Cutting Class

January 11, 2013

So I’ve been seeing commercials for a foundation that preserves to aim physical education, or what we used to call P.E. or just gym, in schools. I had no idea gym classes were in danger, but it says something if budget cuts have gotten that bad. I feel compelled to speak up in defense of gym even though it was the class I tried hardest to get out of. And that’s in spite of the fact that it was always an easy A. Even when I was flunking math I could count on gym to pull up my average. All you had to do in gym was show up and put on your uniform. Well, in my school it would be exaggerating to call it a “uniform”. It was a school t-shirt and a pair of nylon shorts. In the winter if we wanted we could wear sweatpants as long as they were one of the school colors. That was gym: show up and change clothes. Physical activity wasn’t even necessarily required, but everyone had to change clothes.

A friend of mine had a back injury that prevented him from putting his arms over his head for several months, so he couldn’t do a lot of physical activity or change his shirt. But the coach insisted he put on the nylon shorts, so he mostly sat in the bleachers wearing the shorts and a regular shirt reading a book while I did half-assed jumping jacks and sit-ups and devised elaborate schemes to get a back injury. I’d like to say it was the creepy proto-military quality of gym that bothered me. After all every TV show and movie I’d ever seen about the military, from Gomer Pyle to Full Metal Jacket, had at least one montage of a bunch of guys dressed alike doing jumping jacks, sit-ups, and running through a bunch of old tires. It looked just like gym class, except they were more coordinated and had real uniforms. The truth is, though, that I hated gym because I just wasn’t that into exercise, a quality I shared with junior high school gym teacher. He weighed five hundred pounds and I think they made him the gym teacher to warn all of us what would happen if we didn’t exercise regularly.

I realize part of the purpose of gym was to make us well-rounded, but he was the most well-rounded teacher in the school and it didn’t exactly seem appealing. So I guess gym wasn’t really anything like the military, because the gym teacher was no drill sergeant. He didn’t march up and down and scream in anyone’s face because that much physical activity would have killed him. Mostly he just sat in a chair and told us to go run through some tires while he read the paper. Anyway it still surprises me that gym is in any danger of being cut from school budgets. My high school had very clear priorities: football, basketball, baseball, and if any money was left over it could be used for incidentals like English or science. Even people who think public education is a communist plot are in favor of high school football, and where would that be without gym class? For at least a couple of decades now I’ve been hearing pleas to save music and art instruction in schools, and although I think these things can be preserved as well it seems like mos of those who control the purse strings think school money should be directed away from such frou-frou pursuits and instead used for important things, like new helmets. Schools that offer Beethoven and basketball don’t just create well-rounded students, they foster well-rounded communities. This is why it irks me whenever I hear someone without children say their taxes shouldn’t have to pay for schools since they don’t have kids to send to school. We all benefit from public education, including the people without children who say their taxes shouldn’t have to pay for schools, even though they’re adults who’re stuck with a preschool mentality. What I’m getting at is that our schools have been cut enough and need more funding and better budgeting. And if they have to cut something it should be something unimportant that nobody uses, like math.

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