Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Presidential Physical Fitness

I truly cannot remember a time in my life when I worked harder to earn something than the Presidential Physical Fitness award I earned in 8th grade.  Actually, I worked hard at it every year, running the mile every chance I got, trying to cross the finish line seconds ahead of the requirement.  Even the "shuttle" run was challenge for me; I was just never a runner.

But in 8th grade, I had the unfortunate misadventure of pinning my right knee between the floor and an upright piano, and somehow that had a negative effect on my ability to train for the mile.

The time came when I could run again, but I was abysmally behind the required time of 7:59.  I worked during recess and P.E., but it wasn't enough.  So my 4th grade sister Lisa became my personal trainer, running with me, timing me, and cheering me on as I neared my goal.  Finally, I clocked a time of 7:35 - the fastest I have ever run a mile in my life.

I cannot think of a single other life achievement toward which I have ever directed more focus and effort.  Consequently, I can think of few achievements that felt as good. 

And it isn't only this big moment I look back on fondly.  I remember similar elation two years in a row when I happened to pass off my mile on the same Friday I'd be sleeping over at my best friend Rosie's house in preparation for Draper's Easter egg hunt.  I remember serving as the personal trainer for the less flexible, leading group stretching exercises on the field just prior to the v-sit or sit-and-reach.  I remember cheering on the boys who had to do seemingly impossible amounts of chin ups.  I remember Mrs. Casdorph (aka Mom) motivating students to try one more time to pass the shuttle run, pairing us with students who had already passed it off but were willing to run alongside us.

In my recent how-to-teach-P.E. class at University of Phoenix, several students brought up "that Presidential fitness program" and mentioned its obstacles (most schools don't even have chin up bars anymore).  Curious to see the list of things I used to be able to do, I clicked around the website and happened across some disturbing information: this 2012/2013 school year is the last year in which the program will be achievement based. 

An excerpt about the new Presidential Youth Fitness Program:

Awards That Reward Good Health
Because only modest amounts of exercise are needed to obtain health benefits, most students who participate in regular physical activity will achieve scores that will place them in the Healthy Fitness Zone®—and earn them the chance to get recognized. Students need to reach the Health Fitness Zone® in at least five out of six categories to earn the Presidential Youth Fitness Award. We offer lots of great ways to recognize their efforts.

Beginning in 2013, students who participate will earn their award based on, well, participation.  Yet another chance for everybody to earn the gold star.  Yet another chance for us to make excuses for out-of-shape children.  But no longer a chance for a kid to feel the self-respect that is earned by doing hard things.

I am really sad.  Fundamentally sad.  And kind of worried.  What a harsh world our kids will find themselves in when they graduate to a system where rewards are based on achievement.  What fragile confidence they will have when they no longer earn pats on the back for showing up.  What a disservice we do when we take away their ability to earn.

One of my best childhood memories is of a moment when I worked hard to earn something that was important to me.  I wonder what memory will fill that void in the lives of my children.

[I acknowledge that I have completely neglected to mention the negative aspects of the old program or the positive aspects of the new program.  This is nothing more than opinion piece about one key aspect as it related specifically to my life.  I would love to hear your comments and conflicting points of view!]


Sarah said...

I am not a fan on slapping gold stickers on all participants, either. Tho society seems to go that route most often to make all feel good.
What will fill that "void"? Sadly, our kids won't realize they're missing anything. They won't know that they are missing a goal-setting/personal-achievement moment. How it is now is their norm. Falls on the parents or the occasional teacher to do some "above-and-beyond" pushing, I guess.

Spencer said...

I too will miss the old program. To receive the Presidential Fitness award was indeed prestigious. I only accomplished the National (red) Fitness award, and was awe-struck by those who were awesome enough to earn the Presidential one. Now... it just won't be the same!