Rose By Any Other Name

This week I came across an article entitled “Physically literate and physically educated: A rose by any other name” written by Monica Lounsbery and Thomas McKenzie. The premise of the article is that the term “physically literate” is not a change that SHAPE America needed to switch out “physically educated” for, and could possible damage physical education as a whole.

Before we dissect the differences between “physical literate” and “physically educated” I would like to state with great incredulity how quickly SHAPE America did something!

“Without widespread consultation within the profession (e.g., discussion and debate at national conferences) or extensive committee work or marketing research, the term physically literate replaced the term physically educated in the 2013 release of the U.S. national K-12 PE content standards. The lack of broad engagement in professional discourse and market research prior to this replacement is concerning given the extensive effort the profession previously undertook to define a physically educated person.” link

We hear all the time about how long it takes an organization as big as SHAPE America to make changes; however, it seems that when enough people in power feel a change is needed things can be done swiftly.  After reading this article I wonder did they move too quickly? How did they move so quickly from physically educated to physically literate yet completely ignore social media for almost 5 years?

This brings us to the question of why. Why was there a need for SHAPE America to change from the physically educated student to the physically literate student? According to Lounsbery and McKenzie there wasn’t a large clamoring for the change. They couldn’t find any documented criticism of the term “physically educated” or backlash against the 1986 (old) outcomes.

The answer may be in this publication from Dr. Paul Roetert, Chief Executive Officer of SHAPE America, which you can find here.

Although the case can be made that becoming physically educated in the broad sense is a life-long endeavor, most people identify physical education as a subject area taught within the school curriculum.”

What I surmised from this statement is that the name change was needed because people may have confused the “physically educated” student with the class Physical Education. Is that the only reason why we undertook this massive overhaul?

Another theory some physical educators have is that we are always battling against the “old” reputation of physical education teachers. We have an inferiority complex that has lasted over 50 years. Physical educators are always trying to prove they are “real” teachers. Due to this lack of acceptance we follow general education trends and allow the pendulum to swing wildly from one direction to the other. Lounsbery and McKenzie sum this up purposefully:

“… (in) response to the general education movement to emphasize morals, values, responsibility, respect for self and others (sometimes referred to as the hidden curriculum), PE responded with character education curriculum models. Similarly, when general education emphasized inquiry based learning, team building, and curriculum integration, PE followed with the movement education and sport education models and efforts to increase academic subject matter integration (e.g., math and reading) into PE. Efforts to keep up with educational trends, plus the profession’s own development, resulted in so many changes in emphases over a 50-year period (e.g., play education, developmental education, humanistic education, personal meaning, movement education, kinesiological studies) that PE has been referred to as the “chameleon of all curricula”.

The changes were made before the ESSA act elevated and acknowledged health and physical education as part of a student’s “well-rounded” education. Maybe this will settle our profession down and help them realize we are our own subject that should address the whole child but focus on physical activity and health.

Although the impetus for the change still remains unclear to me let’s analyze what the terms “physically literate” and “physically educated” are defined as. SHAPE America defines physical literacy as, “…the ability, confidence and desire to be physically active for a lifetime.” (link) Physical literacy should focus on the following:

  • A renewed focus on the importance of the physical educator in the school setting
  • Deliberate practice of well-designed learning tasks that allow for skill acquisition in an instructional climate focused on mastery
  • Recognition of the term “literacy”, paralleling the terminology used in other subjects such as health, reading and mathematics
  • Adoption of the concept within sport, recreation and other physical activities to create lifetime opportunities for all
  • Embracing the concept to enrich the quality of our own lives as well as those around us
  • A decrease in sedentary behavior, overall inactivity and obesity rates in our country

NASPE only defined a “physically educated” individual in the frame of what a “physically educated” student should be able to do:

  1. performs a variety of physical activities;
  2. is physically fit;
  3. participates regularly in physical activity;
  4. knows the implications and benefits from involvement in physical activities and
  5. values physical activity and its contributions to a healthful lifestyle. (link)

Now that we understand what the terms are, how are they different? Take a look at Lounsbery and McKenzie analysis of the outcomes (standards) changes that occurred when SHAPE America moved from “physically educated” to the current “physically literate” wording and revamped the standards.

