In her excellent article in USA Today, Time to Revamp PE, author Laura Vanderkam (a co-author of Genius Denied, check out her blog Gifted Exchange) argues that part of the obesity crisis in America is people being turned off of exercise by gym class. She writes:
"I want to blow the whistle on this [mandatory gym class] movement. Gym class didn't make me fit. For me, fitness came when I finally found an activity I loved and did it on my own terms — watching TV on the treadmill some days, running outside others. Gym class, by contrast, taught me that exercise was no fun. Many people feel that way. One Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey found more inactive adults said gym class turned them off to future exercise than made it appealing."
You can count me in that group. I nearly set a school record for longest time in the mile run (or in my case, walk). In my defense, about a quarter of the course was up a 20% grade (we had to run around the school). I mean good heavens! By the time I graduated, I could run up eight flights of stairs in two minutes to get to class, but it was all those stairs, not gym class, that made me fit.
Vanderkam suggests creating more individual sport activities in gym: "swing dance, yoga, martials arts, whatever." I know the two years I took ballet instead of gym were the happiest years of my PE life. Who wouldn't rather take Karate, aerobics or weightlifting than the gym-class-only, team sports-oriented "survey" courses offered today. (Dodgeball, anyone?) Besides, no one gets "picked last" in aerobics. Sounds like a win-win to me.