I love this idea

Seems that more and more school systems are incorporating Dance Dance Revolution into their phys ed programs.

What’s amusing about this is that the gym teachers are surprised that kids today don’t enjoy team sports:

Children don’t often yell in excitement when they are let into class, but as the doors opened to the upper level of the gym at South Middle School here one recent Monday, the assembled students let out a chorus of shrieks.

In they rushed, past the Ping-Pong table, past the balance beams and the wrestling mats stacked unused. They sprinted past the ghosts of Gym Class Past toward two TV sets looming over square plastic mats on the floor. In less than a minute a dozen seventh graders were dancing in furiously kinetic union to the thumps of a techno song called “Speed Over Beethoven.”

Bill Hines, a physical education teacher at the school for 27 years, shook his head a little, smiled and said, “I’ll tell you one thing: they don’t run in here like that for basketball.”

I submit that most team sports, particularly as they’re practiced in gym class, enforce a hierarchy and instill bad feelings. I can remember being picked last for every team in junior high except basketball, where I was always team captain simply because of my height. But whether or not I was picked last or did the picking, seems like whoever lost was in a very bad mood.

Not that I’m saying team sports are bad or anything; just that they’re not the best model for gym class all the damn time. And maybe finding a way for kids to move their bodies in a way that’s fun and that they enjoy will help them with lifelong fitness.

Just saying.

133 comments for “I love this idea

  1. Myca
    May 1, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Not that I’m saying team sports are bad or anything

    I am saying that team sports in gym class are bad.

    Fucking evil, actually.

  2. Becky
    May 1, 2007 at 1:12 am

    I really like this idea as well — I remember having an epiphany in high school when I realized I enjoyed running, largely because it didn’t involve playing on a team. Finally, a sport I could do! It’s difficult to get into a game that you’re not invested in. Team sports are hell for those of us who always get picked last and couldn’t care less whether our team-for-the-hour wins or loses. I’d rather have fun with basketball than aggressively block members of the opposite team — hence, not good at basketball. I also have a highly evolved wince reflex, so I tend not to do well with anything involving projectiles (ie, most every sport). Go DDR!

  3. Dianne
    May 1, 2007 at 1:26 am

    My ephiphany about team sports came when I was about 10 years old and experiencing some sort of little league type game. The coach was trying to pep talk us, saying something like, “And we’re going to go out there and WIN!” My thought was, “The other coach is saying the same thing. One of them is wrong. In fact, the whole system is set up so that one team is going to feel lousy at the end of the game. This is a really stupid way to do things.” Shortly thereafter, I started refusing to play team sports. I still find the whole competitive thing stupid, commie that I am.

  4. prairielily
    May 1, 2007 at 1:39 am

    The real question is… where is the DDR version for the Wii? They could incorporate arm movements in, too. Disco DDR!

  5. Sarah
    May 1, 2007 at 3:05 am

    I am saying that team sports in gym class are bad.

    Fucking evil, actually.

    I completely agree. I have no problem with children playing team sports voluntarily, because there are plenty who enjoy them and for them it’s probably a positive and constructive activity. But there are also those of us who found compulsory team sports an incredibly miserable experience and the perfect opportunity for humiliation and bullying by other kids…and by teachers…there should be other options for children to have fun and get exercise .

  6. May 1, 2007 at 3:37 am

    My mom pulled the disability card and got me excused from having to take gym in high school. (I had hyperlax joints and had to have physical therapy as a child; it’s kind of a long story.) And thank god she did.

    When I was in middle school, we played a lot of team sports in gym and I really really sucked at them. I have no physical coordination or athletic ability of any kind outside a swimming pool (which of course my school never had), and the other girls in gym class made me cry in that goddamn locker room every day.

    I rock at DDR. I would have loved this in my school.

  7. Libertarianchick
    May 1, 2007 at 5:33 am

    I totally agree. Gym was awful. My teacher used to hate me because I would just stand there and let a ball go right by me and not even make an effort to go after it.
    I hate sports. I realize that many people like them, but I consider them to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. The notion that running after balls is the height of fun and human glory is a preposterous notion.

  8. Trevelynne
    May 1, 2007 at 6:16 am

    I hated gym class for multiple reasons. Luckily, my school allowed me to not take gym class if I enrolled in (and attended) an exercise course at the local community college each semester. That was the beginning of my love of step aerobics. It was so wonderful to exercise and enjoy it instead of having to suffer through the awfulness of high school gym. I have now been doing step for 12 years and can imagine doing it for 50 more.

    I completely agree with zuzu’s comment: “And maybe finding a way for kids to move their bodies in a way that’s fun and that they enjoy will help them with lifelong fitness.” It is spot on.

  9. Hawise
    May 1, 2007 at 6:26 am

    The only good team sports memory I have from high school involves field hockey. I was in a coed class and the boys were always picking the girls last- until after they discovered what we would do to them in field hockey. Interestingly enough they would opt for broom ball after the first few games.

    DDR has variation that use the Eye toy for adding arm movements. Even my nieces, nephews and son weren’t willing to try that more than once.

  10. William
    May 1, 2007 at 6:32 am

    The fun-factor of running around changes when “recess” becomes “gym”. I think a big part of it involves differences in the people who are supervising these activities. Gym is typically taught by a coach who was a high-school athelete/jock. There are a lot of worthwhile activities at schools . . . atheletics, art, music, drama, voc-ed . . . and those teachers are by and large drawn from people who enjoyed those things when *they* were in high school so PE isn’t unique when it comes to perpetuating cliques. The big difference is that all those other activities are basically electives, whereas some form of PE is typically required for everyone. This gets exacerbated by personality types of many jocks . . . competative and aggressive.

    In elementary school, on the other hand, most physical activity is supervised by the classroom teacher who is a generalist. The weekly activity supervised by the school specialist in Physical Education, who is typically not a coach because elementary schools do not have intermural sports. Obviously problems still exist when situations like “picking teams for kickball” come into play, but I think they are pretty much less severe than what I see in high school gym.

    Not trying to heap abuse on intermural sports or coaches in general, but I think a little self-awareness would go a long way. That, and a concerted effort to bring in more generalists who were interested in overall wellness rather than folks whose main focus is on team sports. That said, high school coaches put in a lot of work for very little pay and good ones are worth their weight in gold.

  11. Pocket
    May 1, 2007 at 7:04 am

    DDR for the Wii is in development.

    Worst thing about gym in school? Dodgeball. All the out-of-shape kids, including me, got tagged out immediately. And this was all we played in junior high. Gym class resulted in perhaps forty-five seconds of potential exercise, while the already-in-shape kids who played soccer and basketball on school teams ran around the rest of the period. Completely ineffective.

  12. Em
    May 1, 2007 at 7:20 am

    I would have hated this, but I think it’s a good idea for kids in general.

  13. May 1, 2007 at 7:30 am

    Prairielilly: DDR – Hottest Party for the Wii will be out soon.

    I will be getting it.

    I don’t have a problem with team sports being taught — it’s good to have a forum with which to learn the rules and the basic way to play a game with other people. I do have a problem with a lot of gym teachers who make the most popular kids team captains so that they can pick their friends to be on their team and have yet another platform to remind the unpopular kids how much they suck (not to mention games like dodgeball where they actually get to physically hurt those kids).

    But yeah, I rollerbladed a lot in high school — mostly because I didn’t have to deal with other people to do so.

  14. Blunderbuss
    May 1, 2007 at 7:50 am

    I also think that allowing kids to do non-team sports is a great idea. Gyms seem to hold that idea that ‘teamwork’ is something you can just force into people – grab a bunch of kids, force them to play together hundreds of times in a sport they hate, and suddenly they’ll see the joys of teamwork!

    Or they could hate playing, hate the teacher, hate each other, and hate sport. You cannot imagine how much I hate netball now.

    Really, schools need to realize that, yes, teamwork is a valuable skill that someone will use later in life, but some students simply prefer to function alone … and are more effecient that way. And THAT IS OKAY. They’re not ‘anti-social’.

  15. mk
    May 1, 2007 at 7:59 am

    The presidential fitness test was way more damaging to me in PE than team sports ever were. Granted, I was a huge tomboy, so I was usually the first girl picked (sometimes even before some of the boys), but my utter failure to run a mile or complete a pull-up totally crushed me.

    And, just to play devil’s advocate, unless you have an older sibling or your parents strap on the shinguards at birth, sometimes PE is the way you discover you like team sports in the first place. I agree that team sports should be alternated with other activities, but I wouldn’t trash them entirely.

  16. May 1, 2007 at 8:18 am

    I sure wish they would have had an Q-Bert proficiency exam instead of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

  17. car
    May 1, 2007 at 8:19 am

    I would have loved to play DDR in gym. I was lucky in high school in having several different types of classes to choose from each semester (ok, 3 at a time, I think, but there were more in the rotation), there was almost always a single-oriented task like archery or walking for fitness or aerobics or weightlifting, and I never got stuck with field hockey or any of the team sports. The only mandatory “team” class was senior dance (obligatory unless you had a religious excuse note from a pastor that dancing was EVIL). Junior high PE was horrible, though, and I always wanted to stay home sick on presidential fitness days. Those were a crock of crap.

  18. lindsay
    May 1, 2007 at 8:22 am

    I’m sad to hear so many people here hated team sports in school. I loved team sports. The only one I didn’t like was basketball, but I loved soccer and dodgeball and kickball and all those. Four square was fun.

    I think this is a cool idea, but I think if I had children I would want them to be playing more team sports at school rather than video games, which many kids to day get enough of at home. I don’t personally like video games and DDR gets on my nerves, so if I were a child at this moment and my teacher had us play that, I’d be miserable. I’d rather just go outside and run around.

  19. Frumious B
    May 1, 2007 at 8:24 am

    I still have emotional scars from team sports. I won’t play them to this day. However, I was such an outcast that even DDR would have been traumatic, so my experience definitely cannot be extrapolated to the general public.

  20. olivetti
    May 1, 2007 at 8:25 am

    I usually don’t comment here, but I feel so strongly about this that I have to speak up in agreement with you here, zuzu. as a kid, i hated, hated, hated “team sports” for a variety of reasons — ranging from my utter lack of coordination, to my already outcast status (for having skipped a grade, for speaking with an accent, for being generally odd), to a distaste for “competition” as such. but since the ONLY thing that gym class (and thus, exercise) meant was playing on a team, I spent a large chunk of my youngish life assiduously avoiding exercise, much to my detriment. now, however, i love distance running, and strength training, and yoga, and group jump rope classes. If the mentality of “gym class” could be switched from “sports” to “fitness” — which it kind of seems like this bizarre video dance thing might be doing — I think it might benefit lots of the clumsy, absent-minded, brazenly non-competitive kids who might be lumbering around out there.

  21. May 1, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Ugh! You’re killing me with moderation… in a videogame thread! So unfair! :(…

  22. May 1, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I actually loved the team sports I played on my own time – soccer, softball, the relays on the swim team – but I was on teams with people of roughly my own ability, albeit slightly better. In gym class, it was the worst kids along with the superstars, and that was just humiliating. Plus team sports allowed some really nasty personalities to shine forth.

  23. Karley
    May 1, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Most people were turned off of team sports in gym class. I was turned off of exercise completely. The most I do now is sprint down hallways. I have this fear that no matter what, someone’s watching me and judging my physical performance.

    I don’t imagine this game wouldn’t have helped. And correct me if I’m wrong- but isn’t DDR a competitive game as well? Even if it wasn’t, I imagine the gym teachers could easily make it so.

  24. Karley
    May 1, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Sorry. “wouldn’t” should be “would’ve”.

    And now I’ve read the article, so I guess they’re deliberately trying to be less competitive.

    Gym horror stories! I remember the times when we had dance lessons in gym. I always ended up with a broom. You may think that’s sad, but when teacher took pity on me and made me dance with someone else, I went back to the broom as soon as I could. One guy just whirled me around telling me how annoying and fat I was…

  25. aweb
    May 1, 2007 at 9:22 am

    I think the best point against team sports in gym class is that they don’t provide much exercise. Whether you liked them or not is almost beside the point. Lots of people didn’t like fractions, or poems, or history, but had to do them anyway. Having a bad teacher is again beside the point as I see it; if kids were picked on, that’s not the fault of “basketball”, that’s the fault of the teacher. And there were a lot of bad gym teachers around.

    I always hated the individual exercise days in gym (like jump rope, running, weight lifting) because I wasn’t in very good shape, but I can acknowledge that those days were the most helpful for my general fitness. I also had a great teacher (and sufficient gym space) that let students separate out into the “losing is death!” and the “meh, I’ll play if I have to” groups, which I alternated between when I felt like it. But the whole point of these classes is to get into better shape, and exercise. Most of the team sports played only involved exercise if you were good at them. Volleyball comes to mind…unless both teams were good, which never happened in gym, there was no sustained activity. This is one reason why gym teachers use basketball so much, by the way. Even if you can’t play well, you should at least be running around while playing. Other sports (baseball, floor hockey) had to be halted in class by high school because those that were good at them were a danger to those that weren’t (in Canada, floor hockey was like this by junior high, but we played anyway…), just in the regular course of play, let alone intentional meanness.

    On using DDR in gym: it’s a good idea for schools that can buy thousands of dollars of equipment and drive up the electricity bill without worry. But my gym classes had 30-50 kids in them, even a dozen machines would mean 5 minutes activity, 30 minutes sit, 5 more minutes if lucky. What do the other kids do the rest of the time?

  26. May 1, 2007 at 9:32 am

    I liked gym in high school. Is that nuts? I was a disaffected little punk rock girl in suburban NJ circa 84-87 and hated high school enough that I dropped out after my junior year. But I thought gym was fun — co-ed football, lacrosse, field hockey, heck, in my hs you HAD to take “social dance” to graduate — so we tangoed and mamboed and were taught 15 different kinds of crazy jitterbug flips. It was all a hoot. And I’m not even particularly coordinated.

  27. Rhiannon
    May 1, 2007 at 9:57 am

    I liked gym in high school. Is that nuts?

