The “New PE” – Is It Hogwash?



The “New PE” – Is It Hogwash?Honestly, I’ve been asking myself this question since I was an undergraduate over 15 years ago. I recently re-focused on it when I stumbled upon a lengthy Facebook debate concerning what the New PE really is. Well, how can we learn the truth? It’s common to see the term used in titles for conference presentations, on PE equipment marketing materials, and on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The NEW PE will revolutionize the way students, parents, and administrators view physical education. It’s not like the OLD PE, because it’s, well… the NEW PE!

I did a quick database search in our professional journals for the term “NEW PE” used in article titles. It has been used a lot! Among the top 7 results I found a title from 1979, another from 1990, another from 1999, and more recently, 2007. “Enough Already with ‘New PE’ Rhetoric!” I say, “Amen!”

As good as the tagline may have seemed at the time (every 10 years or so since the 1940s), this marketing strategy hasn’t worked. Are students healthier than they were in 1979? Nope. Are they more active than they were in 1990? Nope. Are they more skilled and/or physically literate than they were in 1999? Nope. Do school boards everywhere value PE? Definitely NoPE!

I’ve visited a lot of PE programs during my tenure in this profession and I’d like to give my thoughts based on observations (and maybe even vent some). There is one thing that defines every outstanding PE program that I’ve ever seen. It’s not high-tech heart rate monitors. It’s not magnificent ExerGaming options. It’s not even a 22-pound manual of games and activities. IT IS a passionate educator working tirelessly to improve the lives of her or his students. In short – HOPE.

HOPE that the lesson plans that are implemented will provide a spark for learning, a jolt toward physical activity, and a thunderclap for lifelong wellness. HOPE that the children we teach will go out into the world and live healthy and productive lives. HOPE that young adults will find a joy and satisfaction in routine physical activity. This sort of teaching MIGHT include heart rate monitors and DDR systems. It MIGHT include SPARKfit or cross-country skis. It MIGHT even include old-school playground games—if they were delivered with passion and joy to a new generation.

Is it really that simple? Does successful teaching really rely on things that we as individuals can control? If so, why do we continue to struggle as a profession? Why aren’t our students more active? Why is physical education constantly under attack?

My observations tell me that too many PE programs lack HOPE. There are many great programs that are led by passionate teachers, but there are many being led by teachers that have had the HOPE sucked out of them. Their programs have become HOPEless.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the path we’ve chosen isn’t an easy one. There are demands, there are requirements, and there are unreasonable mandates.

Guess what? That’s the way it’s been for 30 years (maybe 50+). It’s what we all signed up for. Kids aren’t the same as they used to be – I get it. However, we are professional educators. This is the path we’ve chosen. Here’s some old-school wisdom – let’s suck it up and move forward.

Here’s my plea to any and all PE teachers. Teach with HOPE and passion. If you’ve lost your HOPE, get it back. Go to a conference, sit and talk shop with some passionate colleagues. If you can’t find something that works – please change your job. Move aside and make room for the more HOPEful. At a minimum – don’t poison the next generation of PE teachers with your toxic culture of laziness and excuses. If these words offend you, maybe it’s time for a gut-check.

Thank you so much to each and every HOPE-filled teacher out there – there are thousands of us. Let’s unite and carry on with pride and passion. Let there be HOPE – Health Optimizing Physical Education.

What do YOU think about “New PE”? Feel free to leave your comments below:

-Aaron Hart, SPARK Development Team Leader

PS – I’d like to thank Dr. Matthew Cummiskey of West Chester University for his HOPEful work and passion. This Blog article is not intended to discredit or disregard his work or the good work of others who have used the term, “The New PE.” Please check out the good work of Dr. Cummiskey at www.thenewpe.com. And another special thanks to Dr. Thom McKenzie who created the HOPE acronym (Health Optimizing Physical Education). If you want to find out more about the concept of HOPE PE, see:

Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Beets, M. W., Beighle, A., H., Erwin, H., & Lee, S. (2012). Physical education’s role in public health: Steps forward and backward over 20 years and HOPE for the Future. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 83(2), 125-135.

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  • Naostmoe

    I believe that you have run across the key elements in successful teaching.  Passion is something that we talk about in length to our classroom and physical education teachers in training at the university where I teach.  There is a quote by Lynn Chaney (wife of former Vice President , Dick Chaney) that reads, " a person may be successful without being passionate, but I have never met that person". 

    In my experience, teachers with passion (and I like your use of HOPE ) posses the driving force to build successful programs.  Some young people enter the profession with these strong feeling and hopefully others will develop them as they see and feel the needs of students.

    You are right, success is not ensured by the technology or even the games that are presented in physical education but it is helped along by "boundless enthusiasm" that a teacher transmits to their students.

  • Emilie

    Great blog, Aaron. I think you're right in many ways, and I've found in almost every profession, models and tools will come and go, and some will be useful, some will not as much. What makes the difference is the human being utilizing the tool, and the overall energy and emphasis invested in facilitating enjoyment and value in one's own health, movement and fitness.  Learning in any form is most effective when it is fun, and engages our total beings, when it challenges us, and when we come to understand how our actions can shape and change and help navigate our realities. I remember Project SuperHeart being really exciting, but I think it was less about heart monitors and obstacle courses, and more about this cool experiment, this fun and different activity in which we were all taking part.   My love of physical fitness, and mind-body-spirit health is lifelong, and I think much was influenced by an active and fund childhood.  Keep up the great work, what you are doing is vitally important!

  • Aaron Hart

    Thanks Emilie!!! Great supporting comments for those of us who love PE!!!

  • Matt

    For me, "New PE" is a way for me to explain to everyone else that this ain't your dad's dodgeball class.  We're fighting tooth and nail to show this through standardization, wrangling programs quality pedagogy and a focus on lifelong learning.  I don't have to convince anyone that lines are bad, but to anyone outside of our field, they think that's what it's about. 

    So I use the term New PE all the time, and my kids even buy into this.  I know it's important because they have said "this isn't how we did it at my other school..."  I recall in my PETE courses meeting a few of these gym teachers who hadn't quite made the transition to physical educator, and I have certainly met a few gym teachers nowadays. 

    When the NewPE becomes Regular PE, I'll be happy. 

  • Aaron Hart

    Thanks Matt - and that's exactly my point. We've been working toward quality physical education for a long time. It's not really the NEW PE - it's Health Optimizing PE. Thanks for your thoughtful comments - point well taken.

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