Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A brickbat for Labour

According to the New Zealand Herald, Labour is looking at imposing mandatory shorter days in the middle of the week for secondary school students to free up time for compulsory sports activity. This is a colossally stupid idea.

Labour’s Sports and recreation spokesperson, Trevor Mallard, is quoted by the Herald as saying, "I'm not saying everyone should play rugby, but encouragement—unless there are medical reasons—of some sort of club-type activity.” However, that mandatory organised club sports almost certainly means only rugby in most places.

I don’t doubt that Labour’s intentions are good: They want to fight obesity by encouraging physical activity. The problem is that this is the absolute worst possible way to achieve that goal, and not just because they’re na├»ve in thinking it won’t cost any money (note to all political parties: Nothing is “free”).

When I was in primary and secondary school, physical education, including organised sports at a lower, non-club sort of level, was mandatory “unless there are medical reasons”. All of the bullying that I personally experienced in school—all of it—and most of what I witnessed was directly connected to this “education”. Some of that bullying came from teachers who belittled and bullied students who had little athletic ability.

I developed a life-long hatred of participating in sports because of that physical “education” in school. I still resist physical exercise for the same reason.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

A few years ago, I saw a report about a high school in my home state of Illinois. They’d noticed that traditional physical education and mandatory sports participation was failing to instil lifeskills in kids and that it was, in fact, turning kids off of all physical exercise, just as it had done to me.

Their solution was to abandon traditional physical education and its emphasis on mandatory sports participation and move instead to setting fitness goals. They transformed their physical education department into a fitness centre, with machines like one would find at any gym that adults join. The result was predictable: Dramatically increased fitness and students who remained engaged in looking after their own health.

That is the correct approach, and I know it would’ve made a huge difference to my life. It would make a huge difference to all kids who struggle with and fail at organised sports by emphasising what’s important—physical fitness—and it eliminates the opportunity to bully kids who aren’t good at sports, or who simply hate sports.

Labour would never advocate that, though: First of all, it’s practical thinking, not a one-size-fits-all approach, but mostly because it would be very expensive to implement.

Yesterday I criticised the National Party for empty slogans. Today I crticise Labour for an empty-headed policy that’s the wrong solution for the problem they claim to be addressing. Like National’s signs, it’s simplistic and stupid and gives me no reason to vote for the party.

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