I’m the guy who takes physical education too seriously. It’s easy to make fun of P.E., and, consequently, me. Yet, my thesis is simple and undeniable: if any other aspect of education had been approached and executed the way P.E. has been in practice and popular culture, it would be just as much of a punch line. “Welcome to Literature! Once a week you have to read 16 pages of the dictionary while I scream at you to read faster, most other days I’ll throw a stack of paper in the middle of the classroom for free writing time. Occasionally, we’ll have spelling contests and let the best spellers pick teams then openly make fun of the kids who can’t spell good. Most of my talking points will revolve around my brief career writing for my high school newspaper.” Hey, guess what? Literature is a joke now.
Why does that stereotype resonate with all of us? Can you think of single positive P.E. role model? Character? Anecdote? Myth? What if our failures in P.E. have led to class nerds being in too many one-sided dodgeball games? What if those nerds grew up and contributed to shaping popular perception of P.E. to match their negative experience, making their perception your reality, while the bully jocks grew up to be P.E. teachers? What a cycle that would be! I’m just saying.
The human experience is physical. Everyone has a body. It’s difficult to imagine a world where we publicly label people as “intelligent” and tell them to play chess and day trade stocks, then discourage everyone else if they aren’t “naturals”. That’s exactly what we do with athletics, though. Am I wrong? Athleticism is a spectrum, ya’ll, just like anything else, and you can move along the spectrum through intentional practice, just like anyone else.
We’re at a place in history where humans have just stopped doing what every other human in history has done. There are going to be consequences, we just haven’t isolated and identified them yet. If you stop being active, if you treat your body and health as a nonessential part of your life experience, it’s going to affect your mind — and your soul. Human society is there. Welcome to the twenty-first century! Unlike previous centuries, staying physically fit is for professional athletes and minors with high metabolisms, manual labor is being replaced by machines, war is remote-controlled, it’s not safe for kids to play outside, and even youth sports are highly specialized. What did you say your blood pressure was again?
The goal here is to start a movement. We need to move away from the “oh it’s just P.E.” mentality and toward a deeper understanding of the purpose and value of physical education. What does P.E. look like in its ideal form? Rightly considered, P.E. is capable of helping us understand what it means to be human, learn eternal truths, and live good, happy lives, so why settle for anything less? Good P.E. is Just P.E.