AAA Roadmap for Navigating Religion in Physical Education
Kahan, David, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators
It is highly desirable for physical educators to offer curriculum and engage in instructional and managerial behaviors that engage students in an optimal quantity of enjoyable physical activity, while also preparing them to assume independent ownership of their health behavior outside of physical education class and school. The student body of any school--even one that appears homogenous - reflects a diverse medley of gender, ethnicity, race, ability, sexual orientation, and religion. Public school physical educators typically give less consideration to the latter demographic than the former ones. The majority of Americans identify with a religious faith, and the connection between religious beliefs/behaviors and health behaviors, make it important to understand teachers' role and influence in this regard.
The purpose of this article is to inform readers regarding a) religious demographics in the United States; b) the relationship between religion and health - with particular emphasis on physical activity; c) ways that students' religious beliefs may need to be accommodated by physical educators; and d) resources and techniques that can help teachers understand their students' religious beliefs so they can be provided appropriate opportunities to reach and maintain recommended physical activity levels. The article uses the theme of a roadmap based on an adaptation of the initials for the Automobile Association of America (AAA)--Acknowledgement, Acceptance, and Accommodation.
First, it is important to understand the prevalence and variation of students' religious beliefs. Since 2001, the National Study of Youth and Religion (www.youthandreligion.org/research/) has explored the development of religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices from adolescence through young adulthood and the role religion plays in children's daily lives. Smith, Denton, Faris, and Regnerus (2002) summarized that religious participation declines with age over the adolescent years, girls are more religiously active than boys, Southern youth are the most active by region, and African Americans are most active by race. It is perhaps more instructive to consider adult religious demographics, because even though children's religious beliefs and adherence veer away from parents' as they get older, two-thirds of 12th graders report that their ideas about religion are mostly very similar to their parents' (Smith, Faris, & Denton, 2004). Congruence between parents' and children's ideas about religion is especially high for Mormon, African American, and rural youth and especially low for Jewish and Northeast dwelling youth (Smith et al., 2004). Based on data presented in Table 1, which are based on a recent national survey of adults, while American physical educators are most likely to teach Christian children and these children are most likely Protestant, there is a wide range of religious affiliations based on geographic region and race. For example, teachers in the Northeast would be unlikely to teach a Mormon child and more likely to teach a Jewish child. Additionally, while a majority of children of all religions is most likely Caucasian, the greatest racial heterogeneity is seen among Muslims and biracial distributions are seen among Buddhists and Catholics. These data provide physical educators with clues as to particular religions they may encounter and need to account for in planning curriculum and instruction.
Connections between Religion and Health
It is also important to appreciate the link between religion and health, which may exist due to interaction between genetic (especially for more homogenous religious groups) and environmental factors (especially for religious groups that tend to reside in close-knit communities).
Religion and morbidity. One model suggests that religion along with personal and environmental factors affect an individual's psychological state, social support, and health behavior, which in turn moderate various bodily systems (e. …