What the people say and want usually means nothing, even in education.
The fear that physical education in our high schools will be de-emphasized is alive again. You may recall that back in October, a public hearing was conducted in Baltimore on high school graduation requirements. Of concern was a proposal by the Maryland Task Force on Graduation Requirements to de-emphasize physical education.
A public outcry resulted, with the overwhelming majority asking that phys-ed remain a one-credit requirement.
One might have expected the state Board of Education to reassess its position, but one would be wrong.
On the contrary, a Jan. 3 memo to local school superintendents from state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and the state Department of Education makes it quite obvious that taxpayers are being ignored by the bureaucrats.
After getting my hands on the memo, I contacted several physical education people and Ned Sparks, the executive secretary of the Marland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
It was amazing that hardly any of them knew about the phys-ed revisions, which are really no revisions at all.
"The proposal you are reading is news to me. I thought it had been shot down at thepublic hearing," Sparks said Friday afternoon.
Sparks was stunnedbecause the majority of nearly 700 letters and 140 verbal presentations -- scores of them from concerned Anne Arundel coaches, teachers and parents last fall -- supported leaving phys-ed as a one-credit requirement.
The Maryland Task Force proposal calls for "physical education -- one credit. One-half credit may be earned each year throughparticipation on an interscholastic team, but no more than one credit may be earned this way."
The Grasmick memo offers this revision:"Physical education -- one credit that integrates components of comprehensive health education."
The rest of the proposal remains as written by the task force, meaning that a kid need only be a member ofa team to earn a half-credit and need not take physical education.
It is a plan that in the long run would practically eliminate the need for phys-ed instructors in our high schools. Implementation wouldmean fewer kids taking phys-ed and the need for fewer phys-ed instructors.
Many phys-ed instructors also coach, so such a recommendation could drastically cut the number of coaches in the high schools.
In an outstanding presentation to the state board at the October public hearing, Bernie Walter, Arundel High athletic director, PhysicalEducation Department chairman and head baseball coach, said: "The proposed change seems to encourage sports participation rather than physical fitness."
Walter emphasized that "at a time when we should be requiring students to have more physical education rather than less," the state is proposing a reduced program.
Walter, speaking on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Coaches Association, cited the county's superb K-12 program that prepares ALL students -- not just athletes -- physically and in health education.
The state board's proposal would segregate the athletes and non-athletes. Not everyone is good enough to play on a team, so you could very easily have a system that has the gifted athletes on teams and the non-gifted in phys-ed class.
Is that what we want?
The retired county coordinator of physical education, Paul Rusko, said in October, "I find it rather mind-boggling that someone gets the notion somewhere that they can substitute the athletic experience for the physical education experience.
"The objectives are quite different in both areas. There is no guarantee that a kid is going to make a team. They may not make it becausethere are sports where kids are cut."
Rusko cited various reasonswhy a student may be unable to get his half-credit through interscholastic teams: a lack of skills, academic ineligibility, disciplinary problems, injuries.
And Walter posed this valid question in October: "What good is it to be well-read if you are dead?"
He also toldthe state board that "two decades ago, phys-ed instructors merely rolled the ball out and told kids to play. Modern P.E. places a much-needed emphasis on health-related fitness and lifetime sports rather than interscholastic competition."
Athletic teams and health-relatedfitness are separate entities. We can't justifiably and in good conscience substitute one for the other.
As Walter noted: "Generally, athletic activities are anaerobic, carbohydrate-burning and intense in nature, while modern physical education tends to be aerobic, butter-burning and moderate in nature."
And can somebody please tell me how the state envisions this idea working when educators are trying to find ways to avoid cutbacks in interscholastic sports?
Some havesuggested cutting coaches' salaries. If that happened, would our students earn their phys-ed requirements through interscholastic sports under the supervision of unqualified and non-school faculty personnel?
The issue could generate an entire column of "Questions without Answers."