There is an American crisis in physical activity education! Winning in sport is being confused with total fitness for all.
This book is titled “The American Crisis in Physical Activity Education: Confusing Winning at Sport With Total Fitness for All.” You, the reader, may not think that this is indeed a problem, much less a crisis. However, if you will bear with me, I think that as you get into this book, you may eventually agree that the latter–a crisis–is actually the case.
Assuming that we are indeed confronted by a problem that has such serious ramifications for our future, what can be done? If these conditions are true, it means that we should assess the evolving situation carefully and then proceed to institute the appropriate remedies to the extent possible.
To provide us with an approach that should help to communicate with policy makers at all levels about this ever- increasing problem, I decided to use the five–question approach to the building of effective communication skills recommended by Mark Bowden, a communications specialist (National Post, Canada, 2008 11 24, FP3)
Question 1: Where are we now? The response to this question can be found in the credo stated at the front of this book. The large majority of children, youth, and young adults is not getting the quality physical and related health education program (including appropriate intramural sport competition) that we should be providing. On the other hand, a tiny percentage of this population is being provided with acceptable to excellent varsity (extramural) sport programs within the educational structure. This underlying philosophy in regard to the availability of selective school program offerings is not followed with any other aspect of public education. It is undemocratic! In addition, there is now evidence in the United States that, as these athletically superior students "progress" in sport competition through the years, their qualities of sportsmanship, fair play, honesty, etc. decline.
Question 2. Why are we here? The answer to this question is that we are here because society has mistakenly not been convinced that regular physical activity education for all children, youth, and young adults was important enough to require them to be involved regularly throughout the required number of years spent in the educational system. This is not the case with–say–English. mathematics, and science.
Question 3. Where should we want to be? We should want to create a situation where the following “common denominators” of physical activity education are made available in all educational institutions at all educational levels:
1. That regular physical activity education be required for all children and young people (who are presumably still in school) up to and including 16 years of age.
2. That human movement fundamentals through various expressive activities are basic in the elementary, middle, and high school curricula.
3. That physical vigor and endurance are important for people of all ages. Progressive standards should be developed from prevailing norms.
4. That boys and girls (and young men and women) should have an experience in competitive sport at some stage of their development. The important goal here is the development of an athlete of character, one who is honest, fair, responsible, respectful, and compassionate (Stoll, S. K. & Beller, J. M. Sport as education: On the edge. NY: Columbia University Teachers College, 1998.
5. That remediable defects should be corrected through exercise therapy at all school levels. Where needed, adapted sport and physical recreation experiences should be stressed.
6. That a young person should develop certain positive attitudes toward his or her own health in particular and toward community hygiene in general. Basic health knowledge should be an integral part of the school curriculum.
(N.B.: Note that this "common denominator" should be a specific objective of the field of physical activity education only as it relates to developmental physical activity.)
7. That exercise, sport, and expressive movement can make a most important contribution throughout life toward the worthy use of leisure.
8. That character and/or personality development is vitally important to the development of the young person. Therefore it is especially important that men and women with high professional standards and ethics guide all human movement experience in sport, exercise, and expressive movement at the various educational levels.
(See Zeigler, E. F. (2003) Socio-Cultural Foundations of Physical Education and Educational Sport. Aachen, Germany: Meyer and Meyer Sports.
Question 4. How do we get there? We “get there” by convincing the public, including the “powers that be,” that we simply cannot as a society permit the continuance of the prevailing haphazard approach to an aspect of human life that is so basic (1) to profitable and enjoyable involvement in all aspects of life, and that (2) will enable us to have the benefits of such a life over a longer period of time. Society must demand that such a comprehensive program be made available at all educational levels
Question 5. What exactly should we do? Without attempting to enumerate specifically where any stumbling blocks might loom in our path, the field of physical activity education should keep in mind the four major processes proposed by March and Simon (The Future of Human Resource Management, 1958, pp. 129-131). They could be employed chronologically, as the field seeks to realize its desired immediate objectives and long-range goal. These four major processes to be followed in the achievement of the desired objectives and goals for the field are as follows:
1. Problem-solving: Basically, what is being proposed here is a problem for the profession of sport and physical activity education to solve or resolve. It must move as soon as possible to convince others that this proposal is truly worthwhile. Part of the approach includes assurance that the objectives are indeed operational (i.e., that their presence or absence can be tested empirically as the field progresses). In this way, even if sufficient funding were not available--and it well might not be--the various parties who are vital or necessary to the success of the venture would at least have agreed-upon objectives. However, with a professional task of this magnitude, it is quite possible, even probable that such consensus will not be achieved initially. But it can be instituted--one step at a time!