    I don’t think so. I liked gym when I was younger, but I stopped liking it so much when I got hit in the face with a basketball and when I started crying (cause it F*ing HURT!), my male gym teacher told me to “stop being such a wimp”, in front of the whole class (and I was already considered an outcast/freak as it was). My reaction was basically, WTF? I got hit by a friggin basketball! Not a dodgeball, a basketball, it could’ve broke my friggin nose and I was being a wimp for crying?

    Nevermind I was pretty good at everything else and that was the ONLY time I ever showed any weakness in gym (I could run five laps around the gym easy, none of the other kids could – I was pretty proud of that). …. sorry, but I still want to find that bastard and reem him accross the walls for being such a prick. Any other teacher would’ve asked if I was okay and sent me to the nurses office.

    Oh, this was 5th grade btw.

  28. lawbitch
    May 1, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I hated gym class! In junior highschool, the gym teachers made us square dance. It was the worst! Glad to see some progress here.

  29. May 1, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I know many people who’ve lost significant amounts of weight with DDR.

    It’s a hell of a workout.

  30. May 1, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Whether you liked them or not is almost beside the point. Lots of people didn’t like fractions, or poems, or history, but had to do them anyway.

    aweb, that may be true, but I’m willing to be that being forced to do fractions doesn’t (for most people) add up to over a decade of humiliation, brutal teasing, avoidance of exercise, and shame about one’s body. Just saying.

    I would have loved to have DDR in gym, even if it meant dancing goofily in front of classmates (which we had to do anyway in the square-dancing unit!). I’m also jealous of the person who had “walking for fitness” in her gym class–if only I had known when I was a kid that things I liked to do anyway counted as serious exercise, I would have had a whole different relationship with my body.

  31. TinaH
    May 1, 2007 at 10:23 am

    The idea is righteous, and looks like a heck of a lot of fun! I hated gym in school, and this would have gotten me up and playing.

    :snark alert:

    Linda M. Carson, Ware distinguished professor at West Virginia University’s School of Physical Education and director of the state’s Motor Development Center.

    How much does someone want to bet that distinguished professor Carson is a Dr and not a Ms as she’s referred to later in the article?

    /snark

  32. wildstarryskies
    May 1, 2007 at 10:26 am

    *agh* I’m flashing back to volleyball games. Being the weakest player, it always annoyed the hell out of me that anytime I was even *close* to actually hitting a ball or making a volley, some so-helpful student would throw themselves in front of me and do it for me.

    Man, that always made me so mad. How the hell am I supposed to learn if I can’t practice?!

    Definitely, the “winner takes all” mentality HAS and CAN destroy teamwork efforts. If the girls on my team *really* wanted me to hit the ball, and do it well, then they’ve should’ve damn well let me do it!

  33. Linnaeus
    May 1, 2007 at 10:29 am

    I’ll cast my lot with the folks who liked team sports in gym. In fact, for me, gym without team sports would have been worse for me than it was.

    Individualized activities do not always relieve someone from ridicule, especially when the entire class is doing them and therefore you’re taking turns with others. Like one of the commenters mentioned above, the Presidential Fitness Test humiliated me far more than any team sport did. My classmates got to see how few push-ups I could do, how far I couldn’t climb up the rope, how few pull-ups I could do, etc.

    It was worse in high school for me; we had a mix of individual and team activities. One activity was a weightlifting unit; I’m sure you can imagine what a bunch of 15- and 16-year old boys can say to a tall, thin classmate who had a hard time just bench pressing the bar.

    To this day, I don’t like exercising in front of other people, because I’m thinking that I look like a fool. I never felt that way with team sports, even though I wasn’t the best team athlete. DDR, while I’m sure it’s great for some kids, would have been awful for me; I’m terrible at that sort of thing and that would have been on display for all of the kids rushing to the machine and waiting for their turn.

    Fuck that. Pass me the ball or give me the bat.

  34. j swift
    May 1, 2007 at 10:32 am

    I have my general dislike for team sports as well. I had no particular atheletic ability and was shy so I often got picked last. Of course the idea I suppose was to compete and learn to work as a team to become better at the sport and then you would be picked earlier. Riiiiight.

    Team sports were just another social clique. One means of kissing society’s ass to be accepted and popular. I did not really care if people wanted to play team sports or not. I just did not care for the cultural reaction if you did not. That being you were a “fag” and being subjected to behavior that in 2,3, or 4 years would be criminal assault was condoned. It was incumbent upon you to fit in not to change the aggressive and arrogant behavior of the others. Boys will be boys blah, blah, blah.

    I wouldn’t participate in anything that was just an excuse for social viciousness and dominance. Even in high school I knew the difference between acting human and acting like you were part of a fucking baboon troop.

  35. May 1, 2007 at 10:33 am

    I hated gym class because I had big boobs, which of course meant constant harassment from the boys. Fortunately, Ontario only mandated phys ed until grade 9 (now they’re trying to make in mandatory all the way through – I would have dropped out of high school a lot sooner!). I passed by 1% because my gym teacher took pity on me.

  36. wolfa
    May 1, 2007 at 10:36 am

    I never much cared either way if we did team sports or something else (though I despised soccer baseball, which was what we played whenever nothing else was scheduled). I could chat more during the off times in team sports, but you’re also on the spot more.

    But no gym class in k-12 should be allowing the students to pick the teams. In high school they were picked every couple of weeks, based on things like your maternal grandmother’s first name, if your birthday was on an odd or even day, etc. (Captains were picked by the teacher, and generally someone who was reasonably adept at that sport.) This was fairly effective, because it was never the case that half the people were in each group, so the gym teacher could balance the teams a bit when she moved people over.

    The other school I went to, where students chose teams — the single time I was captain, I just choose all the people who normally were chosen last. I don’t think it made anyone feel much better, except maybe me.

  37. Rose
    May 1, 2007 at 10:39 am

    This seems like progress, but I fear that since this is High School were talking about, they will find a way to make this really humilating. Maybe the gym teachers will single out the kids who are less graceful dancers and encourage the class to laugh at them!

    Hope I’m wrong, ’cause this certainly sounds like it could be a fun and engaging activity.

  38. May 1, 2007 at 10:41 am

    I second the concern over cost and accessibility to masses of people. I wonder if it would be possible to get a DDR variant set up like an aerobics class, with everyone facing a projected screen showing the steps, and one dance mat for each person, so you’d have a whole room full of people dancing in unison. I’m not sure how you’d give people feedback on whether or not their steps were in sync, though, and the game doesn’t really work without that.

    Note to anyone interested in playing DDR at home who may not have a console: there’s an open emulator called StepMania (available for Windows, OSX or Linux) and an open track/steps competition called StepMix (now in its second iteration; best track from the 1.0 was “Vienna Core”, no contest); if you get a $20 XBOX dance pad and a $10 physical adapter (XBOX controllers are USB devices), presto, you have your own DDR machine. It’s what I’ve been using in my apartment ever since the downstairs neighbors moved out and no one minds my stomping any more.

  39. Linnaeus
    May 1, 2007 at 10:43 am

    . Maybe the gym teachers will single out the kids who are less graceful dancers and encourage the class to laugh at them!

    You won’t need the teachers to do this. If my experiences with dancing and other such activities at that age hold true for others, the kids will do this on their own.

  40. May 1, 2007 at 11:04 am

    When I was a kid, gym class was tough for me, not just because I was small and not fast, but because I wanted to be fast. I wanted to be good at sports.

    Until corrective surgery at the age of ten, I walked funny and my knees dislocated a lot.

    It’s only in the last few months that I would call myself “athletic,” rather than merely aspiring to be so.

    These days, I work out two or three times a week, and take a pilates class at least once a week.

    My body is finally looking the way I always imagined it, and I’m finally doing the things I always imagined doing. (Mostly jogging, but I hope to start playing tennis again, as well.)

    I really hope that negative experiences in gym class don’t let people be deterred from becoming athletic later in life. It took me until the age of 24 to get my gimpy ass on a treadmill.

  41. Ron O.
    May 1, 2007 at 11:29 am

    I was just talking with a colleague about how much I hated team sports when I was a kid. I have bad eyesight so anything involving balls in the air is not so good. I had the advantage of being ‘strong like bull” so the presidential fitness stuff was a snap. I did OK in individual sports, but was very turned off by competition at a young age. Dancing was not real big in elementary school, but I think part of that was it wasn’t taught and no-one wanted to look like a dork. This may have helped make dancing fun.

    Around age 28 or 29 I started exercising regularly. I grew to really enjoy team sports and competition. The main difference was people were actually fun and supportive rather than assholes. I’ve played volleyball and floor hockey for years now. Paraphrasing the great Picabo Street (my secret love) “[Competition] is all about learning when to release my inner tiger and when to chill.”

  42. larkspur
    May 1, 2007 at 11:44 am

    I went to school back in the olden days. I mean, really olden, when the newspaper want-ads still had job offerings separated by gender, and a woman crashing the New York Marathon was still years away, and Title Nine wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eyes.

    I hated gym class too. Throughout junior high school, it went like this: we went into the funky, poorly ventilated locker room, changed into ill-fitting gym suits (one piecers with elastic at the waist), and then went out to the gym floor (unless the boys were using it for real sports) and sat around waiting for our gym teachers to finish their cigarettes and emerge from their office. Then we would do stupid shit, usually calisthenics. Any games we played never involved learning rules. We ran around the track a few times during the semester. The kids chose up teams, and it was strictly popularity-based. I dreaded everything because I was already unpopular, and couldn’t have been accepted. If I did poorly, I was ridiculed; if I did well, I was ridiculed for trying to show off. The most important thing for everyone, though, was trying hard not to sweat too much, because in the girls’ locker room there were only three shower stalls (two were broken) and 35 girls, and about seven minutes to change between classes. No one ever took a shower in junior high school gym: you weren’t expected to, and god knows what kind of uproar there’d have been if anyone had actually taken one.

    In high school, the gym requirement was finally waived. Not until adulthood did I come to enjoy physical activities like running and hiking. And still, I’m sorry I missed team sports – well-coached, thoughtfully planned team sports. I think it’s real important for girls to learn early that you can work together without having to be really good friends, or that anyone and everyone screws up some times, and you just have to deal with it, along with your teammates, because that’s what happens during games. Girls need to know you can go through this stuff and the world won’t explode.

    But I wouldn’t wish my old-style gym classes on anyone. I especially like these points:

    Mighty Ponygirl:

    I don’t have a problem with team sports being taught — it’s good to have a forum with which to learn the rules and the basic way to play a game with other people. I do have a problem with a lot of gym teachers who make the most popular kids team captains….

    Linnaeus:

    Individualized activities do not always relieve someone from ridicule, especially when the entire class is doing them and therefore you’re taking turns with others….

    wolfa:

    …But no gym class in k-12 should be allowing the students to pick the teams…

    All of this involves faculty and parents who are concerned about their children’s physical well-being, emotional health, and the development of their characters.

  43. May 1, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I have a disability. My left arm is partially paralyzed. But I was forced to participate in physical education all through school anyway, and I hated it. I suck at basketball, softball, football, volleyball, the dreaded dodgeball, and pretty much every other team sport we played. It’s physically impossible for me to do cartwheels, headstands, pull-ups, push-ups, pegboard and the rope climb. Every single day of P.E. involved humiliation for me, as I had to remind teachers over and over again, “I can’t do this,” and sometimes have them force me to try anyway, with everyone watching as I struggled with one arm hanging limply. I HATED IT. Even today, when I go in to a gym, all the embarrassment comes flooding back in to my mind. I feel like everyone is watching me and laughing.

    I love DDR, though. It’s the only way I have to get exercise without having to leave the house and be around a bunch of athletes, and without having to worry about rapists hiding in the bushes. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to store than a treadmill.

  44. Mnemosyne
    May 1, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    I hated gym in junior high (way too many opportunities for humiliation), but high school was pretty good because we had a variety of options, including swimming (thank you, large property tax base!), aerobics, etc. The teachers tried to switch things up so at least if you really sucked at, say, basketball, you knew that you’d only have to play it for a couple of weeks and then you could do something else. And we played a huge variety of sports — it turned out that I’m pretty good at Team Handball, which is this weird combination of soccer and basketball.

    Now my only regret is that no one figured out that I had exercise-induced asthma until I was in my 20s — it’s only pretty recently that I’ve figured out how to exercise without giving myself bronchitis.

  45. Dr William Dyer
    May 1, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    My school did not have DDR, but we did have a social dancing every year where I picked up a Cha-Cha skill that could put most any dancing star to shame. The social dancing segment is something in the years since I have actually had fun utilizing

    Gym was interesting for me, in that that was one of the few classes where I was took in the general populace. I got placed in the Gifted program and except for a couple of classes like gym, health, and electives the gifted kids most of the day had classes primarily amongst other students in the group. I had an acute case, in part because instead of electives I took extra science and math classes. Despite my brainiac ways I had an athletic ability that carried me all the way to playing varsity sports in college. I remember not getting picked early in stuff in part to my perceived nerditude, but I usually had fun upending the school jocks on their home turf.

    Overall, gym frequently seemed like Lord of the Flies with even the teachers participating at times.

  46. May 1, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I have problems with my knees, so I couldn’t run or jump. My gym teachers were good enough to work with me on this (letting me walk a mile as opposed to trying to make me run it anyway, finding ways for me to participate in, say, basketball without running, and so on), but they still made it pretty clear that they thought I was useless.

    Until I nearly brained one of them with a volleyball.

    Suddenly, they realized that just because I have problems with my knees, it doesn’t mean the rest of me doesn’t work.

    And that’s my problem with gym class – there’s little constructive recognition that people have different abilities. My teachers consistently chose (yes, CHOSE – in my school, the teachers could pick from any number of sports and activities) to do things that involved heavy running and/or jumping – things I couldn’t do, so PE was worthless to me most of the time, and I wasn’t the only one having problems.

    I understand wanting to encourage fitness, but turning off half the students and/or NOT ACTUALLY TEACHING THEM how to stay fit doesn’t help.

  47. May 1, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Alix:

    I had an aerobics teacher (I took that instead of regular gym) force me to do things in her class that made my knees cry–desipite a letter from my orthopedist–because otherwise, I “wouldn’t do enough to get graded on.”

    I really didn’t like her after that.

  48. DDay
    May 1, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    I didn’t hate team sports in gym, but I dreaded the mile run days. I was odd in that I was really into sports but lack any skill whatsoever. I still remember the day I got a basket in gym. Unfortunately, I was trying to serve a volleyball.

