As a Physical Educator, are you essentially a spectator to your school's annual standardized testing process? Do you take the view that, as a dedicated professional who only works in the gym, there is very little impact you can have on this process? During test week, are you handing out #2 pencils and serving as a hall monitor because your principal can't think of what else to do with you? Have you ever wondered what the real agenda of these tests is? The purpose of this article is twofold: 1) To provide a small peak at the real, but unspoken, reason for all of this testing, and 2) To assert enthusiastically, and with documented scientific support, that physical educators can make a significant difference in their school's test results. In fact, what you can bring to the table in this matter can be your school's secret weapon in the "testing wars".
First, a little bit of testing's unspoken agenda... It relates historically to what Lincoln referred to as the "Mudsill Theory." (Sen. James Henry Hammond, South Carolina, speech to the United States Senate, March 4, 1858) You can look it up on the internet. It's not a conspiracy, so all of you reverse- alarmists who want to label the few remaining divergent thoughts left in the current zeitgeist as the work of Conspiracy Theorists, take a deep breath. Basically, the theory, first named by Lincoln who rightly opposed it, asserts that Society cannot move forward unless it can rest on a foundation or "footer" (known as a "mudsill" in early times) made up of a happy, uncreative, unquestioning, and dumbed-down work force willing to do the menial tasks like clean the bathroom of your luxury hotel, wash your car, or cut your grass. Slavery in the South and Immigrants in the Northeast solved that problem in the 1850's with the northern form of "slavery" later being company towns. Chinese immigrants later took care of building the railroads in the West. Children worked in coal mines in the Pennsylvania Hills along with fathers for 65-70 hours per week for a few cents per hour- usually the money was company script so a family could not save it to use it in a better place-none of these people cost a lot for the big business. Benefits were non-existent, and they appear headed in that direction again. Today, the big guys are worried about an unskilled worker shortage. They reason that either the schools or immigration (legal or otherwise) must provide the human capital. Human Capital- That's how the Business Roundtable refers to your children.
The thinking of the powers-that-be goes something like this: Without this sufficiently dumbed-down workforce, everything grinds to a halt. Gridlock. We're cooked- so their thinking goes. What must be done then, they reason, is to insure that there will always be this happy, sufficiently dumbed-down, work force. John Taylor Gatto, hero of the Home-School movement and author of the amazing book The Underground History of American Education (The Oxford Village Press, NY) speaks in detail about the theory. There are two choices in achieving the goal: 1) Increase the amount of illegal and undocumented workers and pretend to whine about it as we build 650 mile long fences- never on our Northern border, of course, or create our own, homegrown, sufficiently dumbed-down masses. Recently, you have all seen the effects of unchecked illegal immigration and the gnashing of teeth and make-believe moral indignation that spring from it. What you may not have realized is that the other, more effective, homegrown approach has been yielding impressive results. How does it work? It begins with an admission of the dirty little secret that public education has fouled up the works by doing too good of a job collectively raising the aspirations of young people across the broad spectrum of ethnicity and diversity that has made this country great. Every parent wants their kid to go to college, and, the business elite presume, "too damn many kids think they can get there". Ask yourself, has there been any effort by government that you can recall in recent years to make college more affordable and accessible to young people? If anything, their efforts have been to make college less accessible and affordable. Read how the business elite tried to subvert the impressive (91%) High School graduation rate in Minnesota in the late 80's by creating a process whereby all students would attend school K-10. Only about 20% of the students would be allowed to move on through 12th grade and go on to college. Those leaving at the end of 10th grade with a certificate could be guaranteed a job at places like 3-M and Con Agra, for example. These companies would then be virtually guaranteed a not-too-well educated workforce, happy to have a job at the plant. We don't make this stuff up- facts are pesky things, and just because Wolf Blitzer does not talk about it at night, does not mean that the plan is not in operation to increase the menial- task workforce.
So, the politicians and big business, using the new codeword- COMPETITIVE- need to create this workforce that is happy to do the low-paying jobs- happy like your grandfather was to have a job during the depression. How? By testing the daylights out of the kids from the time they are in kindergarten with tests longer than the bar exam, and in the time remaining, spend it preparing for the tests which have as their best predictor, one's zip code. If the program works as planned, there will be a record number of dropouts by the time kids reach about ninth and tenth grade. Students will have lowered their aspirations without being told to do so. Kids will have intuitively arrived at the conclusion that, "I wasn't that smart anyway because I can't do well on those tests" - the ones that made Mayor Bloomberg a hero for making 15,000+ kids have to repeat 3rd grade- "and besides, we don't even have Phys. Ed. (Remember the childhood obesity concerns?), Music, or Art anymore because all we do is prepare for the test... I quit, goodbye." Watch media talking heads complain about government's lack of concern about illegal immigration, and watch the talking head du jour on CNN or MSNBC cry big wet crocodile tears about the highest dropout rate- ever- every night. Here's the real truth, and it's not a conspiracy...when you hear that the dropout rate has never been higher, know the goal of creating our own happy, contented, and uncreative workforce is succeeding. The tests are merely tools to sort and classify your kids. Get them to a private school or home school them while you have the chance- they don't have to take the standardized tests in those settings. You don't really think that the Business Roundtable Gurus would bring all the 50 cents an hour jobs back from the Far East and Latin America if kids suddenly started doing well in the tests, do you? Remember that the corporations know no national boundaries. So when you hear the word "Competitive", you must ask "With whom?", and "About what?" Is GM USA going to be competing with GM Europe and GM Far East? It is certainly not a contest between countries like the Olympics.
