Addressing Parents' Perceptions in the Marginalization of Physical Education: The Influence of Parents-Over Policymakers, Other Parents, and Their Children's Attitudes-Cannot Be Ignored

By Sheehy, Deborah A. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Addressing Parents' Perceptions in the Marginalization of Physical Education: The Influence of Parents-Over Policymakers, Other Parents, and Their Children's Attitudes-Cannot Be Ignored


Sheehy, Deborah A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Physical education continues to occupy the fringe of the academic experience of public school students. With the exception of South Carolina, physical education is not part of the high-stakes testing movement, and consequently we continue to see a reduction in required physical education credits and minutes, and districts allowing students to substitute athletics and band for physical education. Additionally, the media often portrays physical education teachers negatively (Duncan, Nolan, & Wood, 2002). For example, several television shows, movies, and comic strips have portrayed physical education teachers as overweight and militaristic coaches who drill and command the masses. This stereotypical portrayal of physical education teachers serves to reinforce strongly held notions that "those who can, do; those who cannot, teach; and those who cannot teach, teach physical education."

The marginalization of physical education is a complex issue that continues to overshadow the unique contribution that quality physical education can make to the lives of young people. This is in part because the marginal status of physical education has become the status quo, while physical education teachers, for the most part, have failed to engage in practices that would combat this situation. For example, both Kretchmar (2006) and Doolittle (2007) identified two basic problems that have plagued high school physical education for years: (1) physical education teachers have failed to provide in-class experiences that students perceive as meaningful, and (2) physical education teachers have failed to convey to students that mastering a skill is important. As a result, short units have prevailed within a multiactivity curriculum dominated by team sports, with grading practices that focus on attitude, participation, and effort. Doolittle stated that a third problem exists in that physical education teachers have not explained to parents, students, other teachers, and administrators what is distinct about quality physical education.

The marginalization of physical education is further compounded by the overshadowing effect of the prior experiences of parents, other teachers, and administrators. This can be problematic for several reasons. First, it is not a secret that parents have a level of political influence that determines some of what happens in schools. For example, parents may choose to serve on the school committee, parent-teacher association, and other policy-making bodies, which give them some power over what happens or does not happen in physical education. Moreover, in many cases, parents in a particular school district have the power through voting to lend or deny their support for quality physical education in the face of fiscal problems. Second, parents have the potential to influence their children's attitudes and behaviors toward physical education, as well as the attitudes and behaviors of other parents.

It is vital that physical education teachers try to understand parents' perceptions of the subject and take steps to address their perceptions in a manner that will counteract marginalization. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine parental perceptions of physical education and provide suggestions for addressing those perceptions in an effort to elevate the status of physical education in schools.

Parental Perceptions of Physical Education

Research results have indicated that parents, for the most part, have given high ratings to physical education (Graham, 2008; Sheehy, 2006). In fact, according to a 2002 study by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), 84 percent of parents had a positive perception of physical education in general, and 81 percent of parents believed that daily physical education should be mandatory. Additionally, James, Griffin, and France (2005) found that 80.1 percent of parents appreciated the use of assessment in physical education and 79. …

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