Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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The Phys. Ed. Question
Monday, August 10, 2009

Ah, the age old Phys. Ed. question. First, a story!

When I was in high school, I was twice involved in a debate over the question of whether or not Phys. Ed. should be a mandatory subject past the 9th grade. The first attempt was a complete and utter disaster. Why? Because it involved a bunch of 15 year olds sitting around in an English class, who preferred debating over curricular academia. You can probably guess what happened but I'll say it anyway: the entire thing devolved into a giant shouting match between the athletes vs. the non-athletes.

So much for that attempt. The second one was better. It occurred during a Model (Mock) UN practice session. It was an exercise (<-- ha!) designed to force us into defending views we don't necessarily agree with. The theory being that we're assigned countries at random for the Model UN conferences and although we might not agree with said country's foreign policies, we had to be able to defend them or else face penalization for not being consistent with reality. For example, I was assigned Zimbabwe once. You know that Mugabe character? The one whose policies have been condemned by, oh, THE WORLD? Yeah well, I had to, essentially, be him. So it was a good exercise. Even then, it was an interesting debate. So I thought I'd take today to write about it a bit. I'm sure many of you have already formed your opinions about Phys. Ed. way back in high school. But I thought I'd put forth the essential positions (as I remember them). For and Against Phys. Ed. to be mandatory past the grade of 9 (grade 10 or 11, say).


Exercise is good. There isn't really any debate as to whether or not it's beneficial for people. It improves circulation, concentration and health.

Exercise may be good. But shouldn't that be our choice to make? After all, there are lots of things that are good for us that we aren't forced to do. There aren't very many subjects that are mandatory past grade 9. Why should Phys. Ed. be any more mandatory than French or Geography?

Instead of comparing Phys. Ed. with subjects that are not mandatory, let's look at some that are. English, Math, and Science are the three subjects that are mandatory, to some extent or another, past grade 9. Without getting into a debate as to why these subjects are mandatory, it's fairly safe to say that they're mandatory because they're regarded as "universally" important and thus require further studies beyond grade 9. Is good health and exercise not universally important? Aside from English - mandatory because we acknowledge that being able to communicate is universally important - you would be hard pressed to build a case that says that Physical Education is less universally important than, say, knowing how to factor a quadratic equation. And we stress "universally important" because one of the reasons why certain subjects are no longer mandatory past grade 9 is because we recognize that at that point, students should not be forced to study subjects that they aren't interested in; that certain subjects are useful only to those who are interested in studying it further. But this is not the case for Phys. Ed. No matter who you are, exercise is beneficial to you.

That doesn't change the fact that that should be a choice that is left up to the students. These are decisions about their own lives that they should have a right to make.

Then why have mandatory courses at all? Why not just let them take whatever they want to take? Don't want to learn French? Fine, don't take it. Don't want to learn English? Math? Science? That doesn't work. The reason why we have mandatory courses is because we recognize that certain subjects are important, regardless of whether or not the students are "interested" in learning about them. Just because Phys. Ed. emphasizes physical well-being rather than mental well-being doesn't make it any less important.

And what about the competitiveness in the Phys. Ed. program? It's easy for an athlete to say "Oh, physical health is important so we should have Phys. Ed. past grade 9". They're not the students who are forced to feel self-conscious when they can't keep up with the rest of their classmates.

You're going to have strong students and weak students in every class. Phys. Ed. is not an exception.

It's an exception insofar as it's a class where these differences are most visible to others. There's a reason why we don't publicize everyone's mark in our class. Unless a student chooses to share his/her mark, their achievement in class is strictly confidential. Phys. Ed. is different. You essentially publicize every student's mark every class.

You're honestly convinced that the students in your class don't know where they rank on the academic ladder?

It's not so much that as much as it's not openly publicized. Furthermore, it's less of a social stigma to be weak academically than it is to be the last one in a race or the one who can't score any points in basketball.

That isn't something we can ever know for sure. And even if that were true, then the argument really should be that the faculty of Physical Education needs to undergo reform in order to meet the needs of all students while helping them maintain a healthy, active, lifestyle; that it should be less competitive and stigmatizing, but mandatory nonetheless.


That is the gist of what I seem to recall from high school, diffused among the yelling, screaming, and name-calling (Jock! Nerd! Lazy ass! Muscled-megalomaniac!). That was simply a demonstration, not my own opinion on the matter. For those of you who are dying to hear my opinion, I am secretly of the opinion that Phys. Ed. should be mandatory (not a secret any longer I guess). I recognize that I'm biased, being of the athletic variety, so I'm not a heated proponent of it either way. But if I was forced to choose a side, I do think exercise is important to our general well being and I do think, sometimes, that we need to be forced into doing it until we develop the good habits to do it on our own (<-- this is a sign of a good gym teacher). As usual, I think it's a question of principle. If Phys. Ed. were mandatory and if I were a Phys. Ed. teacher, I think I would try and inspire students into making exercise a part of their life. It's the same thing with English. It might be a mandatory subject but I will be doing my darndest to make my students feel like they would elect to take it anyway if it were optional.

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Jonathan posted at 8:09 PM - Comments (2)


See, I didn't take Phys Ed past grade 9 because I was busy trying to take all the courses I wanted to or thought I should take. I wish it had been mandatory for two reasons: 1) I would have been in better shape and 2) other people like me would have taken it, so I wouldn't have to share a class exclusively with jocks who were 4 out of 5 times also enormous jerks (sadly, those were the demographics in my high school).
So not withstanding not being an athlete at all, I'd still make it mandatory at least into grade 10--with the reforms mentioned.

By Blogger Christian H, at August 10, 2009 at 11:39 PM  

In Calgary (where I attended school up until grade 11) Phys. Ed. is mandatory until grade 10 (which is when they begin Senior High School).

To be honest, if I could have fitted Phys. Ed. into my schedule in grade 11 and 12 I would have, but there were too many other "important" courses for me to take (such as sciences, math, English, drama, and music). I did join my school's track team in grade 12 (and let me tell you, I was horrible at it by this point but I stuck with it anyways).

That being said, I don't think it would do anyone harm to make Phys. Ed. mandatory past grade 9 (though this all depends on whether the school has the space for the extra classes and can afford the extra staff). I'm sure students can do with one less elective per school year (they seemed important then, but looking back I didn't really need all of them).

By Blogger Ashley, at August 11, 2009 at 1:09 AM  

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