Physical Education, Politics, and Speak out! Day: The Business of Politics Can Have a Profound Influence on How Physical Education Is Viewed in Our Schools

By Claxton, David; Kopp, Rachael et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Physical Education, Politics, and Speak out! Day: The Business of Politics Can Have a Profound Influence on How Physical Education Is Viewed in Our Schools


Claxton, David, Kopp, Rachael, Skidmore, Lauren, Williams, Kimberly, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


WHEN I BRING UP POLITICS in my Introduction to Health and Physical Education class, most of my students indicate that they are not politically active, don't follow politics very closely, and basically just think that politics is boring. They have trouble recognizing that politics has any direct effect on them as students, or that politics will affect them some day as health and physical education teachers.

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My students may not be all that different from many practicing health and physical education (HPE) professionals. Stretched between teaching, coaching, families, and setting a good example of a physically active lifestyle (we are exercising, right?), many HPE professionals just don't have time to be politically active, either at their schools or in their communities, much less at the state or national level. However, choosing to be politically uninvolved comes with a price. To those who just don't care about things political, Camacho and Fernandez-Balboa (2006) have this to say:

  We tend to rationalise our political apathy thus: "I've got enough
  sorting out to do in my own life to want to be sorting out other
  people's."  To be sure, taking this position may seem reasonable at
  times; yet, it has dire consequences for us in particular and society
  in general, for it leaves public affairs in the hands of small groups
  of people who seldom fight for the common good. (p. 10-1l)

This article explains why politics is important and what you can do to get politically involved in your school, community and nation. It will also describe the first-hand political experience of a group of students when they participated in NASPE's SPEAK Out! Day.

Politics is more than just presidential elections. Daryl Siedentop (2009) defines politics thusly, "When you try to decide what the common good is for ... the department you administer ... or the students you teach, you are in the field of philosophy called politics." (p. 58). Because politics involves decisions that are made for the perceived benefit of society as a whole, it is to our distinct advantage to be politically aware. As we strive to provide the very best health and physical education experiences for our students, we must realize that we cannot do it alone. School boards, superintendents, and principals at the public school level, and presidents, provosts and deans at the university level all play roles in determining how well we can do our jobs. The administrators with whom we work must be led to understand that we are helping them meet their goals and that we are an asset to the overall educational process. In an ideal world, those decision-makers would just naturally appreciate health and physical educators for the good we do. But to sit back and hope they recognize the important contribution we are making to the overall goals of the school/university would be politically unwise. Therefore, I submit three strategies for putting health and physical education in the best political position. Those strategies are managing political perception, controlling conflicting interests, and engaging in political advocacy.

Political Perception

Let's start with the perception that many administrators and parents have toward physical education. While some recognize the valuable contribution we make to the total development of our students, others do not realize the significance of what goes on in health and physical education classes. This is not a new phenomenon. Dudley Sargent, one of the early founders of our discipline, writes of "the public prejudice which I was later to know well and battle hard" (Sargent, 1927, p. 62) as he strove to gain support for physical education in the late 1800's. Through hard work, political savvy, and ultimately through the success of his program, he earned recognition for physical education and established the first physical education program at Harvard.

What is the perception of your program by the administrators and parents at your school? …

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Physical Education, Politics, and Speak out! Day: The Business of Politics Can Have a Profound Influence on How Physical Education Is Viewed in Our Schools
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