Why current practices in education forecast a disaster for boys.
Once at Opening Day at a local community college, the keynote speaker made a comment about physical education being neither physical, nor education. Everyone laughed, except for the athletic coaches I was sitting with.
PE has become a joke in our educations system. My son’s second grade class gets 30 minutes of physical education per week, which is often rained out or canceled.
I used to supplement this lack of exercise by playing with my son after school. We would play basketball, soccer, wall ball, or tag. At the beginning of this year, however, the principal came out and told us that we were not allowed to play on school grounds after school. This was a city wide ban fueled by fear of law suits.
In his TedTalk on play, Peter Gray explains how the consistent decline in free play for children correlates to higher anxiety and depression in children. “Children are more depressed today than they were during the Great Depression.”
Taking away physical education and free play is especially detrimental for boys. In Raising Caine: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson state, “the principle of allowing boys to exercise when they need to during a school day is a powerful one.” They continue, “Boys need space for their jumping, their energy, their exuberance.”
Ignoring the physicality of boys in school spells disaster for the future of boys in education. At a recent education conference one of the speakers said that researchers are predicting the day when there will be no more boys in college.
Claudia Buchmann, author of The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools claims that “at every level of cognitive ability, boys are getting lower grades than girls. It is not about ability—it is about effort and engagement.”
In contrast, the head of one small private elementary school in Pennsylvania said to Kindlon and Thompson, “It is amazing how much work boys will get done when going outside is the reward.” The solution seems clear—to help boys engage in school more allow them to be physical.
Unfortunately, at a recent parent/teacher conference the teacher said that my son has a tough time sitting down and listening. My suggestion to put him in the back row and let him stand and move a bit went right over her head and into the trash bin.
I’m already seeing the effects of this no-child-allowed-to-exercise mentality. Last month, three boys had anxiety attacks on the same day. My own son has said, “I hate my life. I want to die” when he got overwhelmed with school work.
I’m not taking these warning signs lightly given the rise in suicide and school shootings in the last 10 years. I can’t do much about changing school policy without the help of others. I’m asking you to put physical education back on the agenda. Make space for boys to express their high activity levels. To quote one of the best boy movies of all-time, “Let them play. Let them play.” [Bad News Bears]