Thursday, 3 May 2012

Why girls hate PE

So, a new report tells mums what they already know. Girls hate PE. The media act as if this is a shock. The pundits come out and tell us that's why we're fat. The Government harumph and say "more exercise.....(wobble jowls, sell off school playing fields....)". I can tell them that no amount of wagging the finger and ticking off will EVER make girls like PE beyond a certain age. Here's why.

Periods. No-one ever feels like trotting round a field running the 800m when they are petrified that a bloody stain might start showing through their unflattering sports shorts. Or feels like tennis when they have cramps. Or feels like netball when their boobs hurt. But you have to do, oh yes. The PE teacher says so. She says "It's only a period, get on with it". But it isn't only a period. It's a horrible hormonal time fraught with sheer agony that your tampon will drop out if you run, or spill out of your bag, or, god forbid, you are wearing a TOWEL and that bitch in your class sees it and tells everyone you are on and really heavy when you get changed. And then there's the awful thing of having to tell the unsympathetic teacher that you are on so you can miss a shower. And she checks it on a chart and questions your regularity, because, you know, the PE teacher is bound to be right, and your hormonal teenager  body couldn't possibly just be all over the place. So you not only have a period, but you have to justify it. In front of everyone.

The PE teacher themselves. Now, I know some people have lovely PE teachers. But i've never had one. I did have a charming individual who dressed herself up in 4 layers of Puffa jacket and waterproofs before sending us off on a cross country run in the snow, in tiny skirts, though. While she followed us on the road, on a moped. And I hoped she would die. And then the other one who refused to believe that I had hay-fever induced asthma until I collapsed halfway round the running pitch. No, i'm sure there are some who instill confidence into ALL girls, not just the ones who are genetically favoured enough to be able to catch a ball and run.

The reliance on natural talent. Now, I know that some students are more academic than others. I taught them. I would always aim for the student to get the grade that was their highest. I'd help them. I'd chivvy them along and insist on revision sessions where appropriate. But I accepted that sometimes, a grade F candidate wasn't going to be all that good at writing a history essay. Now, in PE, some people are going to be good at running and catching and so on. But quite a lot are not. Why not just encourage them to do the best they can and try? Or, you could force them into a posistion where they will fail, be hit on the head with the netball they failed to catch, and them berate them loudly for it, and cause their classmates to hate them for making them lose the match. If I did that in my history class, i'd be going  "Oi! OI! You there! This proposistion that the Nazis came to power because of Germans is NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Where's your economic argument? Your social argument? You've let your side of the class down. Look at them! They wanted to WIN the argument and now they've LOST! Sit down. Why you just don't understand hyperinfaltion is beyond me. Let's pass the argument over to team B, who understand Weimar Germany".

The teenage body.
the last time your body felt like a teenagers, if you are a mum, was the week after you had your baby. When you looked at yourself in the mirror and went "OH MY GOD! I just hate myself. I'll never be normal again. What is that bit? that ....BIT. It's....flash! Fat! FATFATFAT! Jesusican'tgooutagainever" Or, if you are me, when you turn 40. Now imagine being forced to get changed in front of 60 other girls, some of whom are perfect. And then run around and get sweaty in front of them. When you're a bit fat. Even if you're not really, you just think you are. Imagine not having any boobs, then suddenly getting them, in about a fortnight, and being forced to play netball. And the boys passing by and one of them shouting "Fucking Hell Dunkley, where did they come from!" Yes, it was enough to put me off jumping ever again.

The lack of choice. Oh, I know that hockey, netball, tennis and flinging themselves round over a gym float boats for some. But not for me. I wasn't blessed with co-ordination or grace. I couldn't give a monkeys about balls, and used to run off to the farthest corner to "field" at rounders, where I would read instead. I was, apparently, "useless" at sport. Except, not. I was hugely good at riding, and did a lot of very successful three day eventing. And I was pretty good at cycling. I was a great endurance swimmer. But my PE teacher knew none of this. Similarly, loads od girls go to dance classes out of school, where they fling themselves about mightily, and sulk in PE lessons. Why not introduce dance, yoga, pilates, riding, cycling, skateboarding, scootering, BMX? Oh, you've only got one measly school pitch and no money. Hockey it is, then.

PE makes you work in a team. Not if you're crap at games, it doesn't. It made me universally reviled. However, I did take our debating team to National finals. And i did pretty well in geek / Dungeons and Dragons club too. And school plays and youth theatre. All of which  needed prettty good team work, only without the risk of physical damage and being in the cold.

It is beyond me why we cannot pass over the responsibility for fitness to the students. Teach health and biology. By all means have space in the timetable for games. But give students the option to go offsite and do something they're interested in. If games had been scheduled for the end of the day, and i'd had an "off-site" pass, i could have gone home 2 hours earlier and ridden a horse. Or gone cycling. Dance classes could be held earlier. Village halls could be utilised, variety introduced. Or, why not let students who don't like PE and would rather die than do it, do, as my sixth form did, social community work instead. I spent 2 years delivering meals on wheels instead of playing hockey, and I loved it. Digging over a community garden would be physical work and of benefit to all to boot. Our definition of what PE is in very narrow, and whilst I appreciate that those who are physically excellent should have the opportunity to excel, I really can't think that forcing as many un-physical kids to undergo torture in public as we do daily, is a good thing.

I do still exercise. I bike, I walk, I swim. But I will never, ever pick up a hockey stick.


Jo who can't think of a clever nickname said...

I agree with every word! Apart from the "fat" bit and the boobs because I was the skinny undeveloped one!
I was also the one who along with 20 classmates CHOSE to do O level Statistics purely because lessons took place instead of Monday PE.
I also did all the school plays although I was asked to do the lighting because I couldn't sing a note LOL. At least there was a worthwhile job I could do unlike in PE where "just holding the winning tape and watching" wasn't allowed.

Sara said...

You are so right - I could have written this very post!
Personally I got a blessing in disguise when my knees started playing up at 13 years old - after a few weeks of genuine lesson-missing, and a couple of operations, I discovered that my "undiagnosed painful knees" were my golden ticket out of PE for the rest of my school career. Well until 6th form, at which point I informed my teachers that since I was in school voluntarily, there was no way they could force me to do sports.

dottycookie said...

Can you hear me applauding from here? Because I am. And I am also now fearing the future at secondary school for my two girls who are as uncoordinated as I was, but who are musical and clever and funny and just brilliant in so many other ways.

I remember all the things you talked about. I had put them out of my mind for years, but now here they are again. And I will add the memory of being forced to run past the local boys grammar school in our short skirts with no teacher bothering to come along with us, but popping up at random points on the route to shout at us. Argh.

Expat mum said...

I was thinking "Oh I loved PE, what is she talking about?" and then you reminded me of the sometimes sadistic bloody teachers. Just because they also had periods, they seemed to think everyone else had the exact same experience. I remember far too many "embarrassing" incidents and I went to an all-girls' school!
At my kids's chool, (in the USA) they have a lot of choices so one's doing "personal fitness" which is an hour in the fitness centre on the treadmill and then doing weights. The daughter did Step classes and then a dance class etc. Both of them kept fit, just didn't have to spend weeks and weeks stuck out on Left Wing, like I did when we played hockey. Shudder!