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SIMMONS: Kids need exercise, not bureaucrats
First lady Michelle Obama's decision to fight childhood obesity is a courageous battle of good intentions. There's no need to cite the overwhelming statistics that prove America's couch potatoes are breeding overweight spuds. And there's no need to recite the growing list of corporations and nonprofits that are lining up to partake in the new Fight Fat Movement.
It is necessary, however, to point out what lurks in the recesses of the federal get-in-shape-quick scheme.
Generations of Americans who were weaned on genuine health and physical-education classes know that it doesn't take the CDC or the first lady of the land to tell us that our youths are what they eat and a product of our own making.
Physical education fizzed out once we substituted health education for sex education, outlawed dodge ball as a bully's sport and kicked gym class to the curb.
Even messages from the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports were overshadowed by Oprah's battle of the bulge and a metrosexual trend that left young people asking more questions than grown folk could answer.
And then came Mrs. Obama and her Mr.-Bush-broccoli-is-good-for-you agenda.
She even got Congress' ears perked up. On April 21, the House passed the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act. It's nickname is FIT, but it's not fit to be passed by the Senate.
As expected, the bill would bog down teachers and administrators in red tape, such as telling the feds about their age-appropriate gym classes and curricula, and details on the gym facilities.
In other words, the legislation would force states and school districts to hire so many bureaucrats the schools wouldn't be able to afford any gym teachers.
Does Mrs. Obama have ulterior motives?
Or does she simply want families to eat healthier and be more active?
If it's the former, tax-and-spend liberals will soon be ramming more than a soda tax into our thinning wallets.
If it's the latter, cut out a couple of the lattes, put down the Deborah Simmons romance novels, unplug the video gaming box, plug in Wii fitness or sports, and get busy.
We don't need no stinking Federal Fitness Sheriff.
We know children are shoveling in foods that aren't good for them. Just as we know sex ed isn't teaching youths a healthy lifestyle.
What's most worrisome is we continue to substitute government one-size-fits-all policies for common-sense parenting.
If you want phys-ed programs in your schools, tell the local powers that be. If you want a run-walk track or swimming pool at your local rec, make it happen.
When we relinquish power to the inside-the-Beltway crowd, we get stuck with the short end of the proverbial Big Brother shtick - like warnings that say smoking is bad for your health.
A group of "experts" are meeting this week at the University of Northern Iowa on, ta da, physical education. Its title is the Global Forum for Physical Education Pedagogy 2010, and that 2010 likely means there are more such confabs to come.
That could be a good thing if there are no federal mandates to level the playing field lurking in the shadows.
Shellie Pfohl, head of the president's council, seems to get it. In an interview Wednesday with DesMoinesRegister.com, here's how she responded to a question about the "pressure to boost math and reading scores" pushing PE to the back burner: "We're seeing some unintended consequences where schools are counting the time that kids walk between classes as physical activity and using that as an excuse to cut physical education. That is completely wrong. We know that physical education can be an integral part of the school day. So it's a matter of principals and superintendents understanding the importance."
Now, we know principals and superintendents used to chew gum and walk at the same time - that is, they made sure public schools had mandatory academic courses and mandatory gym classes.
Public schools have strayed from their local missions and now follow Washington's lead.
But you don't need me to tell you how to take back your schools, do you?
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.
About the Author
Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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