First off, I immediately want to mention that I was inspired to write this article after listening to a fantastic podcast from Brett of the Art of Manliness (AOM) website. In episode #775 of the AOM podcast series, Brett had Dr. Daniel O’Neill on to discuss his resolute belief that Physical Education classes should be thought of as the most important component in all of academia. Dr. O’Neil believes so strongly about this, he wrote a fantastic book entitled, “Survival of the Fit: How Physical Education Ensures Academic Achievement and a Healthy Life.” I purchased the book immediately after listening, and I was so enthralled while reading it, I read it cover to cover in a matter of days.
The reason I was able to read it so quickly was due to this being a topic that has always struck a chord with me. At one point, in fact, I strongly considered becoming a P.E. teacher myself. However, I knew the type of reputation the class had within academia. After heavy contemplation and various discussions with educators in my network, I elected to make my impact as a youth coach on the soccer fields and wrestling mats instead.
Of course, we all need to learn how to read, write, and understand basic arithmetic, but it is also paramount that we establish our “physical identity” which is a brilliant term coined by Dr. O’Neill in the book. The idea behind a physical identity is that it encapsulates how we move, how we explore the outdoors, how we respond to nature, and how we are born to play, be active, curious, and imaginative. A lack of continuing to foster this mindset as we grow out of childhood is leading to the physical and mental breakdowns of individuals and societies alike.
Another fascinating piece of education that came my way from listening to the podcast, was the title of a documentary called, “The Motivation Factor” which highlighted the work of Stan LeProtti, a P.E. pioneer in the 1960’s who designed a robust P.E. program that emphasized physical health, mental fortitude, and the spirit of teamwork, helping create strong, athletic young people who’d go on to be strong-willed adult citizens. The film explains the connection between physical health and mental health, and how our lack of physical education in schools negatively affects our kids. It also dives deep into the role physical education plays in developing social unity. I highly recommend this eye-opening film.
As far back as I can remember, P.E. was regarded as a joke class. Phys Ed for me, as a young athlete at the time, was my favorite time of the day. Though, I was aware that it was not taken seriously by most students and even faculty, which was a shame. Truth be told, I was lucky enough to have the green light to play at-will by my parents and I had various mentors and coaches in my life that inspired me to be active on and off the organized playing fields, which led to continued activity all throughout my childhood and still to this day in adulthood.
Some young folks may not have that green light to play or mentors to be inspired by. Which is why I emphatically state that physical education and health classes should be looked upon by our educators just as seriously as reading, writing and mathematics. Perhaps, the importance of physical education should be promoted even more so than any other aspect of education. Dr. O’Neill is not alone in his thinking about this topic. And undoubtedly the first layer in this long arduous process is educating our young generations on the how and why of lifelong fitness.
Having a firm grasp on our physical identity pushes our youngsters, and even ourselves as adults, to appreciate how proper treatment of our bodies will prolong our ability to function optimally for as long as possible. Given the myriad of factors and circumstances that make this epidemic extremely complex, I would never claim to have all the answers for every single individual person or family. But the simplicity of appreciation for one’s own body and the understanding to move more and eat wiser are factors anyone of us can understand and enact.
Dr. O'Neill's attempt to start a Physical Education revolution is noble and I applaud him for that. Statistics show us how dire the need for a complete overhaul of the youth health education system has become. Below are some sobering statistics from the CDC:
Childhood obesity is a massive problem in our society. According to the CDC web site:
“For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in 2017-2018:
- The prevalence of obesity was 19.3% and affecting approximately 14.4 million children and adolescents.
- Obesity prevalence was 13.4% among 2- to 5-year-olds
- 20.3% among 6- to 11-year-olds,
- 21.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds.
Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.
- Obesity prevalence was 25.6% among Hispanic children
- 24.2% among non-Hispanic Black children
- 16.1% among non-Hispanic White children
- 8.7% among non-Hispanic Asian children.
Impressing the importance of individual health upon young people when they are the most suggestive and impressionable, during their elementary school years, would go a long way. Having properly informed and educated instructors dispensing this information in a way that resonates with young children is the first step to thwart childhood obesity and anxiety. After several years of this in-depth health education, it is logical to suspect that a significant uptick in childhood activity will occur and a drop in childhood obesity will then follow.
Furthermore, having well informed and health-conscious children will then lead to a generation of adults with the critical knowledge that individual health is not a wait and react aspect of life, but it is a practical and ownable one. The physical, mental, and spiritual ramifications will be widespread and remarkable.
Ultimately, it is our job today, right now, as adults and leaders to push our local administrators, our state legislators, and our national politicians to make physical education and health class a top priority. Emphasizing this in our own backyards is critical, so parents, kick your kids out of the house and have them go and play. And within our own local school districts, our schoolboard members and educators need to realize that physical activity is the backbone within the evolution and maturation process of a child’s life. Let’s take our first step towards minimizing this problem today, so that the physical, mental, and spiritual outlook for all is that much brighter tomorrow.