The Fall and Rise of Physical Education

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For those of you not familiar with George Graham, he is the co-founder of PE Central (pecentral.org), a noted author of numerous books and articles, and he has dedicated his entire career advocating the benefits of providing high quality Physical Education programs for children. In addition, he has won numerous accolades, including being inducted into the SHAPE America Hall of Fame in 2007.

Now, as a retired professor of physical education pedagogy, he shares with us his candid, unfiltered view on the status of Physical Education today. Read the intro to his blog below, then continue to read the entirety of the post by clicking here or the button below. Here, you will discover the different teacher-types he describes. Are you a Gamer? a Fitter? a Roller? a Teacher? a Brainer? An Activator? Read on to find out!

Then, weigh in on your thoughts on the paper in the comments section below the blog. When you’re done, read the second part of the series: The Fall and Rise of Physical Education: Part 2.

The Rise and Fall of Physical Education by George Graham

“If there is a single truth about physical education, from preschool through graduate school is that it continues to change. I suspect this is true of all enterprises—business, medicine, education, government and families too. There is constant change—and perhaps the best predictor of the future is the past but that’s for philosophers and historians to determine.  What I know best is physical education at all levels over the past 45 years. This paper is focused on one person’s view of what has happened over that period and a glimpse, albeit somewhat blurry, into the future of our profession. The paper is divided into four categories—K-12 teachers, PETE, professional organizations and the values of society in terms of physical education and physical activity.

I also want to add that I am writing this at the terminus of my career (somehow that sounds better than writing the end of my career.) This is important because I feel entitled to tell it like it is—with no worries that I might offend someone that I might be working with in the future on a project or committee. I also freely admit that this paper is written without relying on the professional literature to support my theories. Both of these factoids—terminus of career combined without having to base my paper on the literature is a freeing experience—and as I begin this paper one I am looking forward to.”

button for PE paper

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15 thoughts on “The Fall and Rise of Physical Education

  1. I am a middle school Physical education teacher in Southern Maryland. We see our students every other day for 42 minutes. One quarter of the year (9 weeks) students in PE are in a health class room instead of being physically active in the gym. Not to mention all the days we don’t see them because of testing and when we have to go to computer labs because the gym in being used and it is raining out. With this being said there is still a huge push in implementing the use of paper and pencil and electronics in the gym. My goal is to get them active and to help them find something that motivates them to continue to be active outside of the physical education classroom. Even if it is just taking a walk. As you stated in your article it is very hard to teach students the importance of a lifetime of fitness when we rarely see them.

    • Hi Tiffany, thank you for sharing your experience as a physical educator. It is great to hear that keeping students active is your goal, and especially to encourage them to be active afterschool as well.

  2. My appreciation to you, George for such a well-written article. I’m thinking back to such a positive time…mid 1970s at the University of Georgia. We have come full circle in this profession. As a building principal for the past 15 years, I believe that conversations, at all levels, need to include how we look at and construct the school day and physical education needs to be front and center! Thank you, George for your tireless work and incredible contribution to this profession!

  3. Pingback: The Fall and Rise of Physical Education: Part 2

  4. George,
    Thank you for writing and sharing such an intriguing paper. It is really an eye opener. I love the categories you have identified.
    I truely agree that we as teachers have a responsibility to perform our job the right way. We as PE teachers are role models for the society. Only then the society will respect our academic area at par with other subjects. We touch so many lives in a special way. We teach human hearts to stay fit, strong and happy. We help them become life long skillful learners and develop an inclination for a physically active lifestyle.
    Hope more and more folks learn from your paper. Regards, Monika.

  5. Great article. I know what I want to be and think I am. A teacher. I wonder if those who are in the less desirable categories would recognize themselves?

  6. Thank you very much for your candid thoughts on the state of physical education and the types of PE teachers you believe exist. I have had the opportunity to work with many PE teachers and can honestly say that I have met physical educators from each of the categories you discuss. You are spot on with your assessment.

    My personal belief is that we first need to recognize what a comprehensive physical education program includes and then ALL physical educators need to be held accountable (by students, parents and administrators) for implementing effective physical education.

    Thank you for your passion for quality physical education.

