P.C. P.E.: How the 'Participation Trophy' Culture Has Softened Our Kids

In 1980, only 5.7% of all children six to seventeen years of age were overweight, but that number has tripled since then. 

Efforts have been made to get children eating healthier diets, but the other part of any fitness effort is exercise, and the consistent effort to stop children from pushing themselves to exercise via competition during recess and physical education may be offsetting the efforts to return obesity trends to those of previous eras.

Today's students, from kindergarteners to high school seniors, are losing out as the physical education component of their education is being worked on in the labs of political correctness. What is happening, or rather not happening, can be seen in school gymnasiums, and on school playgrounds across America. The prevailing trend is that P.E. classes and recesses are becoming less about a student’s need for physical activity and more about the educational elites’ top-down pursuit of a fairness agenda and a heightened call for social responsibility.

While certainly not a new fad, the steady implementation of a modern physical education curriculum by our "educators" may be ruining a child’s opportunity to experience, as the legendary sports broadcaster Jim McKay famously described it, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Once again, the politically correct mindset, which has led to the general decline of our nation's academic standards, seems to want to deprive this generation of its last chance to actually learn something of value in school. Apparently this view holds that by requiring zero percent of activity during P.E., none in the class will “feel” left behind or unnecessarily discouraged by the fact that fellow students may posses a talent or predisposition for athletics that a little Tommy or Sally lacks. As guided by a long-held tenet of the left, the playing field is being leveled by removing incrementally any and all games or potential activities that may expose a student to the harsh realities of the cold cruel world.

For example, not long ago, dodge ball was the school yard bully. Sent to permanent time out by several states in 2001, the most iconic of all school-time activities was deemed by many experts as cruel, dangerous, and counter-productive. They said the game destroyed self esteem and created an unfair hierarchy on the playground which trickled into the halls and loomed over the classrooms. The spin continued as they asked what are the physical benefits when the less-skilled and less-athletic of the lot are always eliminated first and, as a result, forced to sit idly on the sidelines?

Among these experts and their like-minded peers, nurture and not nature was, and is still, central to their philosophy. To be clear, no one wants to see a child get injured by the hand of a fellow classmate, but for most children, attempting to avoid a large red ball hurling at them should be instinctive. Moreover, the game is simple and the endless attempt to manipulate the rules so as to promote equal results cannot always protect a child from a negative experience or guarantee a “fun” time. In fact, what many of these experts fail to accept is that their inability to control outcomes reveals a their frustration with basic human nature because metaphorically speaking, in dodgeball, as in life, getting hit is inevitable. The ball stings and the experience is painful. You may be out of the game for a bit, but in the next round, there lies opportunity. We are Americans, and we are eternal optimists. The individual’s experience and his reaction to it reveals the differences which makes that person who that person is. For example, some will seek to improve, some will look to retreat, and some will continue to win. The idea of winners and losers, as put forth by most in academia, has no place in today’s schools nor in those of the future.

What these educators fail to see through the clouds of political correctness hovering over their ivory towers is that as games are played, character is developed and an awareness of one's self is learned. The lessons can be both tough and humiliating but on the other hand, they may also be instructive and necessary. Who could have imagined such a simple game could teach so much?

By denying a young student the raw opportunities to experience success and failure, to cope and adapt with adversity, or to lead and support a classmate, we will have to accept that individuals will no longer be telling personal stories because everyone’s will be the same.

As dodge balls disappeared from playgrounds, the apparent “victory” ignited a period of enlightenment that continues to this day. In what can only be described as a perpetual meeting of the minds, educators, child psychologists, federal bureaucrats, and many more of our best and brightest academics continue to band together to eliminate any traces of what could be considered a traditional P.E. curriculum or a typical hour of recess. For example, if a student is unable to jump rope, eliminate the rope and have him/her now simply jump in place. If a student is prone to being “it” in freeze tag, ban the game completely. If a student is hurt while running during recess, institute a “no running during recess” policy. There is no need to practice or attempt to improve, the adults minding the store will simply lower the standard. Moreover, what is happening in today's P.E. classes is that the priority seems to be for teachers to focus their time on collecting names, taking roll, and making sure everyone is included. Fortunately, there are certain P.E. teachers who still subscribe to a classic curriculum and, for that, we should all be thankful.

Ultimately, the "participation trophy" philosophy has crept further into our culture and now seems to be pervasive in many of our schools. This mentality is toxic. Gym and recess are the last hope to let kids be kids without liberals projecting their misguided beliefs onto a new generation. P.E. and recess have always been more than simply getting your cardio level to the acceptable federal standard or “feeling included.” It is a way to be introduced to participatory athletics, discover latent talents, and develop a healthy appreciation for the benefits of healthy competition. If a kid scrapes a knee, always gets picked last for games or first for teams, so be it.

On the playground or in the classroom, as in life, success is earned and not guaranteed. Despite their claims of advancing our children’s physical development with modern methods, proponents of political correctness have guaranteed, as evidenced by the statistics, that our children are more obese, less motivated, and will have a full trophy case.

Gym class has always been more than just about physical activity. It is about sports, and sports are about competition. A point further, what are sports and competition supposed to teach us? The answer is different for all of us. It is, however, an answer children need to learn on their own and without adults running interference.


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