The Right to (Avoid) Gym Class

March 12, 2015

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In my area of New Jersey, Related Arts, or “specials”, classes are Art, Gym, Music, Library, and Computers. Spanish is often offered to the upper elementary grades. If you kid’s school does not have specialized teachers instructing in these subjects at least weekly, he or she is getting jipped. You should go make some noise at school board meetings.

I am one of those Music specialists at an elementary school, and I love it. However, as a kid I was not in love with gym class. So much so that… Ok, MOM AND DAD DON’T READ THIS NEXT PART…  I may have exaggerated the severity of some “stress headaches” way back in fourth grade,  so I could get out of the “Tumbling and Apparatus” unit in PE class. To be fair, my body was clearly not meant to tumble. Or  apparate. Wait, that’s a thing from Harry Potter…

Ok, Storytime: Once upon a time in Gym class, Meg got the guts to run full-speed across the room and leap onto a springy little death trap early-90’s mini trampoline. It lacked the kind of safety pads that prevent your foot from going through the springs and snapping your leg, but who cared?

Deadly thing.
Trampoline. Looks like instrument of torture and/or lawsuit waiting to happen.

Then, as instructed, Meg attempted to bound from this coiled-spring atrocity onto a piece of gymnastic equipment called The Swedish Box. Yes, that’s its name. It was as tall as Meg’s head.

Swedish Box. Looks like something you’d stuff dead bodies into anyway, so why not?

The top section of this box had been left slightly off kilter by the previous child jumper, and the distracted 9 year old diligent spotter who was left in charge of checking it did not notice this problem. When Meg landed on the box with knees and hands, the top section fell off and forward. With a nasty whack to the head, Meg fell too. INSIDE the giant box. Her friend would say later that it looked like the Swedish Box unhinged its jaw like a snake and ate her. This incident, which could get a gym teacher sued today, would excuse Meg from the rest of that period of gym class only, and leave her with a nice “the only time I ever lost consciousness” story for her future blog. Meg lived happily ever, except for continuing to hate and fear gym class until the day when it started to involve changing clothes in front of other people. Then she resorted to scheduling Band lessons for that class period instead. The end.

P. E. has changed significantly since we were children. Now, injury lawyers are roaming the planet more freely. My 2nd grader miraculously loves gym class. We have no idea how this happened, but it is her favorite “special”. This is probably because Gym is actually fun now. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a couple great P. E. teachers and I’m kind of mad they weren’t around when I was 9. I would not have faked headaches, for one thing.

My 2nd grader also has my metabolism and probably my body type, God help her. Thankfully, as a suburban, middle-class, American child, she has tons of options for extra sports and play. She has taken 18 months of gymnastics at a ridiculously expensive private gym. The big kid’s school has a weekly jogging and fitness club for all students, where they’re instructed about stretching, healthy snacks, and strategies for distance jogging. Naturally, we signed her up for that. Plus, we just bit the bullet and signed both kids up for *shudder* Intramural Soccer. (You can lead a woman to the field, but you cannot make her be a Soccer Mom.)

Amazingly enough, news this week surfaced that little girls in Saudi Arabia got the right to Physical Fitness education in their public schools this month. You can read the article here.  According to the NPR story, women and sports barely mix in that country. The Saudis just started sending women to the Olympics in 2012. Staunch opponents of this very basic program claim that health and fitness education leads to societal ills like adultery and even prostitution. Wrap your head around that; People think that teaching a girl how to take care of her body will cause prostitution.  Right, but ignorance about one’s health and poor body image are greeeeeaaaaat for helping a girl make smart, moral choices.

We are so lucky here. I may have attempted to dodge the President’s Physical Fitness Test at every turn. (The V-Sit Reach is the only one I can do well.) The big kid may whine about running laps when it’s hotter outside. My internal anti-scheduling alarm may already be going off at the thought of a total of 2 games and 2 practices a week…but my girls have the choice to be active and educated about the way their bodies work and the cool things they can do. It’s part of the public schooling, every week. This is good.

So welcome to gym class, little Suadi girls! If they teach you how to vault, make sure you trust your spotter.

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