The mere mention
of formal exercise is enough to bring a shudder to the average American spine,
weak as it is alleged to be at present, but formal exercise must be resorted to
where there is no room or time for freer play. Exercise may not be popular, but
it certainly can be made more palatable by teaching it with imagination and
There are more
examples. Eleven months ago, the Greenacres School in Scarsdale, a suburb of
New York City, had a 32% rate of failure among its students (it was,
incidentally, the lowest rate of failure found in any public school in the
northeastern U.S.). As part of the pilot study, the physical education teachers
at the school added specific exercises to the existing program of tumbling and
gymnastics. Within five months the rate of failure had fallen to 24%. In a
retest last June 23, it had plunged to only 13%.
Last April, P.S.
28 in the city of Yonkers, N.Y. was tested, and the rate of failure was 47%. In
this pilot study, the homeroom teachers had been instructed in giving exercises
to their classes. A retest was made on June 28, and the rate of failure had
dropped by almost half to 28%.
this, Dr. Kraus and Miss Prudden have met with opposition. They once asked
permission to test in New York City but were dismissed with a curt "What
can we do about it if it is bad?" One high school official in New York
State was even more explicit in his refusal to allow the Kraus-Weber Tests to
be given. "Do you know," he was asked, "that roughly 25% of the
youngsters in this country can't do one sit-up with the knees bent because they
lack sufficient abdominal muscles, the muscles used in childbirth?" The
official snorted, "All I can say is that it's a good thing our boys don't
reaction has been far different. The ordinarily wary Swiss offered no
objections. "By all means test us," said a Zurich health officer.
"The problem America has today because of its standard of living
Switzerland will have 10 or 15 years from now."
But much more is
needed than isolated cases of cooperation. The problem of physical fitness
among youngsters is a national one, and it deserves a national program. First
of all the public must realize the seriousness and scope of the problem
be told that 1) a minimum of physical fitness is necessary for a healthy life;
2) at present 57.9% of U.S. children do not have that minimum; and 3) something
must be done about the situation, which is getting worse yearly.
As for specific
points in a national program, the following could be accomplished:
federal or state laws to make physical education compulsory. New York requires
state-wide examinations in academic subjects in high schools. There is no
reason why physical fitness tests could not be required by law. This may prove
difficult inasmuch as it would mean reversing a trend—Oregon, for example, has
just repealed its physical education laws entirely.
The armed forces
too can help. In Switzerland each boy is given a physical fitness card upon
entering school. When he is called for military service he must present this
card. If he has not passed certain tests, he is not eligible for certain
privileges, e.g., he is not allowed to select his branch of service.