Thursday, May 7, 2015

"I've Got Ants in My Pants and I Need to Dance" Students Need Physical Activity to Excel

Nothing gets me angrier or more upset than hearing that students in the Bronx, and other high needs communities, have almost no access to physical activity during their school day, both because they lack gym access and school teams, and because schools are now now using recess and gym for test prep because they fear being closed or subject to outside "intervention"  if their test scores should go down

Not only does this hugely magnify health issues among students, ranging from obesity to circulatory problems, it has an even more negative impact on student behavior and academic performance.  Asking young people to go through entire days  sitting in their chairs, devoid of any regular physical outlet, is to ask them to do something entirely unnatural for any human being, much less a child. It will make students restless, make them angry, and inhibit their ability to concentrate on the material authorities want them to master.  And though an emphasis on improving test scores is often promoted as a vehicle to promote educational equity, having test prep dominate the school day  to the exclusion of physical activity, or artistic expression, is a prescription for long term academic disaster.

  This is something I know from first hand experience as well as the available academic research. I could never have had the patience to sit for hours doing historical research, something I started doing in high school and began to adopt as a regular routine in college, had not I gone through an extremely demanding regimen of physical activity. In high school, that consisted of daily gym class as well as being on a school team; in college it consisted of playing two hours of basketball several evenings a week after having tennis team practice every afternoon. It was that expenditure of energy that allowed me to spend three or four hours in a library at a time; the activity which ultimately became the basis of my career as a scholar and teacher.  There is no way I could have done that without huge opportunities for physical release.

   It pains me to think that there are brilliant young people all over this country whose intellectual or artistic potential is being squandered because their schools give them no exercise opportunities whatsoever!  To put the matter bluntly, I would never have become an historian if I had to go through school  with little or no exercise the way many Bronx youngsters do today.  I might have even ended up in jail, because I would have been so angry and restless that I would have done something destructive.

   We are doing a terrible thing to our children by denying them exercise.

   This has to change and change now, even if it means a moratorium on testing. Come to think of it, that may be exactly what we need.

       James Brown spoke for millions of children, including me, when he said " I have ants in my pants and I need to dance."  That is a fundamental human need which current education policy makers are suppressing in their panic to raise test scores.