Play Everywhere: Teaching Physical Education for a Better World (Why and How)
PE can make the world better…
But it has to be more Democratic, and it has to be about meaningful physical activity that contributes to personal, social, and ecological well-being (not fitness, skills, or the so-called obesity crisis…though each of these things matter). Our unique contribution to a better world is through Play: we develop Players, Playgrounds, and a Play Ethic that contributes to the formation of “a more perfect union” that embodies our highest values and leads to the well-being of all. A more playful society is a more peaceful society, and nobody can develop a playful society better than we can. PE is about more than Physical Education. It is about Playing Everywhere.
This all requires some justification and a bit of unpacking. Allow me to outline:
***What follows is an outline of a conference presentation. It will be published in the conference manual, so I’ve kept it all very simple and used bullet points for an easy flow, hence the funky style.
· This country’s guiding documents outline our Moral Standards and highest values:
— Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness FOR ALL.
— Justice, Diversity, Freedom, Consent, Solidarity, Equality, Transparency, etc.
· Democracy is the way to organize around our moral standards.
· But we are a Plutarchy [Plutocracy(rule by the rich) + Oligarchy(rule by the few)], masquerading as a Democracy.
· This Plutarchy is destructive domestically (at home) and internationally (around the world).
· Many of our systems are largely IMMORAL (not conforming to moral standards, and often the exact opposite of them).
· But they receive our CONSENT(our participation grants these systems legitimacy). We have faith in them (but why?????)
· Education is a governmental organization that CONSENTS. It fuels the Plutarchy because it is for jobs.
· And Education works through INDOCTRINATION via STANDARDIZATION. It is largely:
— AUTHORITARIAN (obedience at the expense of freedom)
— FASCIST (radical authoritarian ultranationalism with forcible suppression of opposition — in other words: obey our authority; we are right, and the best; everybody else is wrong or evil)
— DICTATORIAL (one “leader” with power who sets the terms).
· Put simply, Education is often IMMORAL, as it does a poor job of embodying our moral foundations. It does a poor job of shaping people who embody our moral foundations, and it does a poor job because it isn’t FOR Democracy. It is for jobs, and thus, it is for Plutarchy. And yet, we have faith in it?????
· BUT EDUCATION IS PROBABLY THE ONLY AND BEST HOPE FOR CHANGE. It is the only place we can possibly escape the PROPOGANDA that bombards us from every direction. We should have HOPE in its future, and FAITH in our moral foundations.
· To be the change, it must embody our moral standards. It must be for Democracy. It needs to DISSENT, rather than CONSENT (to our current systems).
· IT MUST BE (more) DEMOCRATIC!! How will Authoritarian Education make Democracy possible????? It won’t.
· It must be more:
— COHERENT (grounded in our moral foundations; always addressing what is at stake locally and globally; constantly reminding all stakeholders WHY school and all public institutions exist in the first place: for the WELL-BEING OF ALL)
— THERAPEUTIC (teachers must see their students with unconditional positive regard; the climate and culture at schools must be physically and psychologically safe; school should be a place where students can spend time processing their experiences and “their world” in the midst of caring adults)
— RESPECTFUL (teachers model respectful dialogue; emphasize and respect the notion of consent)
— DIALOGICAL (open up space for perspective taking and sharing; encourage productive struggle and cooperation; encourage difficult conversations…a good Democracy requires that its people can speak open and honestly and are willing to listen)
— INCLUSIVE (it must affirm difference; meet people where they are at; be culturally relevant and responsive; begin with the local context, THEN blend with standards when appropriate; meet all student needs; work at different time-scales)
— CRITICAL (it must diagnose and critique all systems; it must expose power imbalances; it must examine history from multiple perspectives, particularly from those who have been marginalized; it must imagine better systems and take steps toward transforming them; it must challenge students to understand their own world-views and how they have constructed them)
— SOCIALLY JUST (all voices are heard; negotiated curriculum; more SELF-assessment; power is distributed throughout the class; trauma responsive; anti-racist, etc.)
— ECOLOGICALLY JUST (all students should leave school SEEING IN RELATION, knowing that everything is connected to everything else and that every action matters; sustainable/regenerative strategies should be practiced in school)
— PLAYFUL, ENJOYABLE, CHALLENGING & MEANINGFUL (meaningful struggle — people are willing to struggle when it’s meaningful; students must see “the point” or “a” point to education for it to work)
— SERVICE-ORIENTED (it should spill out into the community; local stakeholders should be involved, along with the school, in transforming the community; school is for communities of well-being)
— EMERGENT (chaorder; spontaneity; working off-script)
· IT MUST GO THROUGH MEANING (no significant amount of learning will “happen” or “stick” if it isn’t MEANINGFUL. It must GO THROUGH meaning. It must meet people where they are at; it must respect different meanings; it must honor a student’s context)
· When school is more Democratic, people are more creative and authentic. When people are more authentic and creative, they FEEL ALIVE.
· When people feel alive, they act constructively. They CONSTRUCTIVELY CREATE, rather than DESTRUCTIVELY CREATE.
· When people FEEL ALIVE and SEE IN RELATION, they are capable of being responsible citizens who embody our highest values and who create systems that conform to our moral foundations. And these moral systems in turn create moral citizens.
HOW CAN PHYSICAL EDUCATION CONTRIBUTE TO A BETTER WORLD?
· It teaches students that play is valuable.
