The first answer is yes, a certain subset of students will always fail physical fitness tests because they are simply not athletic enough to pass. Few people would deny that some people are just naturally gifted at music and others are not. Someone who is as musically untalented as can be can learn the notes on the staff and maybe learn to play nursery rhymes like Hot Cross Buns or Mary Had a Little Lamb with one hand. Beyond that, we accept that music just “isn’t their thing.” We certainly won’t enroll him upon penalty of death (or unemployment) if he doesn’t pass university level music courses, prove membership in a music group, and obtain virtuoso status by the end of 30 days.
For some reason, though, this basic concept is lost when it comes to athletics. Instead, we choose to believe that everyone can be in top physical shape and a near-natural athlete if only they weren’t so lazy. But that’s not true. I will once again credit Sandy at JFS for the idea that components of physical fitness is primarily hereditary. (See MIA-All Sides of “Healthy” Physical Activity and Paradoxes Compel Us to Think Part I). I knew, of course, that athletics came naturally to some people and not others, but I wasn’t aware of just how crucial heredity is to fitness. No matter how much we demean and run physically unfit kids into the ground, they will never be physically fit enough for those standards. They weren’t *meant* to be athletes.
Aside from holding these children to a standard that’s impossible for them to achieve, physical fitness testing serves to stigmatize them in the eyes of their peers. Have you ever been the last person to finish a mile run? Consistently? Long after everyone else has finished, even though everyone with half a brain knows that a lot of them cheated? Point made.
That’s not the point of this post, though. I am now thoroughly convinced that, nowadays, physical fitness tests are designed so that *most* children, including obviously athletic children, will fail them.
I’ll never forget physical fitness testing during my senior year of high school when the government changed the rules for the 1-minute curl-up challenge. Before, someone would hold your feet down and when the teacher yelled “Go!” You did as many sit-ups as you could in one minute. If you did an improper sit-up, like when you lean to the side to prop yourself up or don’t sit up all the way to your knees, the person holding your feet would skip it. At the end, the number of proper curl-ups you did in that minute would be recorded. I am not athletic by any stretch of the imagination, but I usually scored in the 20s and 30s on that test.
During the 2007-2008 school year, something changed. Everything else was the same, but one thing changed that was both crucial and so shameless that I don’t know why more people aren’t coming to the conclusion that I did.
You were no longer *allowed* to do as many sit-ups as you could in one minute.
That’s right. There was now a three-strikes rule. If you did up to three improper curl-ups at any time during the test, you were forced to drop out.
In other words, a varsity athlete that can do 40 curl-ups in one minute, but who does three bad curl-ups at the beginning because he was just getting started, is now only capable of five curl-ups a minute.
That’s exactly what they do, too. They won’t say, “This person is normally capable of 40 sit-ups but he struck out of our stupid game.” They will say that this person, literally, can only do five curl-ups in a minute.
Millions of schoolchildren have taken that test, and most have probably struck out.
How do you think obesity scaremongers will react to that? And how many people know, or will think to ask about, what really happened in that gymnasium?