    8th grade was the best year for me in gym-related activities. Our school opened a new addition that included a fitness room and they had an afterschool “intermurals” for the fitness club. So I would spend some afternoons working out and chatting w/ friends. And because I was active in that, I got to go on a field trip to a ropes course as part of pilot program unit on “cooperative games.” It was total fun and was highly superior in achieving the whole team building objective.

    Then in 9th grade, I had the gym teacher who clearly resented the fact that classes were co-ed, so for half the semester, he split the boys and girls on different halves of the basketball court and only “taught” the boys side. But it worked out okay for us. We pretty much decided amongest ourselves who wanted to play that day, a decision that was often determined by whether or not we had a test right after.

  49. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    I think it’s real important for girls to learn early that you can work together without having to be really good friends, or that anyone and everyone screws up some times, and you just have to deal with it, along with your teammates, because that’s what happens during games. Girls need to know you can go through this stuff and the world won’t explode.

    Completely AGREED.

    I’m absolutely shocked to read this thread and learn how many of you hated gym class! Gym was always my favorite class and I always volutarily played team sports. I come from a happily athletic family and some of my best childhood memories are of times spent with my father (who passed away a few years ago) playing softball. Dad coached several of my little league teams and several of my brothers’ as well. He spent ALL of his free time with us kids and sports was the great unifying activity for all of us. We learned about sportsmanship, teamwork, physical fitness; all the great lessons of team sports. It makes me sad that some kids don’t have this in their lives. :(

    I also tend to believe that many sports don’t require LOADS of natural talent to be enjoyable. As my dad always told us, “the most important thing is not to be afraid of the ball!” :) I firmly believe this. I think almost all kids, if coached properly, can learn to enjoy sports whatever their performance level. The benfits are sooooo worthwhile! I would be very upset to see team sports eliminated from P.E.

    Granted, I sucked at volleyball and hate it to this day. ;) But I also hate math and have always struggled with it. Math has casued me humiliation and anguish; it even drove me to tears of frustration in class once (and this was in HIGH SCHOOL!). But I don’t think anyone would ever argue that I didn’t NEED it. I mean, I understand that some people aren’t athletically inclined, but I fail to see how that is any more unfair than the fact that phonics or fractions come naturally easier to some. ?

    DDR sounds like an absolute NIGHTMARE to me. I would’ve ABSOLUTELY HATED it. :( As a matter of fact, the only bad memory I have of gym class was square-dancing in the 5th grade. They let the boys pick whatever girl they wanted as a dance partner (I KNOW!!!). I wasn’t picked last, but having to be picked at all was humiliating and stressful. I also resented that the selection was not based on merit and/or PERFORMANCE. For gym class, that seemed awfully unfair.

    Anyway. I’m not trying to be combative or dismissive. I understand how the idea of doing something more “fun” in gym class would be beneficial. But having said that… gym is a CLASS, with grades. There SHOULD be work involved! It should, occasionally, be HARD. Staying in shape is hard! That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn. IMO, childhood is a good time to learn that lesson.

  50. Cecily
    May 1, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    I agree that DDR is awesome exercise. I used to do it at home all the time (until my PS2 broke down) and I’ve always enjoyed things that allow me to compete against myself, to get better over time. I agree that I can see some budgetary problems for schools, and that social cruelty, like Life, finds a way.

    I am interested by how many folks, like me, didn’t like the super-competitive/’don’t let your teammates down’ aspect of team sports in school. I recently heard an anniversary discussion of Title 9 on NPR, and as they discussed how to encourage female college students to take part in sports, I burned to call in.

    I played JV Tennis in high school (admittedly, I was required to do SOMETHING physical) and I would have enjoyed continuing that level of Tennis in college, but there was no such thing. The teams were highly competitive, and even had I been able to make a team, I would have had to shirk schoolwork to attend endless practices and away meets. If you shirk a sport to do your schoolwork, even in singles/doubles sports like tennis, you’re letting them down. Especially given the Supergirl pressure we’ve discussed here, how is that going to encourage girls to take part? They HAVE to be successful at their academics, and they don’t even have the lottery-chance an athletic guy has of making it to the lucrative ‘big leagues’ via sports. The emphasis on winning and competitiveness is doing no one any good.

  51. Cecily
    May 1, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    pmoney —

    One thing you’ll note as a fairly common thread among the gym-haters here is that social cruelty played a huge role in their PE experiences, and was encouraged or contributed to by the teachers. Unless you’re from Europe, that’s usually not allowed in the math classroom ;)

    Another common thread here is natural impediment to success. I’m not the only one here who has asthma, for example. If you add in the people with serious knee conditions and the person with a paralyzed arm, and look at the way teachers treated them…that’s obviously another issue. At least at my school, there were different tracks in math, and if someone had a learning disability, you didn’t leave them in AP Calc and call them a ‘wimp’.

    Finally, while personal fitness is hard, it is NOT as hard as gym class. It requires self-knowledge and self-motivation. It doesn’t involve a laugh track, humiliation, and constantly being measured against the more able kids. It doesn’t require two teams of nine or twelve. I think most of us, given the health problems in the US and UK, don’t want to get rid of PE. However, I and probably others, have found that we had to learn how to get and stay fit by ourselves. PE didn’t teach us that. PE encourages kids who aren’t naturally gifted to think of fitness as a childhood torment and look forward to a blissfully sedentary adulthood. That’s not helping America get/stay fit, and therefore I, at least, think PE needs a new model.

  52. May 1, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Hear, hear, Cecily. Agreed 100%.

  53. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    I think when we look at gym class as an “everyone is a winner” experience, we are creating this self-important, entitled generation that are unwilling to join a revolution or fight for equal rights because it doesn’t “effect” them. Kids need to lose. Title 9 was not about everyone getting a chance to win, but everyone getting a chance to compete – and maybe lose. Developmentally, kids need to see they can fail and then get back up. In addition, reasonable accomodations don’t mean making it easier so everyone can do it. It might mean the asthmatic sits out for awhile, or the kid with the bad arm can’t play volleyball. I went to school with a guy with an atrophied arm from birth. He played baseball (and mailbox baseball) with the best of us.
    Fitness is hard, as pmoney said. Have a DDR club and climb the damn rope kids!

  54. Lizard
    May 1, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Dodgeball. All the out-of-shape kids, including me, got tagged out immediately.

    And the scrawny, short, already-picked-on kids like me were the last ones left, frantically scurrying around while the ENTIRE CLASS cheerfully lobbed missiles at them. Everybody wins with dodgeball!

    You know, I hated having to play competitive sports in gym class (I still have nightmares about one particular mode of torture called “Three Pins” that was a rainy-day staple in my Catholic grade school), but–as a couple of other people have said—I hated doing anything physical in front of other people. I can’t say what’s the chicken and what’s the egg; did years of humiliating gym classes cause my awkwardness and rotten self-esteem, or did they just utterly fail to address it? I would have hated DDR too, both for this reason and because (even as a kid) I couldn’t stand loud pop music and perky people on TV screens telling me what to do. (Also, I am shockingly bad at reproducing moves demonstrated by others. I don’t know why. I just know that aerobics fills me with terror, because I can never figure out how to get my body to do what everybody else’s is doing.)

    My high school required 80 minutes of P.E. every day for four years, but that was specifically because it was such an academically intense place that they wanted to ensure the students were getting some non-stressful exercise and recreation. Because of this philosophy and because the place was extremely well-endowed, they were able to offer a wide range of electives, including competitive sports, non-competitive sports, aerobics, weights/exercise bikes, swimming, etc. One of the options was to take a two-mile walk or jog in the surrounding neighborhood. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the Haagen-Dazs was exactly one mile away. Yay gym class!

  55. zuzu
    May 1, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Fitness is hard, as pmoney said. Have a DDR club and climb the damn rope kids!

    Yeah, just suck it up, you whiners! Humiliation is good for you!

  56. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    social cruelty played a huge role in their PE experiences, and was encouraged or contributed to by the teachers

    Hey, I will never argue that it’s OK for gym teachers to bully/ridicule children or encourage others to bully children. But I think there is a significant difference between “bullying” and “pushing.” As a smart kid who was bad at math, I was expected to try my best and work hard. It was humiliating when I failed, but I don’t think that was a huge INJUSTICE. It’s just not fun to fail! ALL able-bodied children (that means EVERY kid who does not have a significant, debilitating physical handicap) should absolutely be expected to try their best and work hard- this includes in gym class! What is up with this “you’re not real good at this activity so we’re changing the curriculum” thing? Sorry, I cannot support that.

    Kids make fun of bad athletes? Well, kids also make fun of the disabled kids, the dumb kids, the poor kids, the ugly kids, the rich kids, the gorgeous kids, the spoiled kids, ad-fucking-nausem. Childhood is hard and kids can be assholes. Everyone suffers humiliation in their own personal way.

    Title 9 was not about everyone getting a chance to win, but everyone getting a chance to compete – and maybe lose. Developmentally, kids need to see they can fail and then get back up.

    very well said, misspenny! What is wrong with kids failing? Or realizing that they might have to work harder than the other kids at something?

  57. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    But it is good for kids. Losing and humiliation develop empathy. Empathy makes for better citizens in the long run. And yes, extreme humiliation can lead to more clients for therapists like myself, but its rare. I sucked at all sports. ALL of them. I found running in my late 20’s and found something I still sucked at but enjoyed. Gym class taught me that finishing a hard task that some people are better at but you did is still pretty damn cool.

    And having known and dated some gym teachers and advanced degreed rec counselors, you can control the humiliation. And many teachers do. In the haze of our issues about gym class, we have forgotten that it wasn’t constant evil.

    There were things everyone liked, right?

  58. Lizard
    May 1, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Fitness is hard, as pmoney said. Have a DDR club and climb the damn rope kids!

    When I went home one day in third grade and cried to my (excellent, feminist) mother about how lousy and miserable I was in gym class, she empathized, but she also said “Now you understand how some of the other kids feel in English and math class.”

    Point taken. However, when you suck in English or math class, you get extra help. When you suck in gym class, you get teased. And since few schools engage in mandatory Team Algebra or Competitive Grammar, your suckage in those areas isn’t likely to result in the shame and ostracism of failing your comrades. It’s also not likely to end in bodily injury, as my puniness and uncoordination so often did in P.E. when the big kids, accurately recognizing an easy target, slammed into me full force.

    Sidenote, just for kicks: In my Catholic elementary school, the punishment for any girl who misbehaved in gym class was that she had to take gym with the boys for that day. Need we discuss the extent to which this compounded the enduring fucked-up-ness of the P.E. experience??

  59. Cecily
    May 1, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I think perhaps the idea behind changing the curriculum is similar to mine — that perhaps the point of PE should be raising fitness levels and encouraging lifelong fitness, and that PE is doing badly at those goals. It’s not that kids are bad at the activities that is the problem. It’s that PE doesn’t make them fit and makes them hate exercise that is the problem.

  60. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Or it could be that they need to do real fitness, running, baseball, hell, i did jai-alai, to offset the crap in the cafeteria or that they eat at home.

    And do it for more than 20 minutes two times a week.

    Adding something as a fitness goal and activity that requires extra, expensive equipment to replicate is the ultimate in discrimination – classism. Or only available for affluent schools.

  61. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    that perhaps the point of PE should be raising fitness levels and encouraging lifelong fitness, and that PE is doing badly at those goals.

    I hear you on that! I think that need (to teach kids about general fitness) has been elevated by our decreasing levels of basic fitness in this country (and elsewhere!), but you (and zuzu) are totally right! General fitness, at this point, trumps the need for team sports.

    I just also hope that team sports are not eliminated, as I genuinely believe they teach many invaluable life lessons. I guess I bristled at the suggestion that they might be useless! I think they are extremely important and useful (in my own experience, they are VERY fun and the only form of “organized” exercise I view as an effortless joy).

  62. mk
    May 1, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    As the comments here can attest, there are multi-faceted problems with the way physical education is taught (or, as is sadly the case more and more, not taught) in schools. I don’t think we need to villainize teachers/coaches or team sports to point out those problems, though.

    Like some others here, I have a problem with video games in schools. I do think educational games can be a great way to accomodate different learning styles, but when I was in elementary school (Apple IIe? Anybody?) they were often used as a way to keep advanced students occupied. And as much as I loved Winnie the Pooh, it really wasn’t helping me learn anything. DDR is certainly a great way to get a workout once you get the hang of it, but how many schools are really going to be able to afford the technology required to set it up? At best, a school will probably be able to get two, meaning only two kids can be playing at a time. This sets up the cringe-worthy scenario where one or two kids perform solo, with the rest of the class crowded around watching, judging, and potentially humilating them. In my mind, that ain’t much better than rope climbing (except that I could conceivably do it).

    Beyond that, the setup pretty much definitely has to be inside (even if the school is set up with outdoor outlets and extension cords and whatnot, nobody’s going to want to invest that chunk of change and then leave the machines outside), which means no fresh air and sunshine. I can see this as a rainy-day alternative, but it still wouldn’t be my first choice.

    Finally, games like DDR don’t foster the positive values team sports are supposed to instill*, like teamwork, comraderie, and appreciating the different abilities of your classmates. (I recognize that team sports emphasize specific skills overall, but most of these sports also have different positions where very different skills are necessary.) DDR is all about head to head competition where you’re not even looking your opponent in the eye. The cardio benefits are great–again, if you can get your skill level up to the point that you’re moving fast enough–but it’s extremely insular, and the skillset it requires doesn’t really extend beyond the dance floor.

    *Yes, I realize that team sports can also foster really negative attitudes, and I could write a whole post on how parents ruin team sports for kids. But I firmly believe that team sports are Supposed to all about really positive athletic experiences.

  63. May 1, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Maybe it wasn’t constant evil for you. In a long miserable middle-school life that included sexual harrassment from a teacher, gym stood out as being the worst place – with the worst individual day being the day the school decided that having missed six weeks for a broken arm, I would have to take a full day of nothing but PE to make up my lost classes. (It was Square Dancing – wonderful, the most disliked girl in school gets to be selected last and under great protest again and again and again…)

    I thought of myself as a useless lump. I barely ever even saw a ball in most of the team sports because my fellow teammates wouldn’t let me near it. PE convinced me for nearly fifteen years that I was inherently doomed to life as a weak, uncoordinated wreck.