  7. Brilliant clarity! Now to me the hidden, or is it obvious, question is: what does it take to inspire all physical educators to want to be “teachers” not “others”?

  8. Fantastic paper! I fall into two categories: innovator and teacher. I always am seeking lifetime activities that will pique students’ curiosity and, hopefully, start them on a road to a new activity over the long term. As far as PURCHASING ready-made equipment goes, I usually cobble together my own version of the necessary equipment. Of course it usually looks pretty sorry, but it gives me a chance to see if there is interest on the part of the students. I then have the option to actually use funding to purchase more durable equipment (at exorbitant prices!) or continue with my home-made prototypes. I have had many exhilarating experiences using this method and I love it.

    A second thing I agree with you about is determining where the academic content divide should be: health ed, life science/biology, or PE. For many years I have felt that the health and science classes should be cored with the PE classes so that a more college-style approach could be used. The health/science classes could cover the anatomy, physiology, kinesiology concepts and the PE classes could then serve as the applied lab portion. I actually had the chance to do that one year when I taught seventh-grade life science/health and seventh-grade PE. For those students I had in both subject areas I was able to achieve a much deeper and more thorough understanding of the whole biomechanics/skills analysis process and the cardio-respiratory components than I ever had before. I could SEE the “light bulbs” turning on as they made the connections between the science/health portions and the physical activity skills. Unfortunately, I have not yet heard of a school district that has figured this out and created a schedule to test it.

    I wish your paper was required reading for all physical education teachers nationwide. Thank you for your excellent and succinct encapsulation of the state of PE today. Bravo!

  9. Terrific read! Can’t wait to see what George has to say regarding the other three categories (higher ed, professional organizations, society).

  10. Thank you George. This paper can be applied to teachers at the preschool level as well (kids 2-5). I’ve been working with them for 21 years. It has been very frustrating because those teaching our youngest children do not want to move! Kids are told to sit still, be quiet and don’t run. The majority certainly do not encourage, teach and build a love for physical skills. Then everyone wonders why we have obesity, heart disease and diabetes showing up in younger and younger children.

    Research is now showing that CVD health promotion in preschool alters lifestyle habits and behaviors (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Oct. 6, 2015). This long term study is amazing and shows just how important it is to reach children as young as possible.

    We’ve been teaching preschool children physical education since 1994 and not much has changed (http:/www.kid-fit.com). Children’s health is worse and they are more sedentary than ever. It’s hard to persist when so many things block preventative measures. I’ll never give up though. Preschool children don’t have a voice. Until they do, I have to use the loud one that I have.

    Your work and Steve Sanders inspired me all those years ago to develop the KID-FIT program that we now have all over the world. Thanks for all your years in the field and sharing your knowledge. You’ve touched many more lives than you may think.

  11. George
    You have been my hero since the 1980’s when I met you at Camp Caesar in WV
    This is a short list by the way and I was so honored when you were able to attend the NJAHPERD Awards Banquet whn I was fortunate enough to receive recognition.
    Your textbook Children Moving and subsequent texts formed the basis of my reflective teaching practices. “My Bible” as I believe I said at the time. I wish you well in your retirement and pray that the other categories that are not “Teachers” choose to see the light. Shine bright my friend and God Bless.
    Sincerely,
    Gregg
    NJAHPERD TOY 1989

  12. What an amazing blog post. George has done an amazing job consolidating what PE is like for a number of students. Let’s hope we find more teachers soon! Well done George.

  13. As a doctoral and master’s student under the guidance and mentoring of George Graham I fondly remember the provocative and intellectually challenging hours spent in discussion on topics related to teaching physical education. George’s insights and determination to make a difference have guided generations of teachers and teacher educators to improve the way we teach physical education. George continues to do what he has always done throughout his career-make us think!

  14. This article was drink rely helpful to me as a student majoring in physical education. It allows me to reconsidered a lot of my purpose to teach physical education. It also allows to the critically assess the teacher I am observing for my early field experience course. I want to look for major actions this teacher is executing. One day I hope also hope that my future students are able to know what I’m trying to teach them about physical education. I want my lessons to be engaging, fun, and not but not least educating.

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