The previous blog explored the pedagogical case of Patrick, a seven year-old boy with autism. He is isolated from his peers and is caught up in the same movement patterns and habits. Exploring his autism through bio-psychomotor and adaptive physical education perspectives the blog suggests a number of ways of helping Patrick to develop. It suggests that understanding and consistency can lead to significant improvements in both his approach to and engagement in physical activity. 

This week’s blog explore Deshane’s life and the conflicting things he witnesses on a daily basis. Loved and supported by his family and church he is also beset with crime and violence on a daily basis. We learn that his position as a black male has implication on what he can and can’t do, as does his impoverished upbringing. Finally we learn that trust, achievable goals and role models are three potential ways of making things better until such time as we achieve social justice. 


Volume 2.5 (Blog 100):

Ward, P., Goodway, J., Hodge, S.M & Petosa, R. (2014).Deshane: Young, gifted and black…and overcoming challenges. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 63-75). London: Routledge.



Deshane is an 8 year-old boy who seems to hold the hopes of his family in his hands. He is the youngest of two brothers and lives with his mother and grandmother after his father abandon the family before he was born. His late brother, the object of much of his father’s violence, died three years ago when he was crossing the road. Deshane’s mother works two jobs – as a maid and a waitress – to support the family and to afford the college education for Deshane that she never had – although she may have been capable of one had she not left school at 16 when she became pregnant with Deshane’s brother. Deshane himself is of above average intelligence, is good at maths and English but is overweight (the school nurse says he has been measured as being in the 86th percentile of BMI) but not obese.

The neighbourhood around Deshane and his family’s rented apartment plays a big part in his life. On the one hand the church community are very supportive of him and encouraging but on the other hand the area is rife with crimes such as drugs and prostitution. Many of the children in the neighbourhood are already directly and indirectly involved in crime and many have either dropped out of school or aspire to be involved in elite sport (which in the vast majority of cases is unrealistic). Playing out is difficult because there is no grass to play on and the nearest park is nearly a mile away and involves crossing several three or four lane roads only to find broken equipment and broken glass. There is nowhere locally to buy fresh fruit and vegetables but plenty of places to buy processed and/or fast food. Unsurprisingly, given the convenience nature of the shops and restaurants, the family’s meals are high in fat, carbohydrates and protein. The family’s lifestyle means that both Deshane’s Mother and Grandmother are obese and diabetic.

In another school Deshane might be considered gifted and talented in terms of his maths and English but his school doesn’t recognise such things. His teacher, Deshane feels, doesn’t expect much of him (indeed any of the black children) and often appears surprised when he gives a correct and/or insightful answer. He wants her to know that he likes school but she doesn’t seem interest. In PE he has a fun and active time, enjoying sport and the feeling of moving, but it only occurs once a week for 40 minutes.


The Pedagogical Case

Ward and colleagues present Deshane’s pedagogical case from a motor development, cultural and a health promotion/public health perspective before considering these viewpoints through a pedagogical lens and in the following paragraphs I will do the same.

By the age of eight the motor development literature suggests that Deshane should have better fundamental motor skills (FMS) than he does as a consequence of limited stimulation and involvement in physical activity (PA). Skills such as running (locomotion) and catching (object control) have been described as the “base camp” of the “mountain of motor development” but Deshane has not enjoyed appropriate practice, modelling or feedback on his activity. His mother, by working two jobs and being obese, doesn’t have the energy or time to