The folks in Albemarle Co. invited noted physical education professor, author, and expert to speak to the administration about the importance of physical education. The following is a transcript of that speech.

The Importance of Physical Education in a School
Curriculum: Recent Insights
Albemarle County Schools
January 12, 1997
George Graham, PH.D.
Health and Physical Education Program
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia

My name is George Graham. I am a professor of Health and Physical Education at Virginia Tech. This afternoon I had the pleasure of working with your physical education teachers. Together we discussed the most recent research and developments related to physical education and the implication they have for youngsters in Albemarle County Schools and across Virginia. They asked me to highlight some of these insights with you this evening.

Before I do so, however, I want to congratulate you on your physical education staff. Over the past twenty or so years I have served as a consultant to approximately 70 school districts throughout the United States, made presentations in 34 states, and served on the committee that wrote the national standards for K-12 physical education. During this time I have worked with literally thousands of physical educators across the country. My impression is that your staff measures up with the most dedicated and competent professionals I have worked with.

As you know they have concerns about maintaining the daily physical education program in Albemarle County. Their concerns are similar to many other physical educators in Virginia--they want to provide the very best program they can for the youngsters they teach. The problem, of course, is that there are only so many hours in the day and far too many subjects to teach. So what can be done?

I know your agenda is busy and, as a college professor, I am used to making my point in 50 minutes--not five--so let me cut to the chase. Why do youngsters need daily physical education?

I wish I could tell you that youngsters who had daily physical education were better readers, problems solvers, scored higher on math or science tests. I can’t. We don't have that evidence, although many of us believe that those of us who participate in physical activity re regularly are happier, do better in school, and generally live more fulfilling lives. What we do know, according to the 1996 landmark report of the Surgeon General entitled "Physical Activity and Health", is that adults who have been physically active throughout their lives:

  • Have a reduced risk for heart disease
  • Have lower risk for certain types of cancer
  • Have a lessened potential for drug and alcohol addiction
  • Have reduced probability of depression
  • Handle stress better
  • Live healthy and perhaps longer lives
  • We also know that for youngsters, physical activity can be a positive alternative to gangs and crime.

Physical education is the subject that directly addresses these critical issues of health and well being. Research sponsored by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports revealed why some adults are physically active throughout their lives.

  • They enjoy physical activity.
  • They have a positive attitude towards exercise.
  • They are aware of the benefits of exercise.
  • They have (successfully) participated in exercise or sports in the past.

And this is exactly what a contemporary program of physical education, much like your physical education teachers are offering here in Albemarle County, is designed to do:

"Guide youngsters in the process of becoming physically active and healthy for a lifetime".

You need to know that physical education is changing--across Virginia and across the United States. There is a revolution going on as programs change from an emphasis on competitive team sports. These programs of the past were popular with athletes but disastrous for poorly skilled youngsters who were picked last when teams were chosen, humiliated during games, and publicly embarrassed when they failed the fitness tests year after year in front of their peers. We know this type of physical education did not work. It failed--and it especially failed the youngsters who needed it the most.

If youngsters are not guided to become physically active during the school years we know what happens--again from the Surgeon General:

  • Nearly half of people age 12-21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis.
  • Physical activity, declines dramatically with age during adolescence.
  • Female adolescents are much less physically active than male adolescents.

Today, however, it is my impression that many of your physical education teachers in Albemarle County are in the forefront of a redesigned physical education that:

  • Assists youngsters to gain the skills and knowledge they need to enjoy physical activity
  • Assists them to understand and develop confidence in their physical abilities
  • Assists them to understand that one doesn't have to be athletic to be physically active
  • Assists them to understand the importance and benefits of becoming physically active for a lifetime.

I understand that Boards of Education throughout Virginia today are struggling with how to satisfy the new mandate that 75% of the school day must be devoted to the core curriculum. I wish I had the solution to putting everything in the curriculum that you would like youngsters to have--and not have them in school for 12 hours a day--or on Saturdays. I sure don't.

I am sure, however, that if they haven't already, your physical educators will remind you of Thomas Jefferson's sage advice: "Exercise and recreation are as necessary as reading. I will say rather more necessary because health is worth more than learning."

I wish you well in your deliberations as you discuss the 75% mandate. On behalf of your physical education teachers, I hope you will continue to ponder this question: "What is more basic and fundamental than good health?"

Submitted by George Graham who is a professor in the Health and PE Program at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Thanks for contributing to PE Central!
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