deal with weight problems; they're experiencing diseases and disorders normally associated with adults (older, sedentary adults). And what might be the BEST strategies to accomplish that, get the muscles stretched and the circulation going, develop physical agility? Probably not something that involves books, unless they're used for balancing on the head! (See NYTimes photo captioned "Books shared space with basketballs in the equipment room at Manatee Elementary School in Lake Worth, Fla.") As for music and art, they provide a healthy emotional outlet and help children to develop into well-rounded adults - both teaching them skills and fostering appreciations.
Truly, there IS no philosophy governing public school education today. Curriculum and teaching methods are all over the place. But even in the 50's and 60's, when supposedly we had "good education," education was reactionary. At that time it was about winning the space race. Today, with American students lagging far behind other industrialized nations in literacy and math, with dire predictions of the consequences to this country's national security and economy, it's about America remaining in the race at all. Maybe it's time to stop thinking about education in terms of racing anywhere. Maybe it's time to stop viewing children as a means to an end altogether, as future workers being prepared to meet the needs of government and corporations.
How about, instead, re-thinking education based on what's good and right, what will help children to find and develop their unique interests and gifts; help them to be able to think for themselves, form their own opinions; enable them to creatively problem solve (maybe to go on and invent something or make a salient discovery that will change things for the better vs. finding jobs based on a former paradigm); to develop capacities that will enable children to become active participators and good citizens of this earth, appreciating and enjoying what life has to offer.
Ask teachers these days for the philosophy behind what is taught, and you will not get a cogent answer. And on "back to school" nights, when teachers outline their course objectives for parents, you'll not likely hear "to develop an appreciation for geometry" or physics or literature or American history. What you can count on hearing: "to prepare students for the ____ exam." (Fill in name of standardized test.) What lofty goals we have for our children!
If I hadn't had a good private school in my area, with a well-thought out curriculum based on a worthy philosophy, I'd have home-schooled - at the least during my children's most formative elementary school years. But the problem reflected in education is pervasive. What, any longer, are the underlying, guiding principles of our country as a whole? We've lost our foundation. Everything these days seems to be reactionary (and heavy on scare tactics as a motivation). That's why I supported Ron Paul, who unlike other candidates (including the president) doesn't blow with the wind but operates according to deeply-rooted core values. It's why I supported Ron Paul and why I'm here at this site. Whatever our differences, we share a philosophy. What's the philosophy of the Democratic Party? Of the Republican Party? The same as the philosophy of our education system. There is none.