    To my utter shock, I’ve discovered that I’m actually naturally athletic. I’ve got good coordination and body control and I enjoy moving around. As an adult, I’m one of the fittest people I know, doing about ten hours a week of karate, yoga, kickboxing, and weight-training.

    It seems like something’s drastically wrong with PE classes when they can take kids who are naturally good at something and convince them they’re hopeless. A math class that did that would be in for a major revamp.

  64. zuzu
    May 1, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Adding something as a fitness goal and activity that requires extra, expensive equipment to replicate is the ultimate in discrimination – classism. Or only available for affluent schools.

    Jesus, it’s just one idea.

    I get it. You’re not sympathetic to the kids who hate gym class, and you don’t think that something that manages to be fun is “real” fitness like running or baseball is.

    As others have said, gym class is a great way for kids who are athletically inclined to play games they like, but it’s also a great way for those who are not athletically inclined to learn to despise physical activity because they associate it with humiliation, shame, taunting and other negative experiences. And since those are the kids who everyone gets the vapors about not getting enough exercise, wouldn’t it be a good idea to let go of the idea that those kids just need to suck it the fuck up and quit complaining?

  65. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    However, when you suck in English or math class, you get extra help.

    Really? You must’ve gone to a good school. :)

    And since few schools engage in mandatory Team Algebra or Competitive Grammar, your suckage in those areas isn’t likely to result in the shame and ostracism of failing your comrades.

    I certainly felt shame when I sucked at math. ?

    And look, I don’t want to come off as a huge asshole here, but I’m going to speak my mind anyway (flame if necessary!). You know how there’s “no crying in baseball?” Well, one of the great lessons of sports is that if you are weak in a particular area you keep trying until you are better. You are not allowed to cry and mope when you strike out. The embarrassment you feel at striking out is GOOD and NATURAL. It is a motivating factor. It gets you to show up to practice and put in extra time when you need it.

    There are distinct advantages to not hiding when you are ashamed, not crying when you are embarrassed. Learning to “shake it off” and toughen up are GOOD lessons. Even great athletes sometimes fumble the ball. The trick is not to let other humiliate you for these simple errors (which everyone makes).

    Kids who cannot handle setbacks become adults who cannot handle setbacks.

  66. Ledasmom
    May 1, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    I disliked field hockey from the first time they had us play it (might have something to do with the girls doing field hockey, the boys doing soccer in whatever season was then considered appropriate for those sports. Spring or fall? Don’t remember. Never made any sense to me; the grass is there for both). Therefore, I did not play it. I believe that was a total of five years of sitting on the sidelines during field hockey. I also refused to do dance and the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, and got yelled at for sitting down in the outfield during, I think, softball (this was over twenty years ago, guys, I don’t remember the details). It was junior-high or thereabouts softball; if anyone managed to hit the ball to the outfield, surely nobody could possibly imagine that I would actually manage to catch it? As far as I know, the only reason I got passing grades in P.E. was that the teacher didn’t want me around any longer than I had to be there. I was a buttheaded child.
    I must say, though, that the name of my school, and the resultant slogan across the shirts that we wore for P.E., cannot possibly have helped, and I can only be thankful that I was less aware of slang at that point than I am now.

  67. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    zuzu, what makes me bristle is the idea that the schools change to accomodate bad or unsafe behavior. i admit i am a bit strict on my ideas that kids do as they are told (again, i am not a schoolmarm, or a mother, but have worked with kids for years and none of them are the worse for wear). i worry that it is a slippery slope. also, i thought the idea of this blog is to discuss ideas. if i was out of line in my fervor, i apologize for being so adament.

    also, i am empathetic. sympathy makes the kids who hate gym victims. and they generally aren’t victims. no more than my hating french made me a victim there.

  68. MyFireElf
    May 1, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    DDR for computer?? It’s way down the page so you may not see it, but grendelkhan, I love you right now!

  69. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    mk, you said it better than i ever could. thank you.

  70. mk
    May 1, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    zuzu said:

    As others have said, gym class is a great way for kids who are athletically inclined to play games they like, but it’s also a great way for those who are not athletically inclined to learn to despise physical activity because they associate it with humiliation, shame, taunting and other negative experiences. And since those are the kids who everyone gets the vapors about not getting enough exercise, wouldn’t it be a good idea to let go of the idea that those kids just need to suck it the fuck up and quit complaining?

    Well said. I know that wasn’t directed at me, but I hope my defense of team sports doesn’t get lumped into the ‘suck it up’ crowd. I’m all for a diversity of options in physical education. I just don’t want team sports to be removed entirely or become only after-school activities; I think there’s a lot to be said for giving kids (who want it) the chance to, say, play soccer even if they don’t make/can’t afford the local rec league.

    I think a lot of the problems with PE/gym still stem from the fact that classes are usually taught by one or two teachers/coaches, so they’re more likely to pick activities where the whole class is in the same place and more easily supervised. In my high school (Lizard, I think your Catholic elementary and my Catholic prep were probalby cousins or something) that frequently meant staying in the gym, usually trying to hit each other really really hard with rubber (or foam, or volley-, or whatever) balls.

  71. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I think when we look at gym class as an “everyone is a winner” experience, we are creating this self-important, entitled generation that are unwilling to join a revolution or fight for equal rights because it doesn’t “effect” them. Kids need to lose. Title 9 was not about everyone getting a chance to win, but everyone getting a chance to compete – and maybe lose.

    I don’t think that Title 9 is about gym class. It’s about team sports, which are extra-curricular activities, whereas gym class is part of the curriculum. As such, gym class should be about providing all students, including those who aren’t especially gifted at sports, with the tools they need to be successful adults. Just as dyslexic kids shouldn’t be humiliated for having trouble reading, uncoordinated kids shouldn’t be humiliated for being bad at sports. Everyone needs to be able to read; everyone needs to be able to take care of their bodies. All kids, regardless of their abilities, should be able to learn the things they need to know without being humiliated or made to feel like losers.

    I’ve found the people who believe in the “character-building” aspects of humiliation tend to be those who didn’t actually endure much humiliation as a child. People who were routinely picked early tend to think that it’s good for one’s character to be picked last every time. I can’t decide if they’re thoughtless or if it’s just that they enjoyed watching someone else be made to feel small.

    Adding something as a fitness goal and activity that requires extra, expensive equipment to replicate is the ultimate in discrimination – classism. Or only available for affluent schools.

    I’d be surprised if too many schools in West Virginia were that affluent. It’s not a state known for being rolling in money.

  72. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    as they are my comments, i think i can mention that i was never ever picked early. i was terrible at sports (team and otherwise) and didn’t graduate high school due to a gym credit.

  73. zuzu
    May 1, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    zuzu, what makes me bristle is the idea that the schools change to accomodate bad or unsafe behavior.

    What bad or unsafe behavior are you talking about? Because we’re hearing story after story of people being forced to participate in activity that is unsafe for them due to injury, or harmful psychologically — all with the knowledge and, indeed, the approval and even participation of the teachers. Or don’t you think there’s something wrong with calling a kid a wimp for crying after she got smashed in the face with a basketball?

    What the schools are already doing isn’t working. Why not change that?

    What is your objection to making gym class enjoyable for everyone, not just the natural athletes? I certainly didn’t argue in my post that there is no place for team sports, but several people made simple suggestions as to how the cliquishness and stigma that ruins gym and team sports for a lot of people can be eliminated. There are a lot of kids who hate gym, and if the goal is lifelong fitness skills, that means that the schools are not doing their jobs properly.

    And what you have with the schools who have tried out DDR is a bunch of kids who are ENJOYING gym class. It doesn’t have to be DDR in particular, either — just a rethinking of the standard conventions of gym class (like letting the students pick the teams or allowing mocking/teasing) that result in kids hating gym and thinking that physical activity has nothing to offer them.

  74. twf
    May 1, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    I don’t think kids should be humiliated in any of their classes, and yes that includes math and English. Like many posters here, I was humiliated in years of gym classes and now refuse to participate in team sports, and feel extremely self-conscious exercising in public. My health is hurting as a result.

    My husband was scared off math as a child. He understands most concepts if I explain them to him verbally, but if I pick up a pen to draw a curve or show him a basic equation, he freaks out and stops listening, saying he no longer cares what the answer is. So yeah, there’s some negative conditioning going on in many subjects.

    And they’re all wrong. And any way we can help kids to learn without resorting to pain and humiliation is a good thing.

  75. May 1, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Getting sympathy will make the losing kids whiners and telling them to suck it up makes them the better for it. Hmm. I would’ve been willing to try the other side. I was so damn convinced that complaining would get me nothing but more humiliation that I did not cry, nor make a sound of any kind, when a bunch of my fellow classmates whipped me with a jump-rope in class. The lovely kind with the moveable plastic cylinders on the outside. Leaves lovely welts.

    I’m all for teaching kids fitness, team sports, individual sports…anything and everything. Wonderful. But the standard gym-class model in the public schools is horrid and needs to be changed. That some students get good things from it, or some teachers manage to make it work is a testimoney to them, not to the class.

  76. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I was curious about the classism thing, so I checked. 37% of the kids at the middle school the NY Times profiled qualify for free school lunch. That’s not especially high by West Virginia standards, but we’re not talking about some fantastically-funded suburban country-club school, either.

  77. May 1, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Another team sport hater here. In my schools, the girls didn’t do anything. Anyone else have to “play” flag football and have all the girls assigned to “block” (i.e. stand on the field and talk to the other girls) while the guys were the only ones who were allowed to do anything? Most team sports were like that.

    The thing is, if they’d actually offered options for P.E. in school, I would have gone for it. They offered aerobics at my school…as an elective after you’d fulfilled your 2 years of HS PE. I LIKE aerobics, but shoot, why couldn’t I have done that in the first two years? I went to dance class 3-4 times a week- why couldn’t THAT count as PE rather than pretending I was exercising by “blocking” in football? I go to the gym and do kickboxing, step, and weight classes now as well as dancing. Why didn’t we get options, or get some way to sign off on electives?

    Team sports are useless if you aren’t good at them already by the time you get to middle school, I suspect. As for the Presidential thing, I don’t think ANY girls at my school ever did even one of the things required for it.

  78. LS
    May 1, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    I guess I bristled at the suggestion that they might be useless!

    I don’t think anyone’s arguing that they’re useless, just not currently implimented well in PE curricula. I played volleyball all four years of high school and loved it, despite the fact that the coach was a flaming bitch who picked her favorites (the natural atheletes) early and ignored those of us on the team who struggled to learn the skills by repetition and hard work, not being gifted in that area. She was known to play her 6 starters all game, all 3 games, no matter how long the match ran (this is pre-rally scoring, by the by) and no matter how badly they were playing. I took more abuse from that woman than I did from my peers, and I was definitely low woman on the social totem pole in HS. But I loved the sport, so I played.

    What I wouldn’t do is play it in gym class. Why not? Because gym class volleyball involved 10-20 people on a side, all on the court at the same time. Rotation was a nightmare. Rules like 3 hits and carries were routinely ignored. And as someone else mentioned upthread, any time you got set up to hit the ball, one of the Gym Class Superstars would come charging in and hit it instead – nevermind that I’d been set up for a nice, sweet shot that would have set up one of the other good players for a kill, and was yelling “mine”, “I got”, etc at the top of my lungs. And nevermind that in the process of charging in, he banged into me, knocked us both over, and sent the ball squirting wildly across the court. No… I “would have just missed it anyway.” This happened repeatedly. I started sitting out in disgust.

    Not that sitting out was hard — with 2 or 3 classes of 20-40 students each meeting each period, days when we couldn’t go outside due to rain or cold routinely became a kind of free-for-all, where the teachers set up two half-court nets in the small gym, and then handed out copious amounts of equipment from which we could choose and organize ourselves. This usually led to about a dozen of the most atheletic guys taking over the large gym with a basketball game, another dozen or so people who were bored playing catch or volleyball or badmiton in the small gym, and everyone else standing about chatting.

    Senior year they introduced an “elective” unit – we could pick from basketball, football, weight training, or yoga, and do that two days a week. The other two days (3 if you were in a non-lab science) were “general fitness” – aforementioned free-for-all in bad weather, walking the track in good. I alternated between weights and yoga, and loved it.

  79. Thomas
    May 1, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Misspenny, if you hated French and gave up on it, nobody gives a damn. Everybody seems to have an opinion about kids giving up on physical activity, so “do it even if you hate it” is not as easy an option there.

    Also, I agree that expecting kids to do as they are told can be consistent with affirming them when they fail. It can be done, but it is difficult. It is what I do as a father. It is not something that I have seen most parents do well, or most gym teachers. Just declaring that that model should be massively copied because we like the results when it is done right is not going to make folks do it right at any higher rate.

    You seem to be referencing the saying that Waterloo was won on the playing fields at Eton: something that I think is not far wrong. But cultures of dedication and self-sacrifice require a more encompassing environment for their development than a few hours a week in gym class. They are values learned first from parents and then from the wider community and culture, and only after that from school. Mandatory intramural basketball without more is not much of a contributor to a society willing to live frugally that others may live, or to one where people take up arms at great personal cost in favor of what they believe is right. It’s just basketball; it produces little benefit and much resentment for those ill-suited to it. Kids are more apt to try and try again at something they enjoy, where they have a personal investment.

    As an aside, I am as likely to be a grammatical pedant as any commenter on this blog, but based on my own experience I offer this piece of advice: if you are going to make fun of the next generation for their supposed inability properly to distinguish “effect” from “affect”, you might also want to capitalize your proper nouns.

  80. EG
    May 1, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    I almost never post here, though I read it regularly. I had to respond to the following comments, though.

    Losing and humiliation develop empathy. Empathy makes for better citizens in the long run.

    Losing and humiliation never helped me develop empathy. They helped me develop a burning hatred for the other kids in my class whose strength I’m still surprised at. Experiencing empathy helped me develop empathy, and from the extensive reading I’ve done about the development of empathy, that’s far more common.

    There were things everyone liked, right?

