Is exercise part of education?
A small Pennsylvania college has come to national attention due to its policy of requiring a fitness course for students who have a relatively high body mass index. The class is not required for students with a lower BMI.
This article takes a peculiarly short view of the history of physical education, citing the policy as exceptional. It might better be viewed as a return to an earlier era — physical fitness, and in particular a swim test, had long been parts of a traditional college education. (I believe the University of Chicago still requires swimming proficiency for its undergrads.) And of course, for the ancient Greeks physical fitness was considered a cornerstone of a complete education.
David Kairys, professor of law at Temple, is quoted as opposing the policy because it is “paternalistic and intrusive,” which is certainly true. But is it wrong? Or, more specifically, what is “more” paternalistic or intrusive about physical education compared with education as a whole?
Any education that includes instructor-led content and administrator-designed courses of study requires students to learn certain material in order to advance. Is there a difference between education one is “forced” to receive in a lecture hall and physical education? I can’t see the distinction here. It might be that actions forced on the physical body are somehow stigmatized as more “intrusive” — but this would be a remarkably short view. Certainly the power to educate thousands of students with material and ideas of one’s own choosing is greater than the power to require a small percentage of these students to hit the treadmill. The pen is mightier, and all that.
Further, unlike much of the rest of a complete education, the means and goals of physical fitness are relatively uncontroversial. It’s clear that the goal of physical fitness should be health, and that the means should be exercise and a nutritional diet. But what are the goals of, say, philosophy? How will we know what to teach, and when will we know that students have learned? Should we teach evolution? It seems odd that one of a few subject areas which is (I think) universally seen to be beneficial to students and relatively easy to teach is the one that has been singled out for elimination in American colleges and universities.