Should Social Inclusion Be a Major Goal of Physical Education? (Issues)

By Sherrill, Claudine | Palaestra, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Should Social Inclusion Be a Major Goal of Physical Education? (Issues)


Sherrill, Claudine, Palaestra


Inclusion of students with and without disabilities in general physical education, with appropriate supports, is a desirable practice (Block, 2000; Rizzo & Lavay, 2000; Sherrill, 1998, in press). Everyone knows, however, that physical inclusion (students with and without disabilities receiving instruction, with appropriate supports, in a common space) is not the same as social inclusion (students with and without disabilities interacting with each other in meaningful, satisfying, socially connected ways that contribute to active healthy lifestyles for all). While physical inclusion can be mandated by law and supported by administrative and instructional policies, authentic social inclusion can be achieved only by cooperative homeschool-community programming in which inclusion is given high priority both day and night. To give any phenomenon high priority essentially means to make it a primary goal, to break it down into measurable objectives and benchmarks, to frequently assess performance, to count specific inclusion behaviors toward grades, and to reward improvement. Goals ensure accountability!

AAHPERD Position Statement on Inclusion: A Brief Critique

The AAHPERD (1995) Position Statement on Inclusion does an excellent job of describing procedures for facilitating inclusion in physical education. It stops short, however, of recognizing that procedures are best operationalized by specific, concrete goals and objectives that everyone understands and works toward. Steeped in the lore that our unique contribution to education is helping students become active, efficient, and healthy movers, the writers of the AAHPERD document emphasized that the major IEP/IFSP goal should never be social development. This ill-conceived statement sabotages well-written procedures and good intentions. The document does not define social development and, thus, allows free reign to stereotyped notions that the social is play, recreation, or fun and, therefore, not worthy of emphasis in the school curriculum and its grading system.

I contend that, for most persons, a physically active lifestyle and health-enhancing level of physical fitness require social competence to enable lifespan inclusion in physical activities. Research shows unequivocally that persons with exercise/sports partners and friends are more likely to engage in daily, moderate-to-vigorous activity than those without. Research also indicates that persons with disabilities list lack of companions as a major barrier to participation in physical activities. This finding applies to individuals with and without disabilities. To achieve inclusion, I believe that social competence must be a primary physical education goal for all students and that it should be treated as a companion goal to motor skill and fitness competence, equal in status and deserving of conceptualization as primary, not secondary, not concomitant. It is time for the AAHPERD inclusion statement to be revised.

The Social Competence Goal Area

Sherrill (1998, in press) defines the social competence goal area as social behaviors that promote inclusion in exercise and sport activities (i.e., such personal interactions as greeting, smiling, sharing, cooperating, taking turns, helping, following, leading, cheering, supporting). Of special importance are such behaviors as gaining access to an activity, inviting someone to enter into an activity, accepting and rejecting invitations, and leaving an activity. When I was in graduate school, many of these behaviors were considered sportsmanship and included in grading protocols.

The acronym "FIT," which is used to quantify fitness goals, can be applied to measurement of the social inclusion goal:

F for frequency of social interactions (this includes who initiates each interaction)

I for intensity of social interactions (meaningfulness, appropriateness, carryover value)

T for time or duration of social interactions

What Research Has to Say about Social Inclusion

For over two decades, adapted physical education leaders have supported contact theory (Allport, 1954) as a means of facilitating social inclusion of children with and without disabilities (e. …

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