In Praise of Participation, Blog 8

by Lance Tapley
The Anti-Fan Blogger

In this blog I want to add detail to my Revolutionary Physical Fitness idea, which I have developed in broad outline in previous blogs. While I do research on what the necessary legislation and national campaign for Revolutionary PE would look like, these details should help round out the idea and answer a few questions posed by people interested in it.

1. Having kids be outdoors must be a big part of the program. With books sounding the alarm like Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, the human species’ transformation into a completely indoor-living animal — at least, in “developed” countries — seems a real risk. This possibility has frightening health and healthcare consequences.

It also could have virtually apocalyptic consequences if humans develop, through a lack of exposure to nature, even more of a lack of concern for it in our ever-more-resource-consuming (nature-consuming) civilization.

Fitness-oriented PE does not just mean exercise machines. Hikes on the trails and games on the playing field can be organized to provide vigorous workouts. (Here’s a link to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, which is trying to work against nature-deficit disorder.)

2. Some research suggests that the American diet is a bigger cause of obesity than lack of exercise. But no one disputes that lack of exercise — or, more broadly, lack of movement — contributes greatly to our national (and international) weight gain. However, as I’ve noted previously, in a physical education blog I’m appropriately limited to one of the two major factors in the equation.

Be that as it may, the health-and-fitness-education component of Revolutionary PE could discuss nutrition. One essential point to teach is that good food is cheap, which goes against perceived wisdom, but I have none other than the United States Department of Agriculture to back me up on that point. More on this in a later blog. Additionally, in a future blog about how to finance Revolutionary PE, I plan to discuss the inevitably controversial option of a federal tax on bad foods.

3. There’s a federal law on the books that, if enforced, would immediately begin improving fitness in, especially, young people — the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, passed in 1998. It calls on the United States Olympic Committee and the national governing body of each sport to encourage broad-based sports participation.

Ken Reed, who edits the League of Fans website, comments: “Currently, however, these groups focus almost exclusively on the development of elite athletes.” A campaign to enforce this law could be a warm-up for a bigger campaign to see passed The Revolutionary Fitness Act of 2014, as I’ve taken to calling the legislation I’m plotting.

4. Although Revolutionary PE should not compete for local funds with school team sports, and instead should be federally funded, there would inevitably be competition between the two. For example, should sports-team participation exempt a student from daily Revolutionary PE? My short answer: no.

Many team-sports participants spend little time in vigorous activity. As everyone knows who has gone out for a team in school — or whose kids have — for many youngsters there’s often a lot of bench time. Which is not to say that if, indeed, a team’s training and games provide daily robust physical activity for all, substitution of varsity athletics for physical education should never be made. (However, even if kids are active on a moderate to vigorous basis on sports teams, they still don’t get the fitness, wellness, and nutrition education that a good Revolutionary PE program would provide.)

With Revolutionary PE the kids will be in such good shape that the sports teams’ performances will move to higher levels. Coaches should get with the program for this reason alone!

5. For Revolutionary PE to succeed — even with “outside” funding — communities, including team-competition-obsessed communities, will have to embrace the idea, not just go through the motions to obtain federal funds to replace local budget lines. And parents should be encouraging kids to embrace it. For these things to occur, enough people in the community have to be educated to realize that the fitness of all the students in their city or town is more important than the success or failure of the local football or basketball team.

Some communities in the U.S., like Naperville, Illinois, have already shown that this can be done. But it isn’t easy to accomplish. The campaign to get a Revolutionary PE bill passed in Congress must involve a lot of community organizing not only for that goal, but also because once the program is launched the organizations involved must continue developing community support.

So, the program should be decentralized, with community-member councils organizing Revolutionary PE for a school district’s particular needs. This decentralization will diminish the objection that “we don’t want the federal ‘guvment’ telling us what to do!” We’re far from that now. At present, there’s no federal requirement that PE be provided in the schools or incentives to encourage it.

I’m talking real decentralization here. Here’s another way Revolutionary PE should be decentralized: it also means creating physical movement in all classrooms, not just in PE class. There are studies showing that, unfortunately, children have a tendency to reduce activity after vigorous workouts to “compensate” for the energy they spent. (See Gretchen Reynolds’s New York Times summary of the research.)

The need for movement throughout the school day has been heeded in the Naperville student-fitness model described in John Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and in Ken Reed’s Game Changer: Phil Lawler’s Wellness Based Physical Education.

6. Laboratory experiments with rats suggest that, to improve brain function, “forced exercise doesn’t do the trick quite like voluntary exercise,” as Ratey notes. We’ve provocatively referred to Revolutionary PE as forcing kids to exercise (though it’s only like forcing them to study math or English). However, as I discussed in Blog No. 7, if the program is individualized, varied (non-routine and perhaps nontraditional), and gradual in its increasing demands on the student — if it carefully, step-by-step increases the fitness of the young individual — then it’s likely to become voluntary as well as required.

Fitness-oriented PE does not just mean running on a treadmill or around a track. Adding to its appeal, exercise ideally should involve both “skill acquisition and aerobic exercise,” as Ratey suggests. Above all, it has to be play; it has to be fun.

Lance Tapley is a guest blogger for League of Fans and a freelance writer based in Maine.


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