Everywhere you look these days, the forces of darkness are crying vehemently against the light that the elections of 2008 promised to bring. In Texas, the state board of education is trying to rewrite the history books to fit an extreme right-wing agenda. A supposed “expert” on the American Revolution goes on Fox News regularly to spout “quotes” from George Washington that are (even he admits) either false or unverifiable. Republican and “Tea Party” apologists continually misuse the words “socialist” and “fascist” in connection with President Obama and his policies.
These are the forces of darkness. These are not “evildoers” like the terrorists who turned our way of life upside down in 2001, but the evil they do by keeping their believers in darkness is no less murderous. Ignorance is at the root of so much of the violence and injustice that afflicts humanity worldwide. The first thing that dictatorships must do is keep the population in the dark.
The Taliban tries to keep Afghans ignorant of the world at large, and wants to keep women ignorant of their human rights. I wonder if we ought to start calling the Texas Board of Miseducation the “Texas Taliban.” This move to have some fundamentalist sect or another take charge of secular life is happening all over the world, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that it has escaped Utah and fled to become a part of the Texas secessionist movement.
The factory system of education’s emphasis on recall of facts at the expense of understanding the context and meaning of the facts leaves all children behind. Unscrupulous politicians (redundant, I know) and advertisers (ditto) gleefully take that to the bank – who, by the way, is making even more money from ignorance and mental laziness, and doing it on both sides of every transaction.
Meanwhile, when we last measured a couple of years ago, around 17 percent of children ages 2-19 were defined as obese. We can pretty much bet that number hasn’t gone down. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these children will be more prone to diseases of various types throughout their lives, and they are much more likely to go on to become obese adults.
Yet our factory system of public education not only encourages but practically mandates that teaching and learning be sedentary. Classrooms and furniture are clunky and difficult to rearrange to make space for movement. Stages and auditoriums turn into storage closets. Multipurpose rooms are used more for meals and holding areas than for exercise, since PE programs are being cut in favor of spending more time on what isn’t working to improve math and reading scores. For instance, a 2009 report found that 36% of physical education teachers reported a decrease in funding (well under 20% got an increase), and 23% reported a drop in student participation in PE programs.
According to a Colorado education organization, ten states fail to place any requirements on elementary schools to provide physical education instruction. Eleven states have no middle school physical education requirements, and seven states have no high school requirements. Four states – Colorado, Alaska, Oklahoma and Michigan – have no physical education requirements at any grade level.
The last time we looked (2006), fewer than 3% of elementary schools offered daily physical education activities — at the most critical ages for brain and body development. (Lee SM, Burgeson CR, Fulton JE, Spain CG. Physical education and physical activity: Results from the school health policies and programs study 2006. J Sch Hlth 2007;77:435-63)
This is not sustainable. For lack of physical activity, brains are going undeveloped, and bodies are deteriorating. The worst of these effects is borne by African-American and Native American populations, but whites are far from immune. Ignorance and obesity do not respect ethnic or political boundaries. The only way to stem this tide is to move on all fronts at once, and there is one strategy that will accomplish this: It’s time to introduce creative dance as a daily experience for every American public school student.