Healthy Bodies Build Strong Minds: Physical Education in Arizona

By Alex Caprariello | Dec. 8, 2015

“For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."

-John F. Kennedy

“As a teacher, parent, and principal, it's important for students to learn, but they can’t only be involved in reading, writing, and math. They need opportunities to learn in P.E. as well as music and art.”

-Teresa Heatherly, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Dysart Unified School District

“Not all school districts take the approach of a well rounded child."

-Deb Pangrazi, P.E. Specialist at Mesa Unified School District

In December of 1960, John F. Kennedy published an article in Sports Illustrated titled, “The Soft American.” In it, he described what he saw as an out-of-shape American population.

Kennedy urged the American people to consider their physical health and well-being, and to push themselves into becoming more active. Perhaps as a preventative measure in the likelihood of looming international conflict, the soon-to-be president saw an opportunity to create able-bodied men ready for service. For the rest of the country, it was a chance to physically and mentally strengthen a nation.

Suddenly, a newfound importance in personal health swept across the United States. Citizens saw it as a personal challenge from their president, and the country rapidly became active.

A nationwide fitness campaign was initiated, and physical education departments across the country updated their curriculums to showcase the collective strengthening of America’s youth. The nation was lit with an insatiable fervor for physical activity and health.

However, as is common with most trends, the passion for personal health and general well-being faded over time. Today, nearly all practices of physical recreation have been abandoned or replaced.

Kids that once spent the afternoon tossing a football in the backyard would now prefer to lounge in front of video game consoles. Walks around the neighborhood aren’t nearly as appealing as a walk to the refrigerator. And state education budget cuts have pinned P.E. departments into willing submission.

One can say that Kennedy’s belief in the importance of personal health has been completely forgotten. Worst of all, American children don’t even know this is a problem.

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