By Victoria Leitch
Physical education has been a required course in Illinois public schools since the 1957 legislation was put into effect. This law requires that all enrolled students participate in a physical education class unless they are excused for religious reasons or have an athletic exemption. Although physical education is an important part of curriculum for some ages, at a certain point, the course becomes redundant and unnecessary. Physical education courses should not be required at the high school level because they take away from academics, do not provide new information and do not use time effectively.
When students have required courses, such as P.E., they are limited to the additional courses they can take in order to better prepare for college. Although many required courses are important and beneficial, P.E. is not an academic class, making it less of a way to prepare for college. In a regular P.E. class, one might be found doing basic line drills to warm up, followed by a game of some sort. The class does not provide any academic challenge, and the only form of academic work is the test given at the end of each unit about a particular sport. The tests consist of short paragraphs and questions that are directly answered in the text. When students are required to take P.E., their academic achievement and opportunity to learn and grow is being thrown away. Students at the high school level should have the choice of whether or not they want to enroll in P.E. or an academic class.
One of the main issues with this law is that it is still in effect when students get to high school. By this time, students should have already been taught the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, and they should be responsible for maintaining them on their own. Schools cannot force students to exercise thinking it will teach them to do it outside of school as well. Students at this age have most likely created their own habits and, though they can always be changed, a required P.E. class is not going to greatly influence that decision. This is especially true when no new information is presented within the curriculum during a student’s high school career. This means freshman through senior year students will learn the same units and take the same multiple choice tests every year. Taking time to learn the same material over and over for years does not seem effective or useful.
However, supporters of this law will insist that students need to get exercise each day, so schools need to ensure this to create healthy habits. These habits will carry with a student for the rest of their lives, so instilling these important behaviors early will make a massive difference in the lives of these students.
The problem with the opposing logic is that by the time a student reaches the high school level, they should no longer need to be instructed on healthy habits. If elementary schools do their jobs correctly, these habits should be recognized by students much before high school. Repeating the same information over and over only makes the class seem redundant and like an ineffective use of time.
Some P.E. classes allow students to walk the entire hour following the warm up activity. If students have the choice to opt out of the class activity they do not wish to participate in, why can it not be replaced by a mentally stimulating activity? High school students usually have very full schedules, so when a student spends an entire class period walking, it is a major misuse of time. The student could instead be working on assignments, or taking a class that he or she might need to further their academic career.
Physical education promotes healthy behaviors and sets good lifestyle examples. However, students in high school should not be forced to participate in P.E. when other academic opportunities exist. The state of Illinois should recognize that high school students do not need to be incessantly retaught the same basic ideas of physical fitness, but instead should have the opportunity to make the best use of the time given in order to better prepare themselves for the future.