Of course, maybe you are like us- those who dare in these perilous times in dark places where no one is watching- like Nicodemus coming to Jesus- to actually have a divergent thought or two. Here's a novel thought...Let's try to raise those test scores a bit without spending all of our school time preparing for the tests. It has been proven scientifically that the Physical Education activity that your superintendents and principals have been deleting in order to prepare for the tests with expensive test prep materials is just what kids need for a variety of reasons- not the least of which is the improvement in cognition- a fancy word us educators use to impress people. It really means improving a child's ability to think and concentrate better through regular physical activity as opposed to spending more seat time practicing for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"- type multiple choice tests. There is much scientific support to show that a regular program of vigorous physical activity enhances overall skill performance in arithmetic, reading, memorization, and categorization. It has had brilliant results with senior citizens and children. A recent study from Canada created two groups of elementary students. One group spent an hour per day with moderate physical activity while the other group did test preparation activities during that time. At the end of the year, the group with the extra physical activity outperformed the other group in all academic measures. Additionally, Fishburne and Boras, assert that along with improvements in discipline and self concept, academic performance is enhanced by regular physical activity. Brain expert Simon Evans adds that physical activity actually turns on hormonal support systems in your brain. The activation of these systems strengthens brain circuits that you already have and helps you develop new ones. Further, continues Evans, exercise increases the blood supply in the brain. In laboratory studies, exercise increased the number of blood vessels that supply several brain regions. The effect of exercise then, improves nutrient delivery and waste removal from critical regions that affect mental function. Making a more technical point, Evans adds that an important brain area producing new neurons is the hippocampus- no, its not something you once saw at the zoo. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning, memory, and attention- one reason why more parents are choosing exercise for their ADHD burdened child over Ritalin. Exercise, then, induces new neuron growth in the hippocampus and improves performance on several types of cognitive tasks. Besides, physical activity is a lot more fun for kids than keeping their ever-growing posteriors in the seat doing more practice testing. Download Dr. Mahar's "ENERGIZERS" from the web or send for your attractive, yet inexpensive, laminated classroom copy. These involve a variety of organized activities which the children do twice a day for a short period of time, mostly physical in nature the activities combine a mental component and are done completely in the classroom led by the classroom teacher. There has been much research done to show that people concentrate better following a break- thus if there are more breaks, there are more periods where one's concentration is at its highest. Combining the positive effects of physical activity into the preparation for testing will improve student performance in the testing to a greater degree than the endless "drill and kill" seatwork kids are required to do. Hillman's work on the positive effects of physical activity on cognition in young people- and not just Alzheimer's patients at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign can also add further support to your argument that physical activity improves standardized test scores. Talk to your school principals and superintendents. Most of these unhappy individuals whose job evaluations sometimes unfairly hang in the balance based on these test scores only can think of more "drill and kill", more rubrics, more softwear, more charts, graphs and item analyses, more "Death by PowerPoint", and more consultants all with the goal to keep kids in their seats beating the information into their heads. Of course, that means we have no time for "unimportant" things like Physical Education, Music, and Art- all of which have been shown to augment cognition in their own particular way. Although these tests are really just a means of sorting your kids, unhappily, we are stuck with them. The test Nazis have taken over- they even stole recess when we weren't paying attention. Let's help our kids stay fit at least- physically and mentally. Let's fight to lower the incidence of school phobia, and we can even ultimately impact the high dropout rate. Mc Mahon demonstrated that aerobic exercise reduced anxiety, tension, and depression in adolescents. In addition, we can attack the problem of childhood obesity while improving those test scores. The powers-that-be won't necessarily be happy about those higher scores though! They've already sent the good jobs to the Far East. The first rule of Marketing, friends, is to Create Consumer Awareness- so get out of your gym, tell all of the faculty, show them the research, get to the school board meetings, call the newspaper- stir the pot! Archimedes once said, "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world!" A few patriots moved the world once and created the United States. Be a revolutionary and don't be afraid to irk a few people in the process. Read Ibsen's An Enemy of the People about someone who said what people knew but did not want to hear about diseases in the community or better yet, get out your Aesop's Fables and read The Emperor's New Clothes- then be like the little kid from the story who says what is really going on-It's our kids who will benefit. Don't expect to be loved though!