2. Persuasion: For the sake of argument, then, let us assume that the objectives on the way toward the achievement of long-range aims are not shared by the others whom the profession needs to convince, people who are either directly or indirectly related to our own field or are in allied fields or related disciplines. On the assumption that the stance of the others is not absolutely fixed or intractable, then this second step of persuasion can (should) be employed on the assumption that at some level our objectives will be shared, and that disagreement over sub-goals can be mediated by reference to larger common goals. (Here the field should keep in mind that influencing specific leaders in each of the various "other" associations and societies with which it is seeking to cooperate can be a most effective technique for bringing about attitude change within the larger membership of our profession everywhere.)
Note: If persuasion works, then the parties concerned can obviously return to the problem-solving level (#1).
3. Bargaining: We will now move along to the third stage of a theoretical plan on the assumption that the second step (persuasion) didn't fully work. This means obviously that there is still disagreement over the operational goals proposed at the problem-solving level (the first stage). Now the field has a difficult decision to make: does it attempt to strike a bargain, or do it decide that we simply must "go it alone?" The problem with the first alternative is that bargaining implies compromise, and compromise means that each group involved will have to surrender a portion of its claim, request, or argument. The second alternative may seem more desirable, but following it may also mean eventual failure in achieving the final, most important objective.
Note: We can appreciate, of course, that the necessity of proceeding to this stage, and then selecting either of the two alternatives, is obviously much less desirable than settling the matter at either the first or second stages.
4. Politicking: The implementation of the fourth stage (or plan of attack) is based on the fact that the proposed action of the first three stages has failed. The participants in the discussion cannot agree in any way about the main issue. It is at this point that the recognized profession has to somehow expand the number of parties or groups involved in consideration of the proposed project. The goal, of course, is to attempt to include potential allies so as to improve the chance of achieving the desired final objective. Employing so-called "power politics" is usually tricky, however, and it may indeed backfire upon the group bringing such a maneuver into play. However, this is the way the world (or society) works, and the goal may be well worth the risk or danger involved.
Note: Obviously, the hope that it will not be necessary to operate at this fourth stage continually in connection with the development of the field. It would be most divisive in many instances and time consuming as well. Therefore, the field would be faced with the decision as to whether this type of operation would do more harm than good (in the immediate future at least).
Part One: An Emerging Postmodern Age
Selection #1 A North American Crisis! “A disastrous mistake”?
“Crisis, what crisis?” you may ask. My response is: “It’s getting closer, and it’s really going to really bite you, if you don’t look out!” Face it! Anyway one wants to look at it, the handwriting is on the wall! North American children and youth are simply not getting regular, quality physical activity education programs throughout their entire educational experience.
The result is going to be that they will “pay for it” sooner and later. And we, members of the general public, are really going to pay for it later in horrendous health costs and in several other vital ways.
And sadly, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves because we are being warned, and we had been forewarned down through the years. In September, 2004, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States released a report titled “Participation in High School Physical Education–United States, 1991- 2003 (MMWR Weekly, Sept, 17, 2004 / 53(36), 844-847). In essence it states the evolving situation is not good, and that “If the national health objectives are to be achieved, coordinated efforts involving schools, communities, and policy makers are needed to provide daily, quality PE for all youth” (p. 1).
Next, on May 10, 2006, a significant article written by Eleanor Randolph was published in The New York Times titled “The Big, Fat American Kid Crisis . . .And 10 Things We Can Do About It”.
In this highly significant article Ms. Randolph points out clearly and starkly that “Over the last 30 years. obesity rates have doubled among pre- schoolers and tripled for those age 6 to 11.” After stating “Childhood obesity has become a medical crisis,” she explains further that ”The National Institutes of Health estimates that Americans will take five years off our average lifespan in a few years if we don’t curb obesity, especially among the young.”
Still further, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that this obesity epidemic is already costing our health care system about $79 billion a year.”
