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Physical education: patronizing exercise

It’s 8 a.m. and you have a migraine, still dizzy from the (lack of) sleep you got the night before. Scrunching up your face, you mentally prepare your nostrils for the pungent odor of urine and sweat that permeates the locker room. Still wheezing from the ordeal of awkwardly stripping in a concrete box full of strangers, you take your seat on the cold, hard gym floor when suddenly you hear the words “all right, get up—we’re running miles.”

The time commitment that physical education requires renders its status as a requirement counterintuitive. To fulfill the credit hours necessary for graduation, the average high schooler will spend 200 hours in the gym, which could have been spent pursuing a litany of other activities—an extra AP course, a new language (research suggest 480 hours of a language is enough to achieve complete fluency), or valuable work experience (and 2,200 dollars, by minimum wage standards). Instead, though, people who otherwise could have done things more fulfilling for themselves are forced to channel those hours into fulfilling a sweaty requirement.

In addition, mandating physical education in schools promotes a culture antithetical to the intellect-based mindset that will be necessary to make a living in our increasingly information-based society; in the coming decades, the Bureau of Labor statistics projects an exponential increase in service jobs but a decrease in manufacturing ones. Instead, it only reinforces a system of school funding where sports facilities are regularly renovated (see: our track), but Government textbooks are older than Northwood’s student body. This is further exacerbated by the fact that physical education is not considered an “elective,” but rather a “non-open enrollment” class, meaning those who need the credit are forced to choose between an extra academic class and fulfilling a droll physical education requirement.

All of this, though, doesn’t require the class’s elimination; just that it be offered as an elective instead (similar to choir or horticulture). This way, people who want to learn about yoga or basketball would still be able to, but those who’d rather spend their time elsewhere would be allowed to pursue their own interests. And elective classes’ status as “open-enrollment” means it would no longer take up one of the six precious spots that students have for their academic fulfillment.

Some contend, though, that a requirement combats obesity and promotes health. Yet there’s neither empirical research that exercise now translates to healthy exercise habits decades in the future, nor research to corroborate that America even has an obesity epidemic. In fact, Patrick Bosham, Ph.D., found that the “obesity epidemic” was actually massively overblown and the result of faulty statistical manipulation. Rather than exercise, using that time to instead do medical research could create alternative solutions that are equally effective (just imagine if 1% of the time spent in physical education classes was instead spent in biomedicine labs—we could double the amount of research in the field overnight). Intellectualizing that time better resolves people’s health—knowledge is a public good, meaning one person’s medical advancements can be applied to everyone else (which isn’t true for physical education).

The physical education requirement serves only to waste time, money and future academic research to attempt to fix a “problem” that itself has no empirical basis. Instead of creating a uniform mandate for physical education, the state should take a lesson from Economics 101 and let individuals make their own allocatively efficient choices, mirroring the old adage “to each their own.”