Physical Education for Deaf Students

By Stewart, David A.; Ellis, M. Kathleen | American Annals of the Deaf, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Physical Education for Deaf Students


Stewart, David A., Ellis, M. Kathleen, American Annals of the Deaf


An ideal physical education program would be one that focuses on aspects leading to lifelong participation in and enjoyment of physical activity accompanied by appropriate fitness levels. Often, physical education classes are the only physical activity that many children receive throughout the day, and without them, an even greater number of children, including those who are deaf, would be prone to aspects associated with sedentary lifestyles. Schools need to involve their students in daily physical education classes. The emphasis of such a program should be placed on promoting physical fitness and developing skills that lead to a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity and healthy lifestyles. This paper reviews the literature on the state of physical fitness among deaf students and describes an exemplary physical education program that was implemented at a school for deaf children.

Not everyone agrees that physical education (PE) classes are an important part of a student's overall education plan. In many states, elementary schools have de-emphasized the role of PE by reducing the amount of time required for PE classes and downplaying the need for structured environments that promote adequate levels of physical activity (Sammann, 1998; U.S. Public Health Service, 1991). The nature of PE also has changed at this level, with many schools allowing children to wear street clothes during classes. Moreover, fitness activities such as running laps and doing sit-ups, push-ups, and other physically demanding exercises are often nonexistent in many of these classes (Sammann, 1998). This trend is particularly alarming for deaf children, given that they tend to be more prone to lower fitness levels associated with sedentary or low-activity lifestyles (Jansma & French, 1992).

Although evidence of the involvement of deaf children in PE is lacking, we do know that 70 percent or more of all children who are deaf or hard of hearing are educated in public school programs (Holden-Pitt & Diaz, 1997). Thus, in most instances, their PE programs will be similar to those of their hearing peers. The remaining 30 percent attend either residential or day schools for the deaf, where PE programs are likely to be more comprehensive and tailored specifically to prepare deaf students for lifelong involvement in sports (Stewart, 1991). These programs have a higher percentage of Deaf teachers who, in turn, are involved in Deaf sport activities. They view themselves as agents for enculturating their students into activities, such as sports, that are prominent in the Deaf community (Stewart, 1991).

Schools for deaf children are positioned to impart more PE into the education of their students, but this is no guarantee that their PE programs are meeting the students' physical needs adequately. Indeed, standards for PE are ignored in nearly all literature discussing the education of deaf children. The same can be said about PE standards for the general school population. The Educational Goals 2000 report places little emphasis on the physical education discipline (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). Yet, discussions about standards are highly visible in the ongoing debate about school reform (Ancess, 1996; Bellanca, 1998; DarlingHammond, 1998; Darling-Hammond & Falk, 1997; Fashola & Slavin, 1998; Noddings, 1997; Reigeluth, 1997), and adhering to a curriculum has been shown to be a key factor in highly successful school programs (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1998).

A total approach to the education of deaf children must not be guided by programming designed mainly to address the perceived weaknesses in their education. Delays in the development of English language skills and mathematics should not lead to individualized educational plans (IEPs) that are devoted mainly to gaining improvement in these areas. The development of literacy skills in deaf children is crucial and the field is correct in expending much energy in this area, but such effort should not detract from the value of teaching other subjects. …

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