    No. Not one. I suppose I enjoyed hockey, because it’s a violent game and I took it at a time when I was exceedingly angry, but I’m not sure that tripping other kids with a stick is behavior you want to encourage. I was nauseated with anxiety and hatred every single time I had to go to gym class, beginning in third grade and not ending until I graduated high school. There was nothing about the experience I liked. Nothing whatsoever. What’s to like about public humiliation, ongoing petty cruelty, and mind-numbing tedium?

    Well, one of the great lessons of sports is that if you are weak in a particular area you keep trying until you are better. You are not allowed to cry and mope when you strike out. The embarrassment you feel at striking out is GOOD and NATURAL. It is a motivating factor. It gets you to show up to practice and put in extra time when you need it.

    You can keep saying that, but it won’t make it true. Public humiliation didn’t motivate me–it discouraged me. It didn’t make me show up and put in extra time–it made me be deliberately late for gym, and to loiter at the back of whatever line I was supposed to be in. The feeling wasn’t good, and it wasn’t motivating, and it didn’t make me want to try harder. It’s really not comparable to other classes. In no other class are you expected to do every single task in public. In no class was allowed to yell “you’re an idiot!” at a kid who was having a hard time with long division. In no other class did we have to call out our scores on exams out loud in front of the other students.

    I grew to hate physical activity, and I continue to hate it. For years I wouldn’t even dance in public. Misery may motivate you; for the rest of us lesser mortals, it’s discouraging.

  81. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    And what you have with the schools who have tried out DDR is a bunch of kids who are ENJOYING gym class.

    Yes, but everyone ALSO loved it when it rained and we had to stay inside and play “heads up, seven up.” :)

    I think it’s certainly a good idea to be CREATIVE about gym and to address the notion that many kids aren’t especially good at team sports. I think the point, though, is that team sports teach things other than fitness, and those things are equally as important as fitness!

    Think about it- there are no other traditional classes that really teach sportsmanship. Occasionally there are group projects in other classes (usually social studies and science) that promote teamwork, but gym is specifically about: endurance, pushing yourself, self-motivating, understanding/respecting your body, understanding and working cooperatively with others, etc. Putting aside the personal humiliation some of us have faced in gym class, these POSITIVE lessons are what we are supposed to be teaching our kids. With all due respect, I don’t think DDR really even touches on any of these things.

    I also think a lot of us are very worried about being too easy on our kids. I know I definitely do not want my child to be raised in a spoiled, sheltered environment without competition and/or difficulties. Yes, of couse I want my kids (i.e. all kids) to be SAFE and free from undue peer torture/humiliation, but to a certain extent, pain (and the pain of occasional failure) is simply a part of childhood. Kids rise and fall to our expectations. I want my kids to be pushed physically the same way I want them to be pushed academically.

  82. EG
    May 1, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    I’d also point out that the misery of being constantly bullied at Eton and other English boarding schools is legendary. I wouldn’t hold them up as some kind of example.

  83. AngryAngie
    May 1, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Creating a generation of kids who believe fitness “comes to them” and that if they complain, everything will get easier, is moronic. The problem most of the uncoordinated/now angry PE survivors had in PE (like me) was that we weren’t good at it, and in PE everyone can see you fail. Too damn bad. Failing makes us more human, more empathetic (as Miss Penny pointed out) and making kids avoid situations in which they fail will only create yet ANOTHER area of our educational system (sex ed anyone) where our cultural need to avoid difficult situations overwhelms what is in the best interest of our children.

    Change the curriculum and educate and empower gym teachers to deal with our health crisis. Don’t remove the human element.

  84. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Occasionally there are group projects in other classes (usually social studies and science) that promote teamwork, but gym is specifically about: endurance, pushing yourself, self-motivating, understanding/respecting your body, understanding and working cooperatively with others, etc.

    I learned many of those things working on the school newspaper, a highly collaborative enterprise that required considerable endurance and self-motivation. (Ever tried to stay awake in class the morning after staying at the printer until 2:00 AM?) When it comes to teamwork, working with others, etc., there’s nothing especially sacred or special about sports.

  85. misspenny
    May 1, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Thomas, my grammar is stylistic though I can see how it it rankles. Point taken. And I agree with the idea that the entire environment needs to support a culture of dedication and self-sacrifice. So do we then lose one of the few venues where that behavior is developed? How does that allow those attributes to be encouraged?
    I admit, I don’t think school should be about video games. Even if they are ones that are active. Options should be available, yet hopefully ones that can be replicated at home and when the kids leave that particular school.

  86. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I also think a lot of us are very worried about being too easy on our kids.

    I really, really don’t see it. It seems to me that contemporary middle-class (and up) kids are often spoiled rotten, but at the same time they suffer from really wacked-out high expectations. It strikes me as a really toxic combination. I don’t think they need any more pressure to compete and achieve. They may need more pressure to be decent human beings, rather than obnoxious little achievement machines.

  87. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    When it comes to teamwork, working with others, etc., there’s nothing especially sacred or special about sports.

    It might not be sacred or special, but it is unique that sports combine physical activity with these other things (teamwork, sportsmanship, etc).

  88. el
    May 1, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    every once in a while i read these pages, and most of the time, i’m impressed. in this case however, i’m saddened to see that it took 61 comments before the bulk of comments turned away from “i hated gym class because _______”

    i think that most folks that have any sense of humanity can identify with those who have endured some sort of obstacle in life (physical, mental, or emotional), but to let that be an indictment of team sports or gym (or the idea to replace gym with DDR) doesn’t really make much sense. it seems to me that most folks who have commented have problems with sports or team play because of a bad teacher or that they were subject to humiliation. well then, by that token we should eliminate the school bus, cause most kids have to take it to get to school and get teased there…or perhaps get rid of school lunch because people certainly get teased in the cafeteria…maybe we should just stop teaching english in school for the kids who get eliminated in the occasional class spelling bee, or aren’t great writers and have to endure criticism from a bad teacher or not get an A on an assignment that could use improvement (anyone reading this could guess that i’d be in favor of that one:)

    i agree with comment #10, and again, am saddened that the thread kept mostly to “i hate gym and team sports” instead of focusing more on the importance of having empathetic (to steal misspenny’s word), good-hearted teachers who would be able to recognize that kids learn in many different ways under many different circumstances and tailor classes accordingly instead of bush league jocks who think that gym should be a theatrical reenactment of ‘lord of the flies’…as #10 said generalists would be better suited to teach a true physical fitness class better than ex-jocks with an axe to grind, but that’s an statement about depts. of education, bad teachers, and kids whose parents won’t/don’t/can’t teach them how to be sympathetic, well behaved human beings, not the inherent ills of volleyball.

    besides…we could easily attach the same scenarios to DDR that have been described about basketball, soccer, baseball, etc. what if some kids are horrible dancers, or just don’t like to dance, but those same kids would be really great jumping hurdles? would you all blame DDR and demand hurdles, or would you try to find an activity to better suit them? if it’s the latter, it’s not DDR’s fault is it? is dancing inherently evil if some people can’t? is running bad because some people hate it? i did track for half a year, and realized i can’t wrap my head around running somewhere only to end up where you started…or running for its own sake, not to get anywhere…like the store, or away from a big snarly dog. i don’t blame the act of running, and when i watch track & field when it’s on during the olympics, i don’t have flashbacks, and blame track. i just wasn’t my thing, and i’m ok with that.

    i could comment about the idea that we as a society have completely fallen in love with an avoidance of failure, giving everyone a trophy so no has to feel what it’s like to lose, or turning more and more into a society of isolated beings who abhor the idea of exposing their skills, ideas, beliefs, or emotions to situations where they can be engaged, challenged, or – heaven forbid – bested. i won’t though, because would certainly make a long post an epic one. thanks to comment #10, pmoney, misspenny for attempting to turn the thread to a more productive subject. i hope there’s more comments like yours.

  89. zuzu
    May 1, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Change the curriculum and educate and empower gym teachers to deal with our health crisis. Don’t remove the human element.

    Where is everyone getting the idea that schools are REPLACING regular gym classes with DDR?

  90. Lizard
    May 1, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I certainly felt shame when I sucked at math.

    I specifically referred to the shame not only of failing, but of letting your teammates down.

    Look, I was a total disaster in art class, too, but I don’t have traumatic recollections of that. Why not? Because my failures weren’t constantly on display for everyone else to ridicule; the whole experience didn’t tap into and contribute to the body-image issues that were already at work within me (and so many other girls); and I didn’t go home with bruises and aches from getting beaten up on.

    In music, incidentally, I was awesome. Now, when the athletic kids kicked my ass (literally) in gym class, they were just “playing hard” and I was expected to demonstrate “good sportsmanship” by grinning and bearing it. When I outpaced my classmates in singing, an activity I loved with a passion, I was quietly told to keep it in check because I was making the others feel inadequate. Never mind that it’s a very unusual girl who’s more fundamentally insecure about her musical ability than about her body.

    P.E. has the potential to make a huge impact–positive or negative–on how girls and women feel about themselves and their bodies. No good comes of telling girls to “toughen up” when they’re fragile enough to break already.

  91. AngryAngie
    May 1, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Where is everyone getting the idea that schools are REPLACING regular gym classes with DDR?

    From the article where the author tells us that the kids are running past the gym equipment that encourage human interaction, teamwork and sportsmanship. From the description of the gym teacher who is supposed to be educating the kids (PE is part of education) watching it happen. And from the picture of the kids spacing out and watching a TV screen. I’m sorry, this is a bad idea. It is bad for girls, it is bad for our health problems and it is bad for teaching kids how to interact appropriately.

  92. EG
    May 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I can’t imagine gym classes ever teaching anyone to interact appropriately.

    And Lizard is absolutely right. I was dreadful at art history, which I continued to take for two years despite barely passing each exam, because I have no visual sense or memory whatsoever. I studied my ass off and did my best and tried to improve. None of that happened in gym. The difference? Public humiliation and this culture’s weird idea that physical ability is an indicator of worth.

  93. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    It might not be sacred or special, but it is unique that sports combine physical activity with these other things (teamwork, sportsmanship, etc).

    Ok, but I don’t understand why we should single out physical activity and use pedagogical methods to teach it that we don’t use for other subjects. What, exactly, is so special about physical activity that it benefits from competition and humiliation in ways that other subjects don’t?

    I think it’s very good for kids to have experiences working with other kids on projects. My brother, for instance, benefited immensely from building sets for school plays. He learned all sorts of important skills; he worked with other kids; he got the satisfaction of seeing the finished product of his and other people’s hard work. Yay! But nobody was forced to be a techie if they didn’t want to be. In fact, at my high school, collaborative activities like that were almost always voluntary. The only forced collaborative activity, and the only one with built-in ritual humiliation, was gym class. I just can’t see how that makes sense. I don’t understand why we treat physical activity so differently than we treat other skills that one is supposed to learn in school.

    I actually don’t have a lot of traumatic memories of gym class. I stank at it, but I didn’t care very much. I do think that it failed because it didn’t provide me with the skills I needed to be fit as an adult. It just taught me that I stank at sports and therefore shouldn’t bother. I had to figure the fitness thing out for myself. I don’t think that’s a sign of pedagogical success.

  94. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Amen, AngryAngie!

  95. el
    May 1, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    No good comes of telling girls to “toughen up” when they’re fragile enough to break already.

    i guess you’re a fan of the line from our latest pop troubadour mr. mayer “boys you can break. you find out how much they can take”

    certainly you’re not making the argument that all women are fragile enough to break, are you? if so, i would think that’s quite a misogynist view for people that fight in wars, run for president, design a building, teach 30+ screaming 6th grade knuckleheads (thanks mom), again – heaven forbid – score a winning goal on a penalty kick, or raise kids in a stable, loving environment. all of those things require a great amount of toughness.

    i’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but i couldn’t let it pass considering the deterioration of my mood as i read this thread.

    fragility is not gender exclusive…you’ve got to be kidding me.

  96. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Again, I understand that many of you equate sports with humiliation and teasing. And I feel sorry for that! But I associate sports with love and family and physical pleasure. Is my experience less valid than yours? Should kids like me be denied the lasting joys and benefits of team sports because others had bad, even terrible experiences with it?

    Sports are not inherently humiliating. And they do not need to be elminated from school curriculum. They need to be taught in a way that promotes POSITIVE benefits to all students! Good coaches promoting good habits and good lessons and FUN. That’s what we ALL want, right? :)

  97. Sally
    May 1, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    But I associate sports with love and family and physical pleasure. Is my experience less valid than yours?

    No. But I know this may come as a big surprise to you, but there are things that I associate with love and family and pleasure, too. I was bad at sports, and yet I did not live in a love and pleasure free world! My family had activities we enjoyed, too! Shocking, I know.

    But those activities weren’t privileged in the way that sports were privileged. I was not treated like a special, special snowflake for being good at those activities. Nobody lined my entire class up against a fence and had our fellow students rank us from best to worst at those activities, so that the trashiest and scummiest people could be identified and mocked. Often, I was forced to do those activities on my own time, because unlike sports, they weren’t considered important enough to be part of the school day. Kids who couldn’t afford those activities didn’t get to do them, unlike sports.

    I’m not saying that you aren’t entitled to your hobbies. I’m saying that your hobbies are just hobbies, and they shouldn’t be privileged over anyone else’s hobbies.

  98. Lizard
    May 1, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    fragility is not gender exclusive…you’ve got to be kidding me.

    True enough, el, but this thread is about girls in P.E. class, and I don’t think it’s remotely “misogynist” to recognize that our culture does more to undermine the average girl’s body image by the time she’s 10 than the average boy’s in his entire life. I don’t believe I implied that all girls were “breakable” when it came to body issues, but I sure as hell was, and apparently I’m not the only one—and yet, a few on this board still seem to think the answer is to yell “There’s no crying in baseball!” and call it educational.

    I’m not anti-competition, and I’m definitely not of the “give everyone a trophy and tell them they’re wonderful” school of thought. But I’m deeply irritated by the notion that gym class has some special, exalted ability to Build Character that is 1) absent from other disciplines and 2) achieved specifically through competition. The “I hated gym class because….” comments that irk you, el, are evidence of the ugly flip side of that coin. For a lot of us, gym class wasn’t just another academic subject to be tolerated and forgotten—it was, because of the way the whole system was set up, a source of constant and lasting misery and humiliation.