Further, the June, 2009 issue of the Research Digest of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (Series 10, No. 2) included a report titled “ School Physical Education as a Viable Change Agent to Increase School Physical Activity. The summary statement in the article, written by Professors V. Gregory Payne, San
Jose State University, CA and James R. Morrow, Jr. University of North Texas, Denton, stressed that:
School physical education has been promoted by numerous expert sources as one of the most promising interventions in our nation’s battle against physical inactivity, obesity, and morbidities. However, much room remains for improvement. Changes to the curriculum with the adoption of standards and enforcement of state policies can make school physical education one of the most powerful change agents for the serious health concerns facing our country.
Finally, on July 2, 2009, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) followed up with “F as in Fat 2009 (How Obesity Policies are Failing in America”). Their findings are even more stark and foreboding: “Adult obesity rates increased in 23 states and did not decrease in a single state in the past year.” Calling for a National Strategy to Combat Obesity that urges the defining of “roles and responsibilities for federal, state, and local governments” as well as “promoting collaboration among businesses, communities, schools, and families,” A number of basic policies are recommended. Number #3 in this list states: “Increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activity at schools.”
It is obvious that the die has been cast. We in the field of physical activity education must step up to the plate more than we have ever done so in the past. We can no longer permit colleagues in other fields and disciplines to downgrade the value of our potential contribution to the lives of children, youth, and young adults. The solution for us is to relate to all those groups mentioned above to help us make our case in both the public sector and in academe. In doing so, we should state loudly and clearly: “We undertake physical activity regularly ourselves; we teach it to others; we teach other how to teach it; we research all aspects physical activity; and we administer programs of physical activity at all educational levels.” (At the university level, if we don’t think physical activity education sounds sufficiently “academic,” we can say that our concern is with “developmental physical activity in exercise, sport, and related expressive activity”.)
Finally, it should be obvious that a full understanding of such involvement in human movement depends on knowledge emanating from the physical sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.
A Terrible Predicament
How did America–the whole North American continent probably–get itself into such a predicament? Historically, as the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education (1885) “subdivided” and eventually became AAHPERD (and even spawned ICHPER-SD internationally), most of those “sub-divided” folks (e.g., health education, recreation) blithely went their own way as PE despite the valiant efforts of many "stumbled along" as the afterthought in the educational system. In Canada the CAHPERD tagged right along after them until it recently became Physical & Health Education Canada (a good move, I say).
This "name business" (i.e. deciding on the right name and sticking with it!) has been “driving me crazy and our field crazy” since I first became involved in the early 1940s. More recently I have been recommending the name "physical activity education and educational sport" for the "profession" and "developmental physical activity" as a name for any university unit.
Thinking historically and more broadly, however, physical education as a name for the field has indeed turned out to be a "bloody misnomer"! It was so, because–soon after the term “physical education” was adopted–psychological research in the early 20th century demonstrated that we are indeed unified organisms, the field of general education was thereby told that henceforth there couldn't be three separate types of education (i.e., physical, mental, and spiritual)!
In addition, because of the historical mind-body dichotomy dating back to the ancient Greek, Plato, and the "power of the church" subsequently, our field of physical education was “assigned” lower status automatically with this tri-partite educational philosophy (e.g., witness the place of “the body” in the well-known YMCA triangle!).
Further, in North America, Britain’s “sporting tradition” began to develop in the mid-1800s. It had to compete with the foreign systems of gymnastics and exercise brought over from Europe. This might have worked out just fine, if such activity had been introduced wholeheartedly within the educational curriculum on a regular basis. However, it was deemed “extra-curricular” by educational essentialists–and resultantly has suffered from “second-class status” ever since.
There Is No Profession of Physical Education!
Shifting back to what did happen to what was called physical education within education, I recommend that now–after proclaiming it loudly for 100 years–the field should stop talking about the profession of physical education. We must do this because we are not a profession! We are professional educators responsible for physical activity education within the curriculum. Also, specifically related health education is involved, although we are not typically school health educators unless qualified to do that too. School health education is far too important to be allotted as a second-hand responsibility of the physical activity educator. We are further typically not professional coaches, although based on background and training in selected sports, we carry out this function at the various educational levels. Certainly we are not considered a separate profession by the public!
Further, our frequent placement within departments, schools, or faculties of education at the university level (i.e., not as separate units in either the USA or Canada, for example) has somehow come to mean that our status is “automatically the ‘lowest of the low’ in the ‘academic firmament’.” I won’t go into the history of this declaration at this point right now. That is just “the way it is out there”!