· It develops a Play Ethic (necessary to balance the Work Ethic, especially the Neoliberal Work Ethic on steroids that we have)
· It is a meaningful source of knowledge (of both self and other)
· It provides space for the functional expression of significant human needs, drives, and urges (to play, compete, discover, explore, express, etc.).
· It can transform competition into a non-zero sum game (all people benefit), thus influencing all social/economic transactions in positive, functional, moral ways.
· It develops motor coordination (personal coordination amplifies the ability to socially coordinate)
· It shapes and influences movement cultures and subcultures in positive ways (movement cultures, our “playgrounds,” provide the fuel for living in a society like ours; we must honor the need to play, but we must also play in ways that lead to the formation of a more perfect union. Our movement cultures, in other words, are a form of communion, when done well).
· It strengthens sympathetic bonds and connections with “others” (including non-humans), enhancing the development of shared values (Democracy).
· It critically examines movement cultures and subcultures, holding them accountable to our moral foundations.
WHAT ARE THE SHIFTS THAT PHYSICAL EDUCATION NEEDS TO MAKE IN ORDER TO DO ALL THIS?
· NOT TRY TO BE LIKE THE REST OF SCHOOL (we may have to “play the game” and speak the language to “exist” in schools, but we better not believe for one second that it’s our true and most effective identity! Also, DO NOT BE ASHAMED OF PLAY!!! DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR IT)
· RETHINK ASSESSMENT (consider eliminating grades; give more power to the students; let them self-assess and choose their own goals on their own timeline; stop judging students; let students decide on which standards they are assessed on and how they are assessed; use qualitative assessments more than quantitative)
· PROVIDE AN ENRICHED MOVEMENT ENVIRONMENT (differentiate; provide a variety of activities; move away from whole-class instruction; ask students what they like; play small-sided games)
· USE PLAY COMMUNITIES (students choose from a set of options and “play” for 2–4 weeks. They are in charge of set-up, take-down, refereeing, creating and adjusting rules and agreements for their communities)
· REFRAME COMPETITION (Competition is COMMUNION; we Play not to win, but to Play, Meet Challenges, and Challenge others; sport is a way we love each other; the ideal of every game is the well-played game, not the win; losing and winning aren’t a big deal; your opponent is your partner; the best part of sport is the Sweet Tension; cheating disrespects your opponent and the game)
· MORE COOPERATIVE ACTIVITIES
· CRITICALLY EXAMINE MOVEMENT CULTURES AND SUBCULTURES (ask students if professional sports, youth sports, the fitness industry are actually leading to well-being; diagnose where these subcultures are obstructing the realization of our highest values;
· REFRAME HEALTH (use the term wellness or well-being instead; teach students that health and well-being are ecological concepts: you can’t be healthy if your health comes at the expense of others’ health. Health includes the health of the system, ALWAYS; don’t fixate on the body or on obesity)
· RETHINK OUR APPROACH TO NUTRITION (keep it simple: JUST EAT REAL FOOD — -NOT TOO MUCH — -NOT TOO LITTLE — -EAT A VARIETY OF IT — -EAT ETHICAL WHEN POSSIBLE; don’t worship “evidence,” MyPlate, or any other government/industry influenced research; the evidence is mixed, complex, and contradictory on just about everything in nutrition, so be careful when referring to “evidence”; don’t demonize fat or salt; don’t demonize any nutrient; don’t worry much about calories; teach them to pay attention to what they eat and how they feel; 80–20 rule: 80% of the time be “good” and 20% eat whatever)
· DISTRIBUTE THE POWER IN THE CLASS (negotiated curriculum; student voice/choice; ask students what they like and what they want; make deals with them when you are asking them to do something they hate but that you really really believe in; work together to decide the rules/agreements of the class)
· ADMIT THAT WE ARE THE PROBLEM WHEN WE CAN’T MEET STUDENTS’ NEEDS (reluctant movers are not wrong; if you can’t meet their needs, tell them it’s your/our bad; they don’t NEED everything we give them; don’t be so arrogant to think you know better, even though you might; empower students to change the conditions of class so that they have more opportunities to move meaningfully)
· PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO MEANING (dance can be fun or terrifying — we need to respect the students who find it terrifying and not force them to do it. We can, however, delicately get them to make tiny baby steps, on their terms, so that the meaning of dance can evolve over time to something more enjoyable; the teacher’s job is to get students to identify their meanings and then transform them into something more productive)
· TRANSFORM THE WORLD INTO A PLAYGROUND (stairs aren’t just for walking up and down — they are also for playing on, jumping down, etc. Take the ordinary aspects of the environment and show students how they can become extraordinary: in other words, everything is a playground)
· ENCOURAGE OUTDOOR PLAY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE (we should be moving with other non-humans as well; being in “nature” is revitalizing and helps us to appreciate the interconnectedness of our ecosystems)
· ENCOURAGE MINDFUL MOVEMENT (spend time paying attention to the feel of the body in motion or in stillness)
· RETHINK EXERCISE (avoid exercise for superficial, vain reasons; worship lean/slim bodies and present them as the norm)
· RETHINK THE BODY (it’s not a machine, and it’s not an island. Don’t worship a particular “shape” of body. Go look up Frank Forencich and his Exuberant Animal model of THE LONG BODY. The LONG BODY is the person, habitat, and tribe)
· Etc., Etc. Etc.
I know I am leaving a lot out. If you can think of more or would like to add something, I would love to hear from you!