    Maybe the annual spelling bee was the same sort of experience for the poor spellers in my class. But I doubt it, because they weren’t growing up in a society that taught them to be ashamed of their spelling, and to smile bravely when the good spellers left them physically and emotionally wounded.

    In my case, the Catholic-school curriculum was reinforcing a million bizarre body issues in other ways, too—prudish “sex education” classes, earnest movies about the dangers of becoming a “tramp,” frequent lectures about how to wear our uniforms so as not to be stumbling blocks to the boys, etc. The boys got none of that. So yes, we girls were pretty damn fragile.

    If this thread proves anything, it’s that for every girl whose character was enriched by gym class, there’s a handful of others who were scarred by it. Surely we can do better than that.

  99. Erika
    May 1, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    I think when we look at gym class as an “everyone is a winner” experience, we are creating this self-important, entitled generation that are unwilling to join a revolution or fight for equal rights because it doesn’t “effect” them. Kids need to lose.

    Kids need to learn how to get and stay healthy. Team sport-oriented gym rarely, if ever, teaches that. Setting many kids up for failure in gym helps to ensure that they will be unhealthy adults, completely negating the entire point of PE.

    Hey, I will never argue that it’s OK for gym teachers to bully/ridicule children or encourage others to bully children. But I think there is a significant difference between “bullying” and “pushing.”

    What is up with this “you’re not real good at this activity so we’re changing the curriculum” thing? Sorry, I cannot support that.

    Kids make fun of bad athletes? Well, kids also make fun of the disabled kids, the dumb kids, the poor kids, the ugly kids, the rich kids, the gorgeous kids, the spoiled kids, ad-fucking-nausem. Childhood is hard and kids can be assholes. Everyone suffers humiliation in their own personal way.

    Spoken by someone who has never experienced bullying in a PE class. The only pushing I ever witnessed in PE was when my teachers admonished us to actually run or participate in the game — which should only ever be the standard for participation in PE. However, I get the feeling that that’s not the kind of pushing that pmoney’s describing. I get the feeling that pmoney is describing what is inevitably abuse in gym class.

    What’s up with that is creating gym class that’s fun for all students, especially the overweight/uncoordinated kids (the kids who need instruction in physical fitness the most).

    I guarantee you that the kids who suffer the most in PE are the disabled, dumb, poor, and ugly kids, i.e. the kids who already get plenty of shit elsewhere on campus.

    But it is good for kids. Losing and humiliation develop empathy. Empathy makes for better citizens in the long run.

    It can also be said that losing and humiliation lead to school massacres. By the way, what do the athletic kids who pick on their awkward peers learn?

    There are distinct advantages to not hiding when you are ashamed, not crying when you are embarrassed. Learning to “shake it off” and toughen up are GOOD lessons. Even great athletes sometimes fumble the ball. The trick is not to let other humiliate you for these simple errors (which everyone makes).

    There’s the crowning example that pmoney has never suffered serious humiliation in school, despite the lack of aptitude in math. Telling kids who are routinely humiliated in school to just suck it up is unhelpful and, quite frankly, cruel. It has taken me years to learn to tell verbally abusive bastards to go fuck themselves. I never would have been able to do it as a child or teenager, despite teachers and my own parents telling me to just get over it. I guess all of that pain and humiliation was character building. Meanwhile, the abusive kids learn nothing, are never punished for their behavior, and may very well grow up into abusive adults.

    Think about it- there are no other traditional classes that really teach sportsmanship. Occasionally there are group projects in other classes (usually social studies and science) that promote teamwork, but gym is specifically about: endurance, pushing yourself, self-motivating, understanding/respecting your body, understanding and working cooperatively with others, etc. Putting aside the personal humiliation some of us have faced in gym class, these POSITIVE lessons are what we are supposed to be teaching our kids. With all due respect, I don’t think DDR really even touches on any of these things.

    Who cares? PE is about fitness, not teamwork. Bad experiences in team sports cause the exact opposite: abject hatred of “teamwork,” hatred of fitness, hatred of your own body. As far as I’m concerned, the benefits for the kids who are good at team sports are vastly outweighed by the negatives for the outcasts.

  100. May 1, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    I clearly had a really awesome gym class. Full disclosure: I loved team sports as a kid.
    In high school, we were required to take half a year of rotational P.E. and half a year of a specific class (basketball, volleyball, more rotational P.E., conditioning, or step aerobics-with the exception of rotational, each class involved weightlifting 2-3 times a week).
    Rotational P.E. was really fun and even the games I wasn’t good at were fine. Being bad at badmiton was fine since I was on the “recreational circuit” anyway, got to play with a friend, and knew we would move to another unit next week.
    Besides, we were graded for effort. And nobody is good at every game we played. Plus, we hardly ever picked teams.
    We did all sorts of stuff: frisbee golf, archery, basketball, folk dancing, flag football, learning how to do all of the basic track and field stuff. There was also the occasional go-outside and-just-keep-moving day where we could walk or run around the track or play frisbee or play full court basketball.
    I’m not very good at DDR, but I wouldn’t have minded. Hell, I took step aerobics and tripped over the block all the time. It was still fun.
    For our P.E. final, parent volunteers came in do workshops on stuff our P.E. teachers didn’t know. I got to try kickboxing this way.
    I feel the people who say gym made them hate exercise. I had a cross country coach always complained that we had been taught to think of running and exercise as punishments.
    I’m so glad that gym classes are becoming more and more willing to incorporate a wide range of activities. Because it’s pretty hard to hate everything.

  101. May 1, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    I clearly had a really awesome gym class. Full disclosure: I loved team sports as a kid.
    In high school, we were required to take half a year of rotational P.E. and half a year of a specific class (basketball, volleyball, more rotational P.E., conditioning, or step aerobics-with the exception of rotational, each class involved weightlifting 2-3 times a week).
    Rotational P.E. was really fun and even the games I wasn’t good at were fine. Being bad at badmiton was fine since I was on the “recreational circuit” anyway, got to play with a friend, and knew we would move to another unit next week.
    Besides, we were graded for effort. And nobody is good at every game we played. Plus, we hardly ever picked teams.
    We did all sorts of stuff: frisbee golf, archery, basketball, folk dancing, flag football, learning how to do all of the basic track and field stuff. There was also the occasional go-outside and-just-keep-moving day where we could walk or run around the track or play frisbee or play full court basketball.
    I’m not very good at DDR, but I wouldn’t have minded. Hell, I took step aerobics and tripped over the block all the time. It was still fun.
    For our P.E. final, parent volunteers came in do workshops on stuff our P.E. teachers didn’t know. I got to try kickboxing this way.
    I feel the people who say gym made them hate exercise. I had a cross country coach always complained that we had been taught to think of running and exercise as punishments.
    I’m so glad that gym classes are becoming more and more willing to incorporate a wide range of activities. Because it’s pretty hard to hate everything.

  102. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    I was not treated like a special, special snowflake for being good at those activities.

    Is that directed at me? I don’t believe I’ve used the word “special” once. On the contrary, my point is that I think sports should be enjoyable for everyone.

    Nobody lined my entire class up against a fence and had our fellow students rank us from best to worst at those activities, so that the trashiest and scummiest people could be identified and mocked.

    Once again, I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry people made you feel trashy and scummy. If it isn’t obvious, I’m against this.

  103. May 1, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    pmoney – I don’t think I’ve seen anybody here advocating for the utter removal of PE, or even, for that matter, replacing everything with videogames. I think we want the same thing you say you do – for gym to be valuable experience for the students taking it. I’m all for the DDR thing, not because I think DDR is great and volleyball is miserable, but because it shows a school being innovative about it’s PE class.

    Most of the things that caused the most pain and misery in my class were caused by the “traditional” means of handling gym. The selecting of dance partners or teammates in front of everybody, no choice of activity, throwing weak or uncoordinated kids at tasks full on and laughing at them when they fail, over and over again, because they’re never given a chance to build up to them. I never got higher than standing on the bottom knot on that damned rope because my grip strength wasn’t up to the job and there was no Plan B to allow me to develop arm and grip strength – it was just stand on the knot and scrabble futily at the rope while my classmates laughed, over and over again.

    That’s the most present memory of gym class – that humiliations were allowed to happen over and over, when the student could probably have learned to do the task if it were approached methodically. Instead they handed you the whole quadratic equation, said “Here. Solve this.” and then slammed you when you couldn’t. Except wait – we don’t put up with teachers who do that in math class, so why do we put up with it in gym teachers? So yes, I applaud innovation in how we approach it – even if a particular method may not end up being the best.

  104. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Playing sports at a young age (starting around 6) gave me confidence. It also helped me confront and overcome defeat, to accept failures, to work hard. That same self-confidence helped me to blow off/disregard mean comments from other kids. Believe it or not, everyone gets teased. EVERYONE. Everyone sucks at something or is different in some way, or trips and falls in the lunch line or throws up in english class or forgets their milk money or whatever.

    Part of becoming mature is being able to tell people to fuck off if/when they make fun of you.

    I’m not trying to denying that some kids have it worse than others. What I’m saying is that one thing we can do is try to raise confident children who have realistic ideas about their own strengths and weaknesses.

    In 8th grade we had a (catholic) homeroom with about 15 girls. All but THREE of those girls made the voleyball team. I was one of the THREE girls who didn’t make the cut along with a midget (literally) and a clumsy girl shaped like a beanpole. You really think that wasn’t embarrassing? Of course it was! But I got over it. I still don’t like volleyball (I totally suck at it), but for chrissake I didn’t crumble b/c I knew I had other talents.

    To the extent that gym class makes some peoples’ self-esteem suffer, yes I think that’s a problem. But it also is a great confidence-builder for many kids. Or don’t THOSE kids count?

    I just think we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water, here. Sports do not equal bad self-worth. Kids who excessively ridicule you (and teachers who do nothing to stop it) equal bad self-worth.

  105. May 1, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Erika said —

    Who cares? PE is about fitness, not teamwork. Bad experiences in team sports cause the exact opposite: abject hatred of “teamwork,” hatred of fitness, hatred of your own body. As far as I’m concerned, the benefits for the kids who are good at team sports are vastly outweighed by the negatives for the outcasts.

    Agreed 100%!

  106. pmoney
    May 1, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    I know it’s an ad, but there’s some compelling stats in here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ_XSHpIbZE

  107. zuzu
    May 1, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Again, I understand that many of you equate sports with humiliation and teasing. And I feel sorry for that! But I associate sports with love and family and physical pleasure. Is my experience less valid than yours? Should kids like me be denied the lasting joys and benefits of team sports because others had bad, even terrible experiences with it?

    SWEET FANCY MOSES ON A SHINGLE. NOBODY IS SAYING THAT WE NEED TO GET RID OF PE OR TEAM SPORTS.

    NOBODY.

    Next person who makes that argument gets disemvowelled.

  108. larkspur
    May 1, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    I sure wish I knew how old y’all are. There’s a lot that hasn’t changed about girls and self-image, obviously, but at least nowadays it isn’t shameful for a woman or girl to sweat.

    pmoney, I truly do appreciate your take on the subject, but I totally disagree with the linkage of losing and humiliation. Sure, we need to learn the experience of trying hard and losing anyway. But humiliation has no part in that. In fact, the lesson should be the exact opposite: nobody always, always wins. I always like seeing a game end with the players on each team lining up to shake hands with their opponents.

    I remember hearing this joke, which I will now possibly mangle. I thought it was funny and uncomfortably accurate. It’s a comparison of stereotypical male/female behavior, illustrated by a golf game. Four men are golfing, and they’re all experienced and everything, but then one guy hits a crazy ball that goes flying up onto the pro shop roof. The other three guys holler and laugh, and for the rest of the day they tease him about it, while the guy gets red-faced but ends up laughing, because what else are you going to do.

    Then there’s the group of four women, all similarly adept, and one woman hits the crazy ball onto the pro shop roof. The other three hush up for a painful moment, and one of them says soothingly, “That was so not your fault.”

    I don’t want the rough hazing that can get visited on boys, and I think humiliation sucks as a teaching device. But pretending that everything is golden isn’t so great, either.

    The most important thing about PE in the schools is, for me, that children learn to be comfortable in their bodies, and to recognize that our minds and bodies aren’t oppositional. I hated gym so much that I rejoiced when the requirement was dropped, and I didn’t do anything physically exerting for ten years. That’s sad.

    PS: spelling bees for torture for me, too, even though I was usually one of the last few standing. And I remember having to do an arithmetic problem at the blackboard in fifth grade, getting it wrong, and having the teacher sneer at me, saying, “Well, you’re not very good at math, are you?” My self-esteem had already been so well-macerated by my family that I could only nod pathetically, when I ought to have handed him the chalk and told him to sit and spin.

  109. Alara Rogers
    May 1, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    You know, the whole “teach through humiliation” only works on two kinds of people — the kind of people who have a burning desire to get better at the subject for their own reasons, and the kind of people who respond to humiliation with, “Oh yeah? I’ll show *you*!” and work to overcome the humiliation by improving.

    Other models of human behavior are just as common. Such as the “Yeah, that’s right, I guess I suck and I shouldn’t even try”, or the “Fuck you, why should I do anything to please you when you’re tormenting me?”

    Since the people with a burning desire to achieve will achieve no matter what, and the people who say “yeah, I suck, I shouldn’t even try” and “fuck you” outnumber the people who say “I’ll show you”, it seems to me that teaching by humiliation is *only* ever going to work in very, very narrow environments, in limited quantities.

    I was a child prodigy who hated gym. In the classroom, I was a superstar… for which I got teased and tormented. In the gym, I was a pathetic loser… for which I got teased and tormented. When I won the county spelling bee, I didn’t get treated the way an athlete or team who had won an equivalent athletic prize would have been… it was virtually ignored. So my reaction to gym was “Fuck you.” I didn’t have low self esteem, I had fantastically high self esteem, but I sucked at gym and so I decided the problem was that people who were good at gym were just inferior and I wouldn’t even *want* to be like people like that. This is no healthier an attitude to foster than “poor me, I suck.”

