Though its invention was well into the 1820s, physical education is a powerful pedagogy that still is in effect for schools all around the world. In fact, it is mandated by the state of New Jersey, and similarly for others, that a student should take part in a physical education course for at least two hours each week as a part of the students graduation requirement (New Jersey Department of Education, 2018). Across the world, as well, similar standards can be measured; in Germany, schools are mandated to have at least three five hours of physical education classes per school week (World Health Organization, 2016).
According to Shape America, a society of health and physical educators, one of the national standards for students taking part in any form of physical education program is to “develop physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity” (SHAPE America, 2014). Some educators argue that cuts in the time allotted for physical education programs in the the school day may allow students to have more time for academic classes and aid schools in the funding they receive from federal and state grants. On the other hand, the physical, mental, and social aspects that come along with being active throughout the school day may outweigh these academic viewpoints.
In many schools, the thirty to forty minute window in which students have physical education classes is the only means of exercise the child has for the particular day. In a website created by a school psychologist that has researched the effects physical education has on a student in school, Rachel Wise outlines that not only do these physical education classes offer obesity prevention, they promote healthy growth and development (Wise, 2017). These aspects are essential to students of all ages, as the adolescent body does not stop developing until the age of twenty-one. Adding onto this, according to a study published in 2017 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, among children aged two to nineteen, the obesity rate was at 18.5%– this number is significantly higher than what is was in 2001, only 5% (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).
With this current information, scientists predict that the number of obesity in schoolchildren will only continue to increase. Exercise is familiarly a major component that is proven to greatly reduce the risk of childhood obesity, and if implemented early on in life, various cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, or arrhythmia (Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, 2017). The goal for many of the physical education programs in America, and frankly throughout the world, is to keep students healthy while teaching valuable lessons. Physical education programs in schools are beneficial to students’ overall health; many physical benefits are present, as well as mental health advantages, well-being, and all-around happiness.
Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University and veteran author on books pertaining to a healthy well being and happiness within an individual, explains in his article titled Paradise Glossed, that happiness can be achieved by learning from past struggles and developing skills from those hurdles to aid them in future events or experiences (Gilbert, 2010). Physical education programs in school encourage the development of various skills such as hand-eye coordination, cognitive functions, and motor skills–these will aid students inside and outside the classroom and on some occasions, on the day-to day track (Bailey, 2006).
Scientifically speaking however, when exercising both adolescents and adults release a chemical in the brain known as the endorphins; these neurochemicals are mainly produced in the hypothalamus, the same part of the brain when the body is under stress and similar to pain killers in the sense that they are involved with natural reward circuits (Kelly, 2016). This is the main reason why after exercise, better moods may persist for upwards of twelve hours. Long-term studies done by Harvard researchers show that participants who consistently exercised had the highest level of psychological well-being (Bergland, 2016).
Skills that students may have learned while being active in class may add to the student’s better mood, aiding them in future endeavors, even class assignments, projects, and tests. These better moods and well-beings contribute to overall performance in student’s academics. Keeping in mind that various states legally require schools to have at least half an hour of physical activity each day, student self-esteem and overall well-being is significantly increased. Additionally, student social interactions are dramatically increased in a setting where one is expected to work with his/her peers (Wise, 2017). With cuts (decreases) in the time allotted for physical education classes being made, many of these benefits may come into compromise as students don’t have the time to physically develop these skills.
On the other hand, in an idea presented by Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics with a vested interest in happiness, hedonic adaptation may be very relevant to this issue. Hedonic adaptation is commonly referred to as the tendency to return to a stable form of happiness even though minor or major changes occur. Cultural goods such as “music, literature, and art, are less subject to hedonic adaptation than “comfort” goods” (Easterlin, 2003). All in all, no matter what change happens in life, the amount of happiness will return to what it was previous to the change. With that being said, lawmakers may argue that although physical education classes do present a vast amount of benefits, these benefits may be going to waste later reverting back to the whatever the previous state of being was–unsatisfied. However, one other notable mention by Easterlin is the fact that happiness does not always come from acquired material objects; instead, life lessons, moments, and experiences is truly what can deem a human happy (Easterlin, 2003). Skills such as catching a ball, or playing a sport with other schoolmates are simple skills that can be later on be complexed in real-life situations.
