Let's Bring Physical Education to the Classroom

7 years ago

My child took her reading classes in a closet.  They moved aside the boxes (they couldn't remove them because there was no where else to put them, so they stacked them up against the walls) and brought in a little table and tiny chairs, and that closet was where she went for her reading group. Fun.

Clearly we're overcrowded.  So I'd like to make a suggestion.  Now that we've moved the music teacher onto a cart that she wheels from room to room, and the art teacher is on a cart wheeling from room to room, I think we should put PE on a cart too.  They make really nice carts meant for wheeling basketballs from storage to court, and we could outfit one of those for the PE teacher! Some balls, some cones and a hook or two to hang stuff on, and they're in business.

Think of all the space that would be saved! The gym could be divided up into at least four classrooms.  We could fit another hundred kids into the school, get our class size below the state maximum, or at least get our reading groups out of the closets.

"You're crazy," you say. "You can't teach PE off a cart in the classroom!  How would the kids run around?  How could you possibly teach the basics of sports like soccer or basketball?"

Well, you know, that would be difficult.  But times are hard, and since we don't have the money to properly expand our schools, we all have to make sacrifices. 

Maybe you could show them a film on soccer fundamentals and have them write a paragraph or answer a quiz?  Or just move the desks aside and two or four of them at a time can practice in the middle.  That shouldn't be too disruptive.  On nice days they can still go outside.  At least until we need the lawn space for trailer classrooms.  And besides, it's only a couple of days a week. 

And anyway, is school really the place to teach PE?  Shouldn't that be a job for the parents?  Don't kids have plenty of hours outside of school to run around and get exercise?  What is this, a nanny-state where we're making the schools substitute parents?  Let the parents toss a ball around a court and teach their kids the rules of basketball.  Let the kids join an afterschool soccer league and learn there.  Don't waste our precious school resouces teaching something that they should be doing at home anyway!

Sounds a little ridiculous, right?  Right.  It is.  Just as ridiculous as asking an art teacher or a music teacher to teach off of a cart. Yet every day these teachers struggle to teach meaningful lessons in inappropriate spaces, with inadequate supplies.  Still nobody would dream of asking the PE teachers to do the same thing.  Why?

Sports are important!  We're teaching life skills.  We're helping children begin a lifetime of good health practices.  We let them burn off steam so they can concentrate better.  But wait... doesn't art do all that too?

Teaching art isn't about the artwork, the product, the end result.  It's about the process.  It's about learning to learn.  It's about learning to observe, a valuable life skill.  It's about trying things out and failing, and most importantly it's about learning that failure is valuable, it gets us where we need to go, and that we can overcome even repeated failures to create beauty.  It's about helping kids to be bold.  To understand that great things can happen when you are unafraid to fail.  And often, in art, failure is messy. 

To teach art right, you need a space where you can fail spectacularly.  Where you can get paint on the table, and clay on the floor.  Where you have enough room to move around your work, to stand, sit, turn, tilt or whatever you need to do to get the result you're after.  You need room to store supplies.  Teaching off a cart means no more clay, or the ability to fire pots.  It means using cheap, transportable, non-messy materials.  And what is the message this is sending our children?

Your creativity is not important to us.  Your artwork is just something silly, fun to do but inconsequential.  And yet we know that's not true. 

Skills practiced in art class can be brought to bear in every aspect of education.  Learning to observe carefully helps with problem solving in math, with learning detail in history and science.  Teaching a child to take chances and "think outside the box" can help them become a groundbreaking scientist or winning coach.  Drawing is a form of visual communication, and visual literacy is the new base skill our children must be prepared to master to function in the 21st century. If they don't learn how to communicate their thoughts and ideas through images, they will be left behind.

It is ridiculous to ask ANY serious teacher to teach as an itinerant.  If teaching PE off a cart sounds ridiculous, so should teaching Art or Music.  We need to find ways to honor all these subjects (and more) by giving them the resources they require to be taught well.  We need to honor our children by respecting their abilities and not sending them the message that their art and music talents are worthy only of cheap materials and inappropriate spaces. 

Jenn White


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