Make Parents Accountable for Children’s Fitness

More positive impacts of aerobic activity. Wish I had a dollar for everyone of these types of articles I’ve read recently. Key paragraph from a NYT blog titled “Can Exercise Makes Kids Smarter?” “. . . the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may ‘enhance neurocognition’ in young people.”

Later in the post the blogger references research that claims 25% of school-aged children are sedentary. The conventional conclusion, recommit to physical education in schools. Before doing that, it’s important to ask who should be accountable for K-12 students’ relative fitness, their teachers or their parents and guardians? Recommitting to physical education in schools assumes it’s their teachers, but I assume two things: 1) public school teachers are being held accountable for far too many non-acacademic social/economic/health-related problems and 2) parents or guardians should be held most accountable for their children’s relative fitness.

Consequently, I propose doing away with traditional team-sport based physical education in elementary, middle, and high schools and in its place breaking up the school day with two or three ten minute-long calisthenic/walking/yoga breaks. In addition, I propose mothballing every school bus in urban and suburban districts and banning parents and guardians from driving their able-bodied students to school. Similarly, I propose banning urban and suburban high school students from driving to school. Under my proposal, every able-bodied urban/suburban K-12 student will have to walk or ride bicycles to school every day.

The protests will take the following forms: 1) it’s too far and will take too long; 2) at times throughout the year it’s far too cold, dark, and wet; 3) the neighborhoods we’d have to walk/bike through aren’t safe enough; 4) it violates freedom of choice.

In order. 1) Move closer or enroll your child in your neighborhood school. My tenth grade daughter lives 1.75 miles from her locker. Most people can walk 16 minutes/mile, so in her case it would take approximately 28 minutes to walk to school or about 15 more than in a car given the before school traffic jam on the streets and in the school lot. She’d have to go to bed 15-20 minutes early which is tragic because she’d probably miss “SuperNanny.” So it’s an extra 30 minutes a day, but not really since I’ve eliminated physical education. In actuality, she saves 25 minutes a day. If she rides her bike at a comfortable 12mph, she’d reduce her commute to about the same time as a car. I can hear her, “What about my gargantuan textbooks and violin?” “Get an iPad and I didn’t hear you practice last night.”

2) Inevitably, parents/guardians would have to walk with young children which would create community and also contribute to their fitness. And a little physical toughness would be a very good thing.

3) This might be just the impetus to make them safer. It’s illogical for some to claim we’re the “greatest country in the world” if some of our neighborhoods aren’t safe enough to walk through. Again, groups of parents taking turns escorting children in the mornings and afternoons would most likely have a very positive ripple effect on the safety of dicey neighborhoods.

4) True, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Consider not just the health benefits, but the economic ones. Imagine what school districts could do with their transportation savings. Reduce property taxes, offer more extracurriculars, reduce class size, update their technology tools.

To make my proposal more pragmatic I propose letting any student (and all bass players) that can verify that they’re getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day (through after school sports or independent play that a coach or non-parent/guardian adult can vouch for) opt out. Ideally, this will lead to swimming, cross country, and other teams being overwhelmed by new students turning out, which in turn will require districts to devote some of their transportation savings to these activities. It may also provide coaching opportunities for the displaced physical education teachers, the only real losers in my proposal.

Or parents and other citizens can keep blaming teachers for problems mostly outside of their control.

2 thoughts on “Make Parents Accountable for Children’s Fitness

  1. I love the idea and it’s many positive ripple effects. Another possible problem though, what about the parents who have to leave for work before they would walk their kid? I guess parents could organize walking groups and take turns. This very things does happen now, but only maybe once a year- initiated by a parent and has become a national program- like “Walk to School” day and parents accompany the kids. It may happen more often now, if it is gaining momentum in certain areas. I remember one district where kids had an electronic board they had to check in on so their parents knew they had arrived safely (for the older kids walking alone) and one district where they were logging miles and making it a contest. A good program, but it’s funny how it is so programmed. Wish it was simpler, but I guess this is really going against the tide. Worth a try.

  2. Good article on parent accountability for fitness — as you may have seen from my blog, I’m a big fan of shifting more responsibility to parents as opposed to the teacher, which is the current trend. It’s interesting, in Chinese schools, students (especially younger ones) are doing exactly what you have suggested (proposing doing away with traditional team-sport based physical education in elementary, middle, and high schools and in its place breaking up the school day with two or three ten minute-long calisthenic/walking/yoga breaks). There they do physical movements, and even class breaks to massage their eyes to relieve stress and strain! I think it would be great to do these things — I use to do these little “Simon Says” exercise breaks in between read alouds when the kids have been sitting too long.

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