Daring to Create Change Agents in Physical Education: The Sankofa Philosophy

By Beale, Angela K. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Daring to Create Change Agents in Physical Education: The Sankofa Philosophy


Beale, Angela K., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Sankofa is a philosophical concept and symbol derived from the Akan language of Ghana. Embraced as a proverb, Sankofa means "Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates to, "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten" (Stewart, 1997). The Akan believe that the past illuminates the present and that the search for knowledge is a lifelong process. The Adinkra symbol for Sankofa is typically depicted as a bird flying forward with its head turned backward (Figure 1). The egg in its mouth represents the "gems," or knowledge, of the past upon which wisdom is based. It also signifies the generation to come that will benefit from that wisdom.

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As physical education teacher education (PETE) professionals, it is paramount that physical education be positioned to provide curriculum experiences that will facilitate students' abilities to evoke the characteristics of relevance, resilience, respect, and responsibility, which can support their overall learning (Hellison, 2003, 2006; Hellison & Walsh, 2002; Hellison & Wright, 2003; Walsh, 2008; Wright & Burton, 2008). In order to do this, we must dare to see things differently and acknowledge and embrace the ever-changing landscape of K-12 physical education, and prepare to answer our call.

Finding Relevance in Physical Education through Resolve

At the 2010 National AAHPERD Convention in San Diego, California, physical education and PETE professionals applauded while shouting, "Yes, we can!" as First Lady, Michelle Obama, revealed "Let's Move," her national health and fitness initiative "dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams" (www.letsmove.gov/about). We knew then that the fifth pillar of "Let's Move"--to increase physical activity--would advance our efforts to make physical education and PETE visible.

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While Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" initiative suggests that physical education should no longer be viewed as "the dangling appurtenance" to the academic structure of the U.S. school experience (Ennis, 2006), it must become a major thrust for creating a well-rounded global citizenry in K-12 and beyond. It is our responsibility and professional obligation to change the way we see physical education and PETE to the benefit of all. Even so, as a PETE and scholar myself, I observe the ways our public and private educational systems focus on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject areas, while physical education, from kindergarten through college, is being systematically marginalized. This is becoming increasingly apparent in higher education, where departments of physical education, recreation, and dance disband or dissolve altogether due to low enrollment. We must not allow this perceived irrelevance of physical education to persist. As physical educators and PETE professionals, we seek to create, deliver, facilitate, and implement relevant curricula that will address our new demographic of 21st-century global students. These future change agents will effectively demonstrate the capability to understand how their resiliency, respect, and responsibility can support their overall learning.

Fostering Relevance, Respect, and Responsibility

It is right that physical education is placed among areas that have historically been considered cerebral (e.g., science, mathematics, English).Yet, if physical education does not strive to transcend and transform students so that they become more than physically active, we are failing to teach the whole child.

Kindergarten through 12th grade physical education in urban schools demands transformative programs to implement the characteristics necessary to help students achieve their overall life goals. Programs and grant funding for issues including social justice, diversity, and culturally relevant pedagogy strive to meet state standards and receive Department of Education Carol White Physical Education for Progress (PEP) Grants. …

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