(Note: Many of physical education’s professional programs in the United States are under the aegis of schools of education except where they managed to “escape” at some point historically. Even then, aspiring physical educators must have certain course experiences within the education unit on a campus to qualify for teacher status at the state level. The arrangement differs In Canada from province to province. In Ontario, for example, a separate degree is awarded (B.Ed.) after the baccalaureate degree in the field of physical education or kinesiology .
To broaden the outlook: Any idea of being a profession in society at large, in addition to being a professional educator responsible for physical activity education, "got away" from the field of physical education years ago and probably can never be retrieved. There are so many different professions or occupations “out there” whose practitioners promote this or that type of physical activity that to organize them “under one roof and one title” seem inconceivable. It might be worth a try, but it is “so late in the game.”
Thus, here we are today, as Jimmy Durante (the late comedian) was wont to say–because the right kind of physical activity has proven to be such a good thing– "Everybody wants to get in on the act!" And that's exactly what has been happening...
Just imagine it. Even many medics in the mid-20th century were almost “our enemies”; now they are proclaiming the benefits of physical activity daily as the beneficial results of this or that research project are reported. Of course, they should be doing just that! Why?
Because we now know that “womb to tomb”, developmental physical activity will not only help a person live life more fully, it will also help him or her to live longer! And yet, somehow (!) here we as physical activity educators are–at the beginning of the 21st century–with inadequate programs of physical and health education at all educational levels!
In addition, at the same time, somehow (!) commercialized, overemphasized, competitive sport is running rampant both within many high schools, colleges, and universities. This is actually hurting our field of physical activity education and related health education because of the misplaced expenditure of energy and the accompanying “misdirected” use of available funding in communities across the North American continent. The situation has developed (retrogressed?) to the point where the “wrong” types of sporting experiences are promoted and actually “glorified”! A case can be made to the effect that because of such misplaced emphasis that competitive sport is probably doing more harm than good in world culture.
How Did This Come About Historically?
I found myself hard pressed to explain fully and correctly how this “tale of woe” came to be historically. Then I recalled VanderZwaag’s analysis about what occurred during the period from 1880-1920 in the United States (1975). He had explained that “the nineteenth century was characterized by sectional interests and struggles among systems in physical education. This would not seem to be true today. What was the turning point?” VanderZwaag found the answer in “the steadily increasing interest in sports among the American people. The popularity of athletic contests was evident long before 1880. However, the earliest interest was developed through athletic clubs and intercollegiate athletics. The mass of the people did not receive the educational benefits to be derived from such activity.”
As it turned out, the English sporting pattern won out over the several foreign systems of physical education. As VanderZwaag explained further that by 1920, it was evident that the United States had evolved a program of physical education that was characterized by informality and emphasis upon national sports. Such a program was thought to be entirely natural in view of our changing educational and political philosophies. Educationally, there was a growing recognition that a sound program of education should be based upon the needs of the child. This was also being recognized in the field of physical education that rapidly came to a system of physical education for the public schools that was based upon the play activities of childhood.
Why did this acceptance of “play and sport” as “physical education” materialize, you may ask? Seeking to answer this question more fully, I remembered that many years ago, when I was thesis adviser to the late Phyllis J. Hill at the University of Illinois, UIUC, Dr. Hill had provided an explanation in her investigation completed in 1965 (A Cultural History of Sport in Illinois, 1673-1820). In her concluding statement, she wrote: “I am forced to the position that American cultural practices, including sport, have been forged by environmental forces, rather than by Anglo-Saxon tradition”. This conclusion has merit still today because as she explained further, “work ethics and sport ethics are so close as to be virtually indistinguishable.”
I sought to comprehend what this means for us today in the field of physical (activity) education and (educational) sport. Hill had concluded: “if all human behavior is, indeed, a total and patterned response, the understanding of sport can be furthered only when it is studied in reference to other human variables within the culture” [the emphasis is by EFZ]. What can I conclude? I can only affirm that our goal was sound. However, other societal influences were brought to bear on the ideal thereby perverting it. Our task in physical activity education and educational/recreational sport is to help all people of all ages and conditions understand how important it is for them to be involved in a type of developmental physical activity that will enable them to live life more fully based on their choice of “life values.” If they choose correctly, and we in the field help them to acquire the needed knowledge and skills to live life more fully, the evidence we have from research now points to a longer life for them as well for those who choose wisely.