When Lounsbery and McKenzie analyzed the old standards versus the new standards they became worried that physical education had moved away from the psychomotor domain and into the cognitive domain. They stated:

“Table 2 shows that most of the words remain the same, but those that have changed clearly reflect a shift away from doing (2004 standards) to knowing (2013 standards). This is of great concern for us, and it leads us to question whether the difference in being physically literate and physically educated is the difference between knowing and doing?” (link)

I am not sure I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Here is my breakdown of their argument. The tables below show their breakdown of the current and previous standards.



Standard 1

Change: “The word variety moved from referring to physical activities generally to referring to motor skills and movement patterns.  Competency in movement patterns and motor skills are no longer contextualized as being needed to participate in physical activities.”

Did we really need to have physical activity in that standard? Where else would we be demonstrating competency in motor skills and movement patterns? Aren’t motor skills and movement patterns physical activity? Standard 1 does not support their fear that we are moving from doing to knowing.

Standard 2

Change: “Understanding is changed to applies knowledge.  Application to learning and performing physical activities is removed.

Applying knowledge is a step toward movement not away from it. The subtraction of physical activities and replacement of movement and performance does not mean that physical activities are eliminated. I don’t know any movements or performances applying standard 2 that aren’t physical activities. The change to Standard 2 does not support the argument that movement is being replaced with sedentary learning.

Standard 4 (old) Standard 3 (new)

Change: “Adds demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve.”

Lounsbery and McKenzie state, “The standard, once primarily psychomotor, is now firmly placed within the cognitive domain. A PE program now no longer is expected to actually improve fitness or engage students in physical activity.” There are numerous problems with this summary. The first complication of the argument is that if physical education see their students once or twice a week physical fitness is not a realistic goal. Physical education teachers are not fitness instructors. We can not control what happens outside of our class. Fitness is only achieved with regular exercise. Having students for 20-60 min of mvpa per week is not an attainable goal for students to achieve and maintain physical fitness.The change was necessary.

The second problem with this argument is that demonstration does not disallow movement. It is true that the teacher could allow a paper and pencil test to demonstrate but it can also be done by having the students demonstrate through movement activities. I have faith that physical education teachers will assess using movement activities over sedentary assessments.

Standard 5 (old) Standard 4 (new)

Changes: Reference to physical activity settings was removed.

Are we only teaching our students about physical education? I teach students who have lives before and after my class. I would hope what I teach goes way beyond just physical activities. The lessons they learn about teamwork, socialization, work ethic, physical fitness, etc., will be used not only in school but in life. The removal of physical activity settings forces the teachers to understand that we are teaching our students about life not about physical activities.

Standard 6 (old) Standard 5 (new)

Changes: Recognizing the value of physical activity has replaced actually valuing it.

This change makes sense to me. How do we assess if a student values something? Do we send out questionnaires? Have them document them valuing physical activity? Our job is to give the student all the information they need to live a healthy active life. What they do with that information is up to them.

Standard 3 (old)

Changes: Eliminated

I understand that we want students to participate in physical activity but we can’t demand they do it outside of our class. Physical literacy stresses the benefit of lifetime movement which will allow students to be engaged in physical activities before, during, and after our class. When we get students to buy into physical literacy they will naturally be physically active.

In summary, I do not believe that changing the changing the main objective of physical education away from the “physically educated” to the “physically literate” student is a negative. There may be a slight shift to the cognitive over the psychomotor is teachers choose to structure their class in that fashion. I believe that most physical education teachers will incorporate these standards and keep or add mvpa time to their classes.



2 thoughts on “Rose By Any Other Name

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – May 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  2. Pingback: Rose By Any Other Name | Living Active

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