What keeps me awake at night - PE promotes bullying? That's just prejudice

25th October 2013 at 01:00

One of the biggest challenges I face teaching physical education in a secondary school is the constant battle with senior management, parents and other teachers over the validity of my subject area.

PE has a rich history and has evolved under a range of social, political and military influences. Unfortunately, it is this last influence that has skewed people's opinions of the subject. Not too long ago, PE was based around the need for physical training and fitness in readiness for possible military action. It was a subject led by drill sergeants with little teaching experience beyond instilling fear in their cadets.

This negative perception of what PE used to look and feel like is evident in the attitude of many of the parents and colleagues I speak to daily, who question the need for their son or daughter to learn my subject.

PE today is a far cry from what it used to be. It is no longer about who is faster or stronger. It no longer has the fierce and competitive nature that often provided a platform for bullying, prejudice and discrimination.

Instead, it helps to build self-confidence by challenging young people. Our curriculum requires students to reflect on the nature of well-being and how they can promote the idea of being active among their peers, family and local community. This allows them to develop resilience and a sense of personal and social responsibility.

Our subject area makes a significant contribution to the lifestyles and health of students beyond the classroom, arguably more so than any other subject. As PE teachers, we take pride in teaching skills and attitudes that will lay the foundation for a healthy and passionate attitude towards physical activity for life. And yet the mistaken belief prevails. This is not an issue limited to PE. It is also faced by teachers of the arts and technology-based subjects. And yet PE teachers always seem to be the most misunderstood and the most derided. It's time we got the credit we deserve.

The writer teaches physical education in New Zealand.

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