    I agree that including team sports as part of a menu of things you can do in gym class to get physical exercise is a necessary thing. But since the way to motivate people who desperately want to do something is very different than the way to motivate people who have little interest, I suggest that we make teachers of gym classes be people who are entirely different from athletic coaches. Athletic coaches must try to coax excellence from people who desperately want to be there. Teachers of gym class are working with people who don’t necessarily want to be there, and they should have the same mindset as teachers of regular class are. You can appreciate your star pupil, but you don’t publicly humiliate the ones less starful; you offer help and assistance to kids who aren’t getting it; you group kids by ability level and do not set them into competition with kids of different ability levels; and definitely there should be a large component of basic physical fitness that has nothing to do with team sports.

  110. May 1, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    Uh, did anyone get the idea that DDR is totally noncompetitive? Do you really think that nobody is saying “Dude, I totally got a triple A on Afronova on Difficult” and other kids are embarassed that they can’t get past Light Mode?

    The difference, of course, is that a) you can suck at DDR and still have it be fun and great exercise and b) as it’s not a team sport, your own mistakes don’t screw things up for everybody else.

    Also, nobody can throw a ball at your head.

  111. Laurie
    May 2, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Some random thoughts on PhysEd and fitness and what-not:

    (No, really. This is all VERY random and mainly in reaction to a lot of the other posts on this subject. I am not trying to argue with anyone here, just putting my own experiences and thoughts out there for consideration. And a warning: this is REALLY long — sorry. But my editing skills are apparently not up to par tonight.)

    I, too, hated gym in school. Loved certain physical activities that I did on my own or with my family, but hated gym. Or certain parts of it, anyway. It didn’t help that I am a couch potato by nature, and would prefer reading to running hands down any day of the week, even when I was a kid and gym class didn’t actually hurt yet.

    I like volleyball, and am OK at it. Not great, but I can sometimes hit the ball and get it to go over the net, and my underhand serve is adequate. I do NOT like getting smashed in the face with a volleyball because someone decided that a friendly game in the backyard needed their spiking talents. I do NOT like getting yelled at for missing a shot (by members of the volleyball team), and I dislike strongly getting taunted by the other team since I was such a lousy athlete that I couldn’t *possibly* serve a ball past them. (NOTE: I calmly served that ball directly at the asshole that was taunting me and he MISSED IT. Neener.)

    I actually enjoyed floor hockey, and didn’t totally suck at it. :) I might have been good if my general fitness level had been better. I *was* irritated by the way the boys on the local hockey teams would dominate the court (girls weren’t allowed to play ice hockey when I was in school), and even more irritated by the fact that when we had rain days in high school, the boys got to play floor hockey and the girls had to do something else.

    I hated that when I got up to bat (or kick, in kickball), the entire outfield would move into the infield. It was unnecessary and embarrassing, and there’s a reason I hardly ever even made it to first base. it was bad enough by 6th grade that I just volunteered to pitch the whole game, and THE TEACHER LET ME.

    I liked parts of my junior year where we got to do cool things like canoeing (I rocked at that), and basic social dance. I disliked the fact that I was graded down for not being able to run an 8 minute mile even though I’d improved my time over the quarter by over a minute. It irked me further to have my inability to run faster likened to an inability to learn how to do fractions. I wasn’t asking for an A; I was asking to have my improvement acknowledged. The idiot I had for a gym teacher couldn’t seem to make that connection. Unfortunately, I couldn’t grade HIM down for that. :P

    I would have liked weight training if the boys on the varsity teams hadn’t totally dominated the weight room and snickered and made rude cracks about girls on some of the machines (ab/aductor machine, anyone?).

    I wasn’t thrilled about the million and one sit-ups that the football coach made our gym class do, but was willing to tolerate them. I did NOT like the fact that he let the jocks get away with not doing all of them — in fact, they rarely did more than half. And yet he’d notice any of the rest of us slacking off in an instant.

    I disliked the rigid, one standard for all grading system. I was never going to be a distance runner, for example. But with proper encouragement, I might have been a good sprinter/short distance runner. Never really got it, except for one random remark from a teacher in the 10th grade.

    Are we seeing a pattern yet? It has taken me *20 years* to get to the point where I am willing to deal with going to a gym, and the best part about it is that I can go during parts of the day when there are very few people there. AND mostly you are ignored by the other patrons unless they are asking if you are finished with a machine.

    I was uncoordinated and unfit, and didn’t (and STILL don’t) see why gym is a graded class. It ought to be pass/fail — you show up, you do your best, you maybe even improve a little, you pass. You show up, you bully people, you be obnoxious, you fail. You won’t fail to get a job and be able to support yourself in the real world if you can’t hit a softball to save your life. You probably need to know how to read and balance a checkbook, though.

    Humiliation never made me want to get better at anything as a child/youngster. It made me want to go hide somewhere, lick my wounds, and get better at the stuff I was *already* inclined to be good at, just to get some sort of petty revenge.

    I enjoy dance classes, hiking, swimming, and biking. I enjoyed the one yoga class I’ve taken. Please note, these are all activities that are more or less solo, yet I can certainly work with others as a team when necessary. :) Theatre ALSO does a bang up job of teaching you to work together towards a goal.

    I do not like physical competition, because it never stays friendly. My husband’s boss has department get-togethers at their house, and they have enough room in the back yard for a volleyball game. I play until he and his wife join in, because suddenly, the game goes from friendly to *Competative!!*. I don’t need that. I don’t need balls served overhand that leave welts on me IF I manage to hit them. I certainly don’t need people a foot taller than I am reaching over the net to smack balls onto my head.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that while team sports may be a very positive experience for a lot of people, many of us do NOT benefit by them. (Please note, I haven’t gotten into the “getting picked last” meme here — that was also less than pleasant.) In fact, I have a feeling that MOST introverts like myself get fairly turned off on physical activity because of gym classes. And yet a I really do see the advantage to teaching kids to enjoy physical activity and keeping fit. I just think that there needs to be a different approach to teaching *fitness*, and a less competitive model would be my answer. At least leaven the team sports with more stuff where you compete only against yourself, and for gods’ sake(s), control the sniping and teasing! I really think the answer is in how the PhyEd teachers are being taught to BE teachers. Hopefully, that is changing. The gals who own the gym I go to are hard core, lifetime athletes with degrees in PhysEd and personal training. One HOUR in the gym around them is more encouraging than whole YEARS were in school. And I think we can all agree that’s just wrong.

    *wince* Sorry for the long post. This subject always hits a nerve. /rambling

  112. Donna Darko
    May 2, 2007 at 12:45 am

    Some people would be uncomfortable with dance in gym class. I would prefer regular gym meself and was one of those people who looked forward to gym. It’s required five days a week in Illinois which kept our minds busy. Running up and down the soccer field or slugging the field hockey puck was a great, sweaty release.

  113. Sjofn
    May 2, 2007 at 12:55 am

    I loved gym. I had nice teachers, though, who did not think humilation was the best motivator (there was only one gym teacher at my entire school like that, and everyone hated him … I didn’t have him though). They never let kids pick their own teams if we only divided into two, but sometimes (like when we did volleyball) they let us sort of mill into our own groups. So there’d be the superjockyjockjock court (I only occassionally played there, because I’d be the only girl, but I was tall and strong and could stuff those motherfuckers, tee hee!), the medium courts, and the “we don’t really like volleyball but we’ll sort of smack the ball around” court. I have asthma, but it wasn’t very bad and they let me carry my inhaler, so I was lucky in that regard, I guess. We’d also occassionally do things like archery, or weird team-building problem solving exercises.

    And then there was the square dancing. I haaaated square dancing. And I’m pretty sure I would’ve hated DDR too, because even though I’m athletic, I’m clumsy. I can play soccer and volleyball, but God help you if you make me dance with you.

  114. William
    May 2, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Its kind of odd how there seems to be an undercurrent of “stop worrying about how to make gym/PE *better*, children need to be divided up into winners and losers at an early age so that the losers can properly learn to deal with the humiliation that comes with being a loser.” Well, not so odd really. As I wrote earlier, probably 90% plus of high school PE teachers were themselves jocks in high school. I think a big part of the problem people have with PE isn’t team sports, winning or losing, or overcoming obstacles . . . its that the stereotypical PE class is run by jocks for jocks and people who suck are marginalized not just by other students but by also by the teachers. I think most of the people on this thread would agree that team sports *can* be a part of a good PE curriculum, but that all too often the entire PE curriculum is implemented in a way that totally turns off large numbers of students.

    To me the issue isn’t sports/no sports but change/no change. I find it amazing that given health statistics about American youth and adults that anyone would seriously argue that our current system of physical eduction is working. And again, its amazing that folks would act as if asshole coaches *aren’t* a part of the problem. So to me, when I read about Coaches using innovative, non-traditional activities to make PE more enjoyable for everyone my reaction is positive because I think “awesome, here’s someone who is willing to think outside the box and reach all students, not just a few students.” Because at the end of the day PE is about making sure our students learn about (and hopefully adopt) healthy behaviors.

    Sure, people can learn to overcome obstacles and deal with humiliation in PE, or English, or Math . . . but that’s not the main reason we teach those subjects. One valid way to deal with humiliation is to say “screw it, what those people think and value is not important, I don’t need to make them happy or deal with them”. And that’s how many students are learning to deal with humiliation in PE . . . by emotionally checking out in the face of irrational expectations. So they are “successful” in that respect, but in terms of actually developing healthy behaviors not so much. And the problem isn’t that liberals want to do away with team sports, but that too many coaches still are acting like high school kids themselves, rolling out basketballs and blowing whistles instead of teaching.

    A good gym teacher is going to generally incorporate team sports into classes with good results. In the hands of a bad gym teacher, the team sports element is going to suck, just like everything else. At the end of the day, far too many high school PE teachers are hired for their ability to coach extracurricular activities rather than for their skills as educators. The flip side of this is that I’ve found by and large the best coaches tend to be classroom teachers (not saying that every coach who teaches in a classroom is a good coach).

    So in summary I think we need to move away from team sports bad/good and focus more on how to get better teaching in PE classes.

  115. LS
    May 2, 2007 at 7:36 am

    I was not treated like a special, special snowflake for being good at those activities.
    Is that directed at me? I don’t believe I’ve used the word “special” once. On the contrary, my point is that I think sports should be enjoyable for everyone.

    You did not, perhaps, but the American experience is generally that athletes are praised far beyond their due. There is a reason for the cliche in teen-centered movies and TV shows that the popular kids are the jocks and cheerleaders. In my school, a boy who was not on a sports team was regarded with suspicion because he was clearly “like, gay or some shit” (as one football player said to a friend of mine). A girl who was not on a team was likewise looked at askance unless she was the total femme-type, and/or dating an athlete. Some math for you: in a school of 600 students, assuming most athletes are three-season players, how many people don’t get on a team? Now how about a school of 1200?

    This doesn’t even take into account the privileging of some sports over others: ie, football. Our team was dead last in the league. Meanwhile, girls’ volleyball, girls’ soccer, and co-ed cross country were winning awards at county and state level. Guess which athletes got celebrated? (It was not entirely a male/female thing, either; boys’ wrestling – also winning county and state – played second fiddle to basketball – also losing.)

    Believe it or not, everyone gets teased. EVERYONE. Everyone sucks at something or is different in some way, or trips and falls in the lunch line or throws up in english class or forgets their milk money or whatever.

    You keep talking about developing empathy. Try applying some here. Let’s talk about Jane and John — they’re 10. They’re both bright; maybe not top of the class, but pulling As and the occasional B. They regularly get teased for being “nerds”, “dweebs” and “teacher’s pets.” John is kinda skinny and short — he’s called “shrimp” and “midget” adn other things on a regular basis. Jane has just started developing – she’s earlier than her classmates, so she’s being teased about her bust, and called “fat” because she’s getting thighs and hips. Her coordination and balance are also pretty shot. In PE, neither of them excels. They’re picked last for teams every single day, and often it comes down to a discussion between captains: “We had HIM yesterday; YOU take him.” John is told he “throws like a girl” every time his toss falls short or goes wild. Jane is the “clutz.”

    Fast forward — they’re 14. John’s dealing with the growth spurts that are blowing whatever coordination he had. Jane’s learned to think of herself as a fat, slow, clumsy girl. Neither of them like PE much. They’re still being called names all day outside of gym class. In gym, they’re picked last; the whole class groans when one of them gets up to bat, or serve. People push them aside roughly when they try to get a ball. If they go to the teacher, s/he says, “It’s part of the game; you have to be aggressive!”

    Everyone gets teased? Bill, the football player, dropped his lunch tray yesterday. His friends ragged on him – “butterfingers! Don’t let the ball get by you that way!” Today he’s in class shooting free throws – “I’ve got great hands,” he says, and everyone agrees. John dropped his tray last week. He picks up a basketball. “Hey, man,” says someone, “You can’t even hang on to a TRAY, whadda think you’re gonna do with a ball?!”

    This is not exaggeration, though it is fictionalized. This is what a great many students go through. For them, it is not just a matter of one missed goal; one strike out. It is all day, every day. Every time they come up to bat in a baseball game, their peers tell them they will fail. They are expected to fail — is it any wonder that they do? Is it any wonder that they learn to hate playing sports?

    I just think we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water, here. Sports do not equal bad self-worth. Kids who excessively ridicule you (and teachers who do nothing to stop it) equal bad self-worth.

    Finally you start to see — but what you don’t see is that no one here is advocating banning sports. What people here are trying to get at is that the usual model of PE does NOT work. Peer-chosen teams, for example, are a popularity contest and nothing more. Focusing on playing games, which pushes people to win, rather than on developing skills, inevitably leads to the less-skilled (and therefore less useful to the team) students being looked down on. Praising overall skill rather than improvement favors natural athletes. Limiting activities to the “big three” sports (soccer, basketball, baseball) with occasional forays into football and hockey leaves students who don’t do well at those with the idea that they’re just bad at sports/exercise, period. We need a new model – one in which there is room for running, dance, yoga, biking, skating, weightlifting, what-have-you, alongside traditional team sports, and where finding something you like and will stick with is emphasized over being good at things.

    Wow, that got really long-winded. Sorry, folks; guess it hit a nerve.

