PhysEd as Death Rattle

My kids’ school bears little resemblance to my recollection of 1970s Catholic school. Absent are guilt and authoritarianism; the administration welcomes feedback; and parents are considered partners, primary teachers, and the final decision makers. My children are learning to be loving, respectful, and engaged citizens, expected to manage themselves and to give back to others from the gifts they have been given. The morals are backed up by the legitimacy of Jesus. I love this school.

For the most part.

There seems to be one last vestige of assholery, one last bastion of a crumbling patriarchy.

Gym class.

My ten year old son would be happy if he had gym class all day, every day, all year. My twelve year old daughter, not so much. She hasn’t had a lot of positive experience with sports, and so goes the chicken and the egg riddle. She doesn’t engage in sports, sports doesn’t engage her, with the bright shining exception of running. She just finished her second cross country season, working hard and tasting success. Of course cross country isn’t sexy like football.

Photo source

Yesterday she told my husband about the day’s gym class. She played right field in a kickball game. When a ball came a-zoomin’ toward her head, she did what any kid who wouldn’t play kickball voluntarily if her life depended on it would do. She hit the deck and let the ball a-zoom right past. Not only did several kids, uh, openly express their displeasure, but also the teacher berated her in front of the entire class. Any seventh grader SHOULD be able to catch that ball.

I realize that pointing out the long-term insignificance of ball catching is what we non-athletic types do to make ourselves feel better. But really, why does is it matter if she runs the other way or makes a heroic catch? And as my athletic husband pointed out, if it’s so damned important that a seventh grader be able to catch a line-drive kickball, why doesn’t the teacher teach her?

Of course kickball isn’t what sticks for the long term, but the wounds caused by careless or mean-spirited people do.  As a former awkward pre-teen, I attest to the way these red-faced moments tend to stick around.  I try not to let my own psychic scar tissue take over, but that’s a whole other topic.

If someone taking art class can’t draw a decent owl, would the other kids yell at her for her unskillful bird of prey rendition? Would the teacher make an example of her subpar artwork? Nope. We’d say she’s not talented and ask her to do the best she can. When a child goes into music class, she’s taught about music and learns to appreciate music. If a seventh grader can play a Mozart sonata, she will be lauded and called a gifted musician.

But in gym class? Sink or swim, baby! If you don’t cut the mustard, you should be ashamed. Not helped, not nurtured. Shunned. You are wrong and inadequate.

Just the message we need to be sending our precarious pre-teens, right?  My daughter would  have her little rump hauled into the principal’s office if she verbally assaulted a kid who got a lower test grade than her.  And rightfully so.  So why is it still ok to belittle kids in PhysEd?  And why hasn’t this evolved with the rest of the system?

3 thoughts on “PhysEd as Death Rattle”

  1. Awww-this kind of thing ticks me off. Tell Grace I would have ducked too :).

    I don’t think it’s ok to belittle kids in P.E. — or in any class for that matter! I also think some schools have evolved and some haven’t. I believe the national standards for p.e. have stressed wellness and lifetime fitness over skills in specific athletic events for some time now. I could be wrong. I just know that in the early 2000s, my school was including yoga, aerobics, stress management, etc. in all P.E. classes. Budget cuts, etc. have put a damper on some of that, but it would never excuse this kind of thing happening. Tsk, tsk to Mr./Ms. “Gym” teacher. Get with it !

  2. To be sure, I dislike the prospect of anyone yelling at or berating Gracie. And if I happened to be there when such an event took place, not sure what I’d do.

    But encountering feedback (positive/negative) of any type (soft/hard) is a certainty for us all. Seems to me that kids (and adults) need to learn how to take criticism in. Fundamental lesson: How an individual responds to criticism of any type is the individual’s choice.

    Not sure a person can be too young to learn this lesson.

    1. Hi Matt,

      I agree that feedback is important. I’m certainly not espousing the “everyone gets a trophy” idea. But as I know you know, there’s a way to do it that can result in a positive outcome for all, then there’s this. And I’ll also say that Grace has handled this well, although she did say that she tuned out the other kids yelling at her or it would have made her cry.

      I like what Katie is saying above — focusing on wellness. While I think that that winning and losing are incredibly important lessons we learn from sports, if you’re set up to always be the loser, the lesson isn’t helpful.


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