Contrary to popular belief, though, physical education programs present significant advantages that aren’t usually considered or discussed about. Exercise, and especially that in a physical education program at school, encourages increased oxygen flow to the brain which leads to the increased production in neurotransmitters later on. From these neurotransmitters, neurotrophins are derived and make sure that neurons are thriving in the parts of the brain that are responsible for higher thinking, cognitive skills, and learning (SPARK, 2012).
Additionally, in a study conducted by the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, “adolescents who were active in school were more likely to have high grades.” Francois Trudeau and his colleague, Roy Shephard, both professors in kinesiology at University of Quebec at Three Rivers and University of Toronto, respectively, conducted a multitude of smaller-scale studies and analyzed their data. In fact, in a sample size of 287 9-11 year old primary students, after adding 47 minutes a week of various physical activities for sixteen months, scores on the Canadian Achievement Test (CAT-3) showed a slight increase (Trudeau, Shephard, 2008). Additionally, 655 children from grades 5 to 6 who added 27-42 minutes of physical education a week for two years saw significant upwards trends in mathematical/arithmetic gains rather than humanities or literature (Trudeau, Shephard, 2008). There is no current or valid evidence for any beneficial aspect of cutting down on time spent on physical education in schools; moreover, this takes into account any opinion-guided viewpoints. These beneficial outcomes are products of extended physical activeness in students in school; cutting time in these essential programs can lead to detrimental outcomes.
Physical education has recently taken backlash as cuts in the amount of time spent on programs in various states took place. In fact, 1 in every 5 Michigan schools do not have a certified physical education teacher (Park, 2018). With the increasing amount of gym teachers having their employment terminated, someone must take care of the excess; standard classroom educators now have the time that was originally for the student’s physical education class to provide the equivalent (recess, indoor games, and more)(Long, 2017). Classroom teachers don’t all have the same training as a physical education teacher has and this is influential because certain benefits may not be present if not taught or presented in the correct way. This is detrimental in the sense that these teachers who had time to plan academic lessons beforehand now need to take on an extra role that wasn’t anticipated priorly.
School funding plays a vital role in this situation– schools are funded by either property tax and federal or state grants. In the state of New Jersey, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) allows for most schools to be “fully funded.” Essentially, this means that the money that is provided for a certain school is enough for a thorough and efficient system of education for each student as required under the constitution of the state (Sitrin, 2018). Many states follow this “full-funding” outline but others fund public education by either providing a school district with a set amount of funding per student or by funding a number of educator positions per school (Education Commission of the States, 2012). In most cases, too, high academic achievements within the school district may mean more money per pupil, or a greater amount of educators. For this reason, physical education teachers are either lacking or being laid off– because schools don’t have enough money to fund the amount of educators they have, gym teachers are the first to go. However, spending time on academic classes may increase the amount of dollars a certain district gets at a time. Grades on standardized tests that students are mandated to take each year contribute to this funding; the higher the grade, the more money a school acquires.
As technology and time is evolving and developing, there are still some obstacles to overcome. Many schools are beginning to realize just how many benefits come along with physical education programs and what it can do for their students not only physically but academically as well. However, many schools are still in the dated ‘state-of-mind’ that is unaccepting of change; on the other hand, there are many schools are trying to implement physical education, but just do not have the resources needed. For instance, in 2001 the ‘No Child Left Behind Law’ (NCLBL) was passed– it outlined that artistic and physical education classes are unimportant. After the passing of the NCLBL, “62% of elementary schools, and 20% of middle schools increased instructional time allocated to reading/language arts and mathematics” (Sallis, 2012). School districts mend to the constitution of its state, which is one of the major limitations. With recent support, though, being physically fit and active is coming to the surface and getting to adolescents. Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign “Let’s Move” launched to decrease childhood obesity, create more affordable food options, and implement greater opportunities for physical activity (Let’s Move, 2010). This movement increased support for physical education programs in elementary, middle, and high schools all around the country.
In conclusion, cuts in physical education programs would not be beneficial to a student in any way. Mentally, the student would not acquire adequate motor skills, focus and social skills that he/she might have obtained during a physical education class (Bailey, 2016). Physically, decrease in obesity risks would be present, overall happiness, and healthy development if one was active during the school day, even if it was for at least thirty minutes (Wise, 2017). Lastly, academic benefits would not be seen, as students who have taken part in physical education classes every day saw increases in test scores for a variety of subjects. Additionally, there is no valid evidence to support the idea that cuts in physical education programs may be beneficial, as most are mainly opinion-based with no supportive evidence.
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