We’re not all equal in gym class
This month I’d like to take a break from the plethora of global catastrophes and just tackle an underreported phenomenon that is near and dear to my “personal repertoire of sermons,” a shocking injustice known as the perils of mandatory physical education.
Gym class is up on my agenda, and after all those years of sitting on the bench watching as it eroded my GPA, it’s time for a little critical review.
Through the many horrors of gym class I learned a lot about life, and about how investigative reporting would show my bitterness to be completely founded, time and time again. For if you peel back the quaint veneer of gym class, you find the truth is it was made to prepare the youth to be fit soldiers.
As a diehard pacificist during my formative years, I could sense the militancy and authoritarianism that was fostered by synchronized aggression in sports, and I opposed it to my very core. I could see how division into teams and brute force is the reason there are so many pointless tragedies, and I resented that this way of life was being foisted upon me without my consent as if it were superior to my own principles.
I haven’t been to gym class in 10 years, and I often wake from night sweats and remember I’m free and feel awash in a sense of bliss I never thought possible.
No more gym class, ever!
Though it has been many years, I believe the gym class dropouts are the same basic types of kids. We are the overweights, the gays, the shy and insecure, the ones living in the most poverty, the ones with family problems that give them tough and jaded attitudes. The girls who are promiscuous and don’t want to sweat off their eyeliner, the ones with body traits they are insecure about or have been explicitly teased for, and those who are just unpopular in general and have to worry about who it is safe to have a locker next to while doing something as invasive as changing clothes in a government funded building to do mandatory physical labor.
In my experience, many gym teachers are pathologically upbeat type of people, swimming in the unspoken art of tense propriety so inherent to the professional middle-class, who are most at ease in the company of team-player kids. As long as they are in the presence of well-adjusted and respectful kids, they feel good about the community and their role in it. However, when they see the weird kids, they feel depressed, and up springs a mental checklist to assume signs of drug use, delinquency, psychosis, defiance, the whole works.
Upbeat gym teachers tend to avoid as much contact with the bad kids as possible. They tend to think those kids disrespect them by not participating. I often felt like my phys-ed shame was compounded by the shame implied with the disapproving body language of maternal/paternal figures of the gym teachers. I rejected the idea of the charismatic, obedient, muscular quarterback of their dreams.
Nobody’s going to force me to be their soldier when I’m still trying to figure out just what in the Sam Hill is going on in this country.
I had to go to such lengths to get doctors’ permission not to participate, otherwise I would be forced to fail and never graduate because of gym requirements. My alternative gym assignments were to write a few reports about the sports, which I did to full creative potential, and to walk low-speed laps around the hallways in my gym clothes. Sometimes I would get so sick of walking around the hallways looking ratchet, that I would hide in the bathroom bored out of my skull and hoping nobody would come in.
I feel like this time could have been better spent in a study hall, doing some reading. I will never get back the time I had to dwell in gross bathrooms wishing I could go home and be far away from society and their foolish games.
Ten years later, I gotta say, I think I was right all along. I always got along with my gym teachers, because I happened to just know that their body language was nervous around weird kids, because they are used to positive stuff, and they mean well, so I tried to be especially nice and friendly to let them know it wasn’t because I disrespect their rules.
I was lucky enough to be socially smooth, a lot of weird kids can’t be that smooth, and so they just get labeled no-good. But please try to remember that these kids on the sidelines aren’t hopeless. They have reasons why they are tormented to be in gym.
Refrain from exerting sadistic pleasure over their helpless positions. Teach about the demented nutrition system that dominates our food system, and arm them against high fructose corn syrup if you want to stop the obesity epidemic. Shaming and punishing these students is never going to save a single student from a lifetime of bad health. Being mean to these damaged people isn’t going to make them toughen up either. They’re kids and they’ve got enough problems.
Set aside bigotry and assumptions and be more considerate to those who are not identical to you and don’t share your same skills and interests. Not everyone can be a star athlete, some people need to be dorks so we can do the math, science and arts in this world.
Lindsay Morrison is a Forestville resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org