Gym class sucks. I write this not as an unmotivated teenager who doesn't want to shoot basketballs for forty minutes and then spend the rest of the school day covered in a layer of rancid dry sweat. Rather, I reflect and contemplate as an adult (okay -- still unmotivated) who can look back and say, without bias, "Yes, gym class was crap."
I have an answer for those young people who ask rhetorically, in regards to schoolwork, "Why do I need to learn this? I'm never going to use this later in life." One, you will use math and grammar skills and history and science later in life. Indirectly, each and every one of these subjects will help you promote and market your sex tape. And a comprehension of these basic academic subjects is the seed to developing your intelligence further. The mental exercise of learning makes you smarter, not just about the specific subject you're studying, but about everything. It's not a coincidence that society's most successful people understand sentence structure and long division and the Civil War and evolution. Well, maybe not Antonin Scalia.
But gym class? No, you're never going to use your "standing around the outfield with twelve other people" skills later in life. The nonsense you're forced to undergo during gym class is as worthless later in life as it is when you're fifteen-years-old being forced to play European handball outside at 9:30 in the morning, in twenty-nine degree temperature, during second period, shirts versus skins.
I've been told by people involved in physical education that gym class has changed since when I was a kid in the 1980s. Now it's about individual achievement and exercise programs. It wasn't like that when I was a kid. When I was in school, gym class was all about doing laps. Because when you're young and you're not used to running long distances, what could be healthier than a fifty-year-old sadistic douche bag ordering you to keep running to a point where you're in physical pain, gasping for air? Gym class was like the first-episode-of-the-season workout montage on The Biggest Loser, with Jillian screaming at the contestants to stop falling down on the treadmill.
But let's get real. Yes, gym is probably a little less insane than it was in the 1980s and in the 1960s and in the 1940s; I've been told that gym teachers no longer choose a few of the popular, athletic kids to "pick teams", which used to be common practice and which assured the awkward children who always got picked last a future of twice-a-week adult therapy sessions and a little voice in their head that constantly yelled "Kill them! Kill them all!" But the problem is not that we need to change the way gym class is run. The problem is gym class. You can't really make gym class better. It's like trying to make the Keeping Up with the Kardashians smarter. You don't. You just get rid of it.
Gym class is not only useless. It also contradicts its purpose... unless its purpose is to belittle the fat kids. Gym class is not exercise. In fact, most of gym class involves standing around, punctuated with bursts of annoying activity that have nothing to do with natural body movement. In school, children do get healthy, but not because of gym class. Rather, it's from the latent health benefits of walking the halls all day, along with sitting in class which -- unintentionally -- prevents unnecessary snacking. Plus, in middle school and high school, you build arm strength holding textbooks in front of your pants all day hoping nobody will notice your constant erection.
If children are unhealthy, it has nothing to do with whether or not they participate in a gym class. Throwing balls at each other a few times a week for forty minutes is not going to offset the hours and hours that young people spend playing video games and eating McDonald's cheeseburgers. It's like hanging out with Charlie Sheen all week except for the two hours you spend at rehab.
Nonetheless, a school's purpose is not to keep children active. Young people should be in school to master basic academic curriculum, to learn basic social skills, and to keep the mall empty during weekday afternoons so I can buy socks without being run over by those weird emo kids with the blue hair and dark eye shadow. And if you've read a teenager's Facebook posts lately, you know that the youth of America is falling dangerously behind in basic academic and social skills. It's almost enough to get me to stop sending friend requests to teenagers.
Bullying runs rampant during gym class. Bullies love gym class because they have unsupervised access to dozens of smaller, weaker victims, along with an arsenal of supplies with which to torture: balls, nets, rope, and clothes-in-unlocked-lockers that can be hidden, stolen, and stuffed in toilets. I use "unsupervised access" because gym class is the one time of the day where bullied students are truly on their own. Many of you reading this essay know what I'm talking about. Gym teachers don't like to get involved in situations of bullying. Gym teachers feel that kids should "work it out" on their own. In fact, gym class bullying isn't really bullying; it's simply a healthy way to "let out some of that hormonal energy."
I've been told that bullying is a serious problem in schools. Want a solution? Get rid of gym class. Oh, and also don't let your son wear an ascot.
If I could speak to my high school gym teachers now, I'd ask, "What was I supposed to get out of gym class exactly? Was it supposed to improve my health? Was it supposed to be fun? Was it supposed to be challenging? Were we supposed to hate it?" Also, I'd ask, "Am I the only person who actually saw The Hurt Locker? A little overrated, right?"
I'm not exactly sure what gym teachers do for a living. Real teachers spend hours preparing their lesson plans. Gym teachers say, "Here's tennis rackets." Real teachers calculate grades. Gym teachers, at least when I went to school, graded students on effort... which meant everyone got a B.
Ah, but the traumatizing childhood nightmare that is gym class would be incomplete if not for having to get undressed in the locker room. Because at an age when you're most insecure about body image and the physical changes you're undergoing, I can't think of a more reassuring command than "now you have to be nude in front of your classmates, who will also be nude." Yes, gym class prevents teenagers from becoming overweight by creating so much anxiety that they develop eating disorders.
American's hidden secret shame is that, for decades, up until the 1970s -- I'm totally serious about this -- boys in gym class were forced to swim in the nude. Luckily, Jerry Sandusky is no longer running the school system.
I missed out on the water orgy by a few decades, but swimming classes were still the worst part of gym. When I went to high school, in upstate New York, we were required by state law to complete all of our swim classes. You could miss the rest of gym for weeks at a time, but not swimming class, which consisted of changing into a bathing suit, sitting on the bench for attendance, getting into the pool, pretending to swim for ten minutes while actually just walking on the pool bottom surface and splashing your arms around, then getting out of the pool, showering, changing back into your clothes, and then getting to your next class late.
It's horrifying to think that neurosurgeons and scientists and mathematicians would never have had the chance to attend college and accomplish their important work had they missed "backstroke day" in tenth grade. Meanwhile, famous Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps was just arrested for DUI. Just sayin'.
Billy Bob Thornton starred in the 2007 comedy Mr. Woodcock, about a sadistic gym teacher who took pleasure in torturing his students. It was sort of funny. But by the end of the film, it's revealed that Thornton is actually a pretty decent guy who is simply doing his job with integrity and professionalism. Uhh... what?! Yes, and at the end of Nightmare on Elm Street we find out that Freddy Krueger is a loveable dad who cures cancer.
Oh, of course there are many kind and thoughtful gym teachers. Growing up, I even had a few. But this is irrelevant. There used to be telegraph operators who were very good at their job. But it's no longer a necessary profession. And when gym teachers lose their jobs, if they want to remain in the school system, there are still many other useless occupations to consider. How about "guidance counselor?"