All forced education is bad for kids because it tells them that they’re too stupid to pick out what they’re interested in, and too dull to depend on their curiosity.
But there’s a unique problem with forcing kids to go to gym class. It ruins kids’ self‑esteem in different ways than other types of forced education. Here are four ways:
1. Violent sports terrify a lot of kids.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that schools do not have dodgeball as part of the gym curriculum, but a majority of schools continue to have dodgeball because the loudest kids clamor for it, and the American Athletic Association doesn’t have any legislative authority.
Stories abound about how kids get hurt in dodgeball, but also how kids hide in the corner because they’re so scared of getting hit.
Even though experts know there’s no place for such a violent sport in public school, we continue to not only offer it, but force kids to participate in it.
2. Rigorous athletics are too rigorous for overweight kids.
Half the kids in schools are overweight. We could debate this and I would fall on the side of how sending kids to school creates weight problems because school is largely sedentary, but I’m not going to debate it. I’m just going to link to a study that shows that kids who sit in school are day are at risk for health issues associated with sedentary behavior.
What I want to talk about now is that many kids need rigorous exercise in order to focus during the rest of the day, but since other kids are overweight, they will be physically ill from that much exercise. No surprise that the idea of kids needing a customized education is not just intellectual, but also physical.
Schools in Illinois acknowledge this problem by separating the fat kids into fat gym. I don’t need to tell you how insanely detrimental this is for the kids in fat gym, but there is really no difference between separating kids into fat gym or stupid math.
Segmenting kids teaches them to focus on their deficits instead of their strengths, which is pointless when we know from countless workplace studies that people are better off focusing on their strengths and not worrying about their weaknesses, except to steer clear of them in their work.
3. Gym uniforms undermine self-esteem.
As kids get older they sweat in gym, and it’s not appropriate for them to take gym class in their street clothes. The idea that girls going through puberty have to put on shorts that they would never dream of wearing to school is torture.
All the boys see them, and the girls end up spending hours each week picking their clothes for school because it makes them so anxious, but when they get to gym class, they have no control. This only teaches girls to hate gym and hate exercise and waste time at school worrying about their bodies.
And it takes so long to change into gym clothes and then back into street clothes that most kids get about eight minutes of exercise in gym class.
4. Gym class encourages disdain for exercise.
Forced gym has been shown to make kids dislike exercise more than no gym at all. Kids who don’t have any gym yearn for exercise during the day and they generally know what they like, team sports or individual sports, rigorous or methodical. There’s all kinds of exercise and each of us yearns for a different type.
Kids who are forced to do a certain type of exercise generally dislike exercise in the same way that kids who are forced to learn a certain way that’s not appropriate to them start to hate learning.
The biggest culprit of exercise that leads to disdain for exercise are team sports. Very few people are born with a natural competitive instinct required to be a good member in a team sport. Forced gym is like all other kinds of forced learning in that you start with somebody who is excited and you kill the excitement in them.
So looking at it from the perspective of gym class, it’s clear that appropriate exercise for one kid is inappropriate for another kid. Sometimes it takes looking at something as obvious and clear as gym class to understand why something more complicated like chemistry also kills the excitement of students forced to learn it.
Some people will say the solution is more sensitive gym teachers, and some people will say the solution is to do away with gym as kids get older. All these discussions of course will just be stand in for the real discussion which is that gym class is another reason why you should take kids out of school.