  116. Trevelynne
    May 2, 2007 at 7:40 am

    If the paradigm doesn’t work for everyone, then why not explore alternatives? I’m not saying chuck out PE or team sports, I’m saying make them better. For example, in my junior high, we were all assigned a number in PE. I was number 43 for 7th and 8th grade. Even numbered students played on team A and odd numbered students played on team B – no matter the sport. Just think of some of the aforementioned problems this method solved. We still had to play the sport, but some of the social problems that can make a sport so miserable to play and can turn people off sports for life never came into play.

    All children do NOT learn or benefit equally from one mode of instruction or testing. Taking into account that people learn and think about and experience the same education differently, trying to find ways to enhance the learning experience of all students isn’t coddling or teaching to the lowest common denominator, it is merely recognizing diversity and attempting to give the best education to EVERYONE.

    Providing alternative types of instruction to maximize a student’s/a group of students’ performance may not always be practical in our underfunded school by our overworked teachers, but I fail to see where it could ever be a bad thing.

  117. pmoney
    May 2, 2007 at 9:12 am

    OK, one more time, I am not for humiliating children. The example of shame and humiliation I referred to as a motivating factor was striking out. That is my version of sports-related humiliation: perfoming badly in a team sport. Striking out, dropping the ball, being “the goat” as Charlie Brown would put it.

    I am so not, in any way, in favor of hazing or abuse or anything like that.

  118. May 2, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I think physical fitness is very, very important.

    I also think that teaching the damn truth, that there are many roads to physical fitness is crucial.

    Yes, you should try team sports to see if you like them. If you do, my goodness enjoy them.

    If you like DDR, why in hell not do it? It’s a heck of a workout for them as likes it.

    To me, both sides of this arguement remind me of the goofiness of the Running Vs. Swimming as Great Cardio Debate. Each side has its benefits and drawbacks.

    At the end of the day, the important thing is that you’re maintaining your body with a mixture of cardio, flexibility and strength training. How you get it isn’t all that important. It’s that you do, which is what we need to teach the kids.

  119. EG
    May 2, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    The example of shame and humiliation I referred to as a motivating factor was striking out. That is my version of sports-related humiliation: perfoming badly in a team sport.

    The fact that that’s your version of sports-related humiliation suggests to me that you had a particularly lovely time in gym class. Perhaps you could take the time read and take seriously the experiences of the other people here, because that’s not what we’re talking about.

  120. May 2, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    There’s nothing inherently shameful about striking out. Pro baseball players strike out. It only becomes humiliating when you are being jeered at by the other players and the coaches.

    This is why I did fine in my after-school softball team – because I was encouraged, coached, and supported as part of a team – but never hit a single ball in gym class. Well, that and the assholes pitching at my head, when we didn’t have batting helmets because of budget issues.

  121. Laurie
    May 2, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    I think also, if they are going to teach team sports in gym class, they need to TEACH it, not just referee it. I don’t remember ever being taught the correct way to throw a softball, or that I ever got any actual *coaching* as to how to bat effectively. While we practiced bumps and sets in volleyball, we weren’t actually coached and corrected — just let lose with an instruction. Basketball was similar. I’ve just NOW learned, *mumble-mumble* years later, than there is more to pulling a bow (archery) than holding it in one hand, pulling back with the other, and letting go. From a BOOK.

    It seemed to me that the PE teachers I had assumed that you knew how to play the sports without spending a whole lot of time practicing the skills. On the other hand, from a fitness standpoint, team sports can be a whole lot of standing around waiting for your turn. Not very aerobic. ;)

    I agree that teaching a really, really wide variety of movement is also important. I was one of the geeks that LIKED the dance units, although even I thought square dancing was pretty dumb. And the idiot I had my junior year *yelled at* me and my partner for actually daring to waltz properly (face-to-face, as opposed to side-by-side). *sigh* No wonder it was no fun.

  122. Confused
    May 2, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I am saying that team sports in gym class are bad.

    Fucking evil, actually.

    Reading through the comments, it seems pretty clear that most of those who hate team sports do so because of bullying classmates and/or gym teachers who, from the descriptions provided, sound pretty sadistic. It’s got nothing to do with the sports themselves.

    And still, I’m sorry I missed team sports – well-coached, thoughtfully planned team sports. I think it’s real important for girls to learn early that you can work together without having to be really good friends, or that anyone and everyone screws up some times, and you just have to deal with it, along with your teammates, because that’s what happens during games. Girls need to know you can go through this stuff and the world won’t explode.

    Absolutely. A good teacher or coach can use team sports to teach kids about much more than just the game and how to win.

    As for DDR, as long as several kids can participate at once as shown in the article (and not be waiting for a turn most of the time) I have no problem with it. I still think team sports are important, but they don’t have to dominate the schedule as they seem to now.

    Actually, I’d leave a couple of them around for students to use at lunch or after school as well. I’m all for anything that gets people, especially kids, to exercise more.

  123. Ron O.
    May 2, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Several people have mentioned learning sportsmanship as a benefit of team sports. I still bristle when I hear things like that even though I’ve been playing team sports as an adult for 12 years now. I did not experience sportsmanship in team sports as a youth, though plenty of people gave it a lot of lip service. I’m not saying you folks didn’t learn that; I just don’t think it is very common. Thankfully I did get some good body awareness from some great park district employees who ran programs in our local park. It’s there that I wrestled, which is great for a strong but clumsy kid and swam, which was just fun.

    I learned more about teamwork and sportsmanship from doing theater & student council in HS. Theater especially was great at promoting a positive type a criticism that promoted improvement. I think many PE teachers could probably learn a thing or two from them.

  124. May 2, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    I. Am. So. Sorry. That. I. Missed. This. Thread.

    WOW!

    I don’t know where to begin.

    I was the nerd kid. I was astoundingly good at math and every intellectual activity you could name, EXCEPT for drawing. THAT was a source of social ostracism until I went to a nerd high school—and I hated the grade 9 gym class even then! There is no comparison between gym class humiliation and math class humiliation. You can be a HERO for failing in math class, sometimes, if you are the jock! You are almost always subject to humiliation if you are good at math. You cannot even hold success at math OVER the jock, in defence.

    Today I went to play ping pong. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks. I have to force myself to stop apologizing for my lack of proficiency. I do it constantly. It’s a “don’t hurt me!!!” reaction. That’s what gym class did to me.

    My strength is strength, and the only kind of exercise I have ever been able to bring myself to do is the kind where no one I know is watching me. It has taken me a decade to get even a LITTLE BIT over that. I have no idea what my life or my body might have been if I didn’t have a HUGE number of neuroses about physical activity.

    YES: I think that team sports are a bad idea in a mandatory gym class. They’re a bad idea until we STOP the undue glorification of such things in overall popular culture. ONLY THEN will they not be a vehicle for public humiliation and the daily, daily trauma of Last Pick Syndrome.

    I have little sympathy with pmoney.

  125. May 2, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Comparative measurement sports are pretty bad too (racing, etc), but at least you aren’t being BLAMED for making others lose.

  126. May 2, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Surely I can’t be the only one who remembers New Games. There are plenty of group/team sports that aren’t competitive.

    Whoever posted the faux-Nietzsche line about doing badly at sports promoting empathy–that’s kind of ass-backwards from the goal of PE, which is to get kids to be good at sports, right? By your logic, kids who excel at team sports or who improve greatly are missing the whole point of the exercise, as they won’t develop empathy or an understanding of losing.

    By the way, “humiliation” is not an emotionally healthy response to striking out. That suggests that if you don’t strike out, the pitcher (who is supposed to pitch strikes) ought to be humiliated. In other words, that team sports is one big game of macho power games, where the players who don’t perform perfectly ought to be properly ashamed of themselves for not beating their adversaries.

  127. MK
    May 3, 2007 at 12:13 am

    This is a great thread. I also had the experience in PE of teachers who coached sports, not taught them. I was never taught how to throw a ball, or hit one with a bat. The few skills I was taught, I was given maybe 15 minutes to practice. What a farce!
    As someone who works on large software projects, I’ve never seen the connection between team sports in PE and teams at work. For one thing, in the work world you don’t expect someone with no experience to compete with someone with lots of experience. A newbie to the job is given different tasks from the veterans, and is not expected to do the same thing as the veterans. Most school gym classes put kids who have played a sport for years on the same team as kids who have never played the sport. All this does is create hostility and nastiness: the experienced kids feel dragged down by the newcomers and the newcomers feel humiliated. Couple this with indifferent instruction and you have a recipe for future physically unfit citizens.
    Speaking of funding, it may be better to for schools to pay for DDR for their classes, even if it is a large up front cost, since in poorer commuinities participation in team sports is often not possible due to lack of money for shoes, transportation etc. Since kids are required to take PE, at least they will have an opportunity for vigorous exercise. The kids at the school where my partner teaches get almost no exercize at all. Their parents don’t have cars, so they can’t be on sports teams, since there is no way to get home after the games, and they are generally not allowed to play outside in their dangerous neighborhood.

  128. MK
    May 3, 2007 at 12:55 am

    The other question I have is, why do people say video games don’t belong in school but other games, like baseball, do? They are all games, after all. If we are truly interested in team work , then teams should be about work, doing something contructive. For example, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or building a computer network in a community center, or working on a political campaign, or producing a movie or an event. Let’s face it, winning a game is just recreation, and as a society we sure have lost track of that when we pay ball players so much more than teachers. Sports have their place, but let’s remember, they are games.

  129. LS
    May 3, 2007 at 7:02 am

    Surely I can’t be the only one who remembers New Games. There are plenty of group/team sports that aren’t competitive.

    If you mean what I think you mean — “cross the ‘river’ without falling in”; negotiate obstacle courses with one blindfolded person, one who can’t walk, and no one who can talk, etc — I loved those. We played them regularly in elementary school, about once a week or so. Of course, I was still at a progressive private then, and when I changed to public schools I never saw them again. Those were real team-building exercises, because you really did have to work together. It was also the only time in PE when ‘smart’ was a good thing.

  130. Denise
    May 5, 2007 at 3:51 am

    I hated my gym teachers and most of my classmates in high school. I usually shorten that to “I hated gym class” but the distinction appears to be important here. Why did I hate them? Teachers: 2 made me feel humiliated that when I ran for more than 30 seconds my heart rate jumped to over 250 beats per minute (heart attack territory). I could go on day-long hikes in mountainous terrain, but could not run without danger to my health (I later developed a knee injury when I tried a timed run/walk regimen), and was therefore inferior to all the other students (who could at least fake it). The other instructor was a perv who looked at all the students’ crotches while we were stretching for swimming class. As for my classmates: I was a brain and assumed to be inferior at pysical activities. They teased me when I made mistakes, when I caused them to lose. Otherwise I wasn’t even on their radar. I could only be noticed by being exceptional at something. I do recall a few being very surprised that my stair-climbing speed and power (force x distance, baby!) was much higher than theirs in a physics experiment.

    I never really blamed it on the sports themselves. It was almost entirely because of the atitudes of my “teammates” that I only enjoyed the activities in gym class in my freshman year (no athletics; group problem solving with some physical activity) and my senior year (noncompetitive and small-group sports like dance, golf, and bowling). I still hated those $*&^@#% jock-strap-kissing teachers. I had to leave PE behind before I could learn that physical fitness encompassed activities I already enjoyed like walking and gardening.

    Of course it doesn’t help my physical fitness either that the main physical activities I enjoy these days I have people warning me away from at the times I can do them. Specifically walking after dark, from half of the people I know. I am hypervigilant, I have my cell phone, and I am fine to walk the 5 blocks to the coffee shop, thanks.

    Bringing this back around to the original topic, I endorse giving young people a chance at team, small-group, and solitary physical activities which may include but should not be limited to sports. I demand that students’ medical concerns be given full consideration and take into account whether the medical concern can be aleviated with physical therapy or is something that must be worked around for the duration of the class. I endorse the intent of all students having fun moving around instead of some students having fun humiliating their less-athletic peers.

  131. Ursula L
    May 5, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Worst thing about gym in school? Dodgeball. All the out-of-shape kids, including me, got tagged out immediately. And this was all we played in junior high. Gym class resulted in perhaps forty-five seconds of potential exercise, while the already-in-shape kids who played soccer and basketball on school teams ran around the rest of the period. Completely ineffective.

    I found a way around that one. I’d stay toward the back of the gym, and if a ball came my way, I’d move it off to the side. I’d never throw a ball back. Several games ended where I was the only one left on my team, all the balls were on my side, and I wouldn’t throw them back. Drove the teachers crazy.

    Overall, I’d say gym class is evil. Even if it is a noncompetitive exercise, it is done in a way where if you aren’t good at it, your lack of skill is seen by the entire class. Unlike say, math, where a bad grade on a test is a piece of paper which no one else ever has to see.

    It got to the point where I can barely bear to exercise at all. Any alleged physical stress-relief from exercise is overwhelmed by the bad memories and emotional stress generated.

  132. Ursula L
    May 5, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    There were things everyone liked, right?

    Not one thing I liked. Starting out in kindergarten when they put me in extra gym classes because I couldn’t skip. (End of the year, they wanted me to repeat kindergarten, because I still couldn’t skip. Fortunately, my parents moved me to a private school at that point.) All the way through grade school and high school. The swim team my parents made me be on, where I came in last by over a minute for every race. Four semesters of misery in college, missing the target in archery and falling over trying to get into the poses in yoga. Even the biking class I signed up for this spring, because I knew I needed the exercise, that I had to walk out on because it was so loud and miserable I completely freaked out. (I refuse to call it “spinning.” If I’m spinning, I want some yarn to knit at the end of the day.)

    I didn’t learn “sportsmanship.” I learned to hide and avoid. I didn’t learn to cooperate, I learned to stay out of the way. I didn’t learn physical fitness, I learned to panic at the very thought.

    There is not one positive experience I can think of every having related to sports and gym.

    And unlike other classes where you’re merely expected to learn, in gym you are pressured to have “fun” because it is a “game.” They wouldn’t even let you be miserable about it in peace.

    It wasn’t the instructors. There were some whom I liked, and several who were kind, and tried to help me. It wasn’t the other kids, they mostly left me alone, and I wasn’t really picked on. It was gym and sports themselves.

    Any conclusions based on the belief that everyone had something they liked in gym class are certain to be wrong. If you can come up with a reason why gym class is beneficial when you hate every minute of it, I’d be interested to hear it.

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