YAHANDA: Buffing up the curriculum
The University should institute a physical-education requirement
There are many Thomas Jefferson quotes that a student is bound to hear repeated ad nauseum during his time at the University. Yet one may escape his memory unless he visits the gyms around Grounds: “Give about two of them [hours] every day to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong.” The University widely — and rightly — celebrates Jefferson’s intellectual prowess and devotion to academic pursuits. Jefferson’s views on physical activity, though, should also be embodied in his university’s curriculum.
This semester, I am teaching a physical education course on tennis. When I asked my students why they were taking this class, most of them responded in the same way: they had always wanted to get better at tennis, but never really had the chance. Students take PE classes, I realized, for the same reason they take academic classes. They find the topic interesting and want to become more proficient at the course material. The students I know who have taken PE classes are generally seeking useless filler classes, or they are fourth years who are looking to slack off. But why should learning athletics be treated differently than learning other disciplines? Athletic conditioning and proficiency are important in their own right. In fact, the University should institute a PE course requirement for every student.
I envision such compulsory PE classes as remaining essentially the same as they are now. Currently, PE courses are graded on a credit/no credit basis, but are otherwise the same as any solely academic class. Students have participation and attendance requirements, may have written assignments or quizzes, and are expected to take the class seriously. Thus, mandatory PE courses would still have an academic atmosphere. Moreover, they would not impede upon students’ educational pursuits or hinder their chances to achieve particular degrees. Students would have to take at most one physical education class a year — a total of four credits in college, none of which should provide a serious mental drain.
Such classes would lay the foundation for future athletic pursuits. A class that makes students interested in tennis or soccer, for instance, is arguably as valuable as one that exposes them to new authors or philosophies, because athletic hobbies can provide as much future benefit as intellectual ones. The University should focus more on teaching students different ways to improve their physical abilities. Part of its mission as an institution of learning should be to promote physical health and coordination. After all, the mind is only a single element of one’s identity — albeit a significant one. Keeping one’s body fit is also paramount for overall well-being.
Instituting compulsory PE classes would be an administrative move that signifies the University’s commitment to a student’s holistic well-being. Currently, a University student’s amount of physical activity is entirely self-motivated. That in itself is not necessarily a problem. The average University student does not appear to be in dire need of physical activity. Indeed, students here are extraordinarily committed to working out (nowhere else have I seen people taking midnight recreational runs through pouring rain). There is also widespread participation in club and intramural sports, and no shortage of exercise resources around Grounds. Nevertheless, placing athletics along academics would promote a more universal recognition of the importance of physical conditioning.
A responsible university should also underscore healthy living to combat the current American obesity epidemic. Many elementary and middle schools are cutting PE classes to save money and to place more resources toward courses such as math and science — a reasonable choice if schools cannot marshal more funds. American students are falling behind in math and science when compared to their international counterparts, and schools must provide a solid education in those subjects so that students can acquire jobs and spur innovation in STEM fields. Unfortunately, such academic changes must come at the expense of stressing the role of physical activity in a healthy life. Americans, though they may be falling behind in science and math, are pulling away from other nations in terms of weight. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is now of the utmost importance, especially considering the strain that obesity-related diseases and ailments are placing on our healthcare system.
The University, then, could seize an opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of physical education. There are already language and writing requirements that students must complete before graduation. Physical education requirements could be easily added. And such a move would not be a radical departure from a normal curriculum. Many other colleges and universities have physical education requirements that must be completed before graduation.
The University strives to enable its students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Adding physical education classes would be a natural fit that does not deviate from that goal.