Yale should offer exercise courses for credit.
Students have four years to gain the skills they think they’ll need in life, ranging from languages to critical thinking and persuasive writing. They should have the option to strengthen their physical skills, if they so choose. An exercise class would allow students to try more adventurous physical activity and learn to engage their bodies more effectively. I am not arguing that we expand the distributional requirements — we have enough of those already. But I’m sure more students would head to Payne Whitney and take the time to focus on their bodies if it was part of their academic schedules.
That students should graduate with some physical education used to be a given. In the 1920s, 97% of college students were beholden to physical education requirements. Today, that number is closer to 39%, according to a recent study done by Brad Cardinal at Oregon State University. While Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth are just several among many schools that still require students to pass a swimming test, such physical standards are dropping. After 60 years, the University of Chicago lifted their physical education requirement and swimming test for the class of 2016.
But that isn’t the trend that Yale should follow. Tons of liberal art colleges have courses in weight training, sports, bodybuilding and other forms of exercise. At Columbia, taking a physical education class is a requirement, in addition to passing a swim test. Harvard, like many schools with an established dance major, has a range of classes for credit offered within the dance department. But Yalies have only a handful of classes scattered throughout the Blue Book that involve any type of physical training at all.
Physical training is important. Knowing how to push your body safely and effectively is by no means a given, and it is a useful skill that will probably outlast a lot of the knowledge we pick up in seminars. Not to knock seminars, but our bodies stick with us for life, and Introduction to Medieval Birthing Songs doesn’t.
A well-rounded education need not ignore the physical. Athletic activity too often gets a bad rap for being anti-intellectual. But this attitude advocates a false distinction between building our bodies and stretching our minds. In both scenarios, students are learning new skills and working hard to push themselves. Even if offered as a half credit, the inclusion of exercise training in the course curriculum would be a welcome celebration of the importance of physical health and wellbeing. There is no reason students shouldn’t be able to train their bodies as well as their minds.
I know that most people aren’t against exercise; They just feel that while physical activity is important, it doesn’t fall under the purpose of an undergraduate education. Many of my friends feel they should be taking courses that engage the mind, and running, playing tennis or power lifting should be strictly extracurricular. But those that think working out isn’t course-worthy material are buying into a distressingly narrow understanding of education.
Courses don’t need academic papers or problem sets to be worthwhile. Every semester, students take classes in art, architecture, creative writing and music composition. These courses teach them how to craft, construct and create real and beautiful things. Why is building our bodies any different? Improving the human body is a worthy goal, and one that shouldn’t be disparaged.
As Yale students, making our bodies more graceful or more powerful instruments should not be beneath our education.