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Gym Profs Shun 'Team Sports' to Promote Social Justice

A physical education professor at Kent State University is encouraging fellow gym teachers to shun “gender segregated” and “team sports” to promote social justice in gym class.

Professor Jennifer Walton-Fisette is the lead author of “Moving forward with social justice education in gym teacher education,” a recently published article found in the peer reviewed journal Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy.

In that article, Walton-Fisette highlights the emerging field of social justice gym pedagogy, and calls upon gym teachers to impart social justice issues into gym lessons, such as sexism, body image, religion, socioeconomic status and motor elitism.

To the untrained eye, these issues may seem out of scope for gym teachers. But for Walton-Fisette and the dozen-plus academics who contributed to the recent issue of Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy, silence puts you on the side of the oppressor.

“If we are not including social justice education in our teacher education programs, then we are potentially perpetuating the problem,” Walton-Fisette told PJ Media, explaining that she talks to students about power and privilege in nearly every class.

“Some simple things that teachers can do is to not call students ‘guys,’ to not segregate groups based on gender or race, to create a curriculum that is inclusive and does not just include team sports or even U.S.-oriented sports or male dominated sports,” she said.

For many gym teachers, separating students by sex is de rigueur. But, Walton-Fisette tells PJ Media that dividing students by sex can highlight the humiliation that some transgender and genderqueer students feel.

“To divide students based on gender is not acceptable, nor do we want to make students be put into 2 binary boxes. There are children who do not identify as male or female, whether they are exploring their gender expression, are transgender, or genderqueer.”

Team sports, such as lacrosse and badminton, are discouraged too, as they encourage competitiveness and are often “white-oriented” or otherwise racially stereotyped. By spending less time on team sports, more time can be spent on other activities, such as yoga, dance, hiking, biking, swimming, and rope-climbing, Walton-Fisette says.

To be fair, many students often find gym class stressful or humiliating.

But instead of encouraging students to be resilient — or simply ignoring students’ feelings — Walton-Fisette says that social justice informed gym lessons can address the root causes of students’ distress.

“If we are not going to teach about social justice issues, then who will? We have the medium and venue to do so and I believe that if PE teachers choose not to teach about social justice issues, then they are perpetuating social inequalities and have the grave chance of causing more harm,” she added.

Looking towards the future, Walton-Fisette yearns to bring this novel approach to other gym teachers. She tells PJ Media that a new instructional book featuring “lessons and activities for a wide range of sociocultural issues” is also underway.