The idea to include physical education as part of a child’s core curriculum is as uniquely American as Edison’s light bulb and the Blues. As early as the mid 1800’s American educators argued that, from kindergarten through to 12th grade, schools should provide children with the knowledge and activities necessary to maintain a high level of physical fitness for a lifetime. In the mid 1950’s, President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (PCYF) urging schools to offer ‘15 minutes of daily, vigorous activity’. And America’s Physical education system was born.
President Kennedy continued to address the issue of physical education, and although the PCYF did not have the authority to impose a national program, it developed and promoted a curriculum to improve fitness. Two hundred thousand copies were distributed in a sweeping drive to achieve widespread participation in the program for the 1961–1962 school year. The program produced a measurable improvement in fitness nationwide as well as a shift in public attitudes and wider participation.
Today, however, Fitness classes are disappearing from the nation’s public schools at an alarming rate, vanquished by ever-tightening budgets and time constraints. Only about half of students in grades K-12 have physical education classes every day, and even less for high school students. All at a time when there is a growing body of evidence showing exercise to be fertilizer for the brain. Exercise fosters brain development and growth, and physical activity prepares children to learn.
If you are a parent with young children you must listen to our most recent episode, “Bad Education” with Robert Francis. Robert explains how important exercise is for our children and details the fascinating, yet sobering history of the Physical Education system in American schools; from its roots, its original mission, how we diverged and what, as parents, can we do about it.
As always, your feedback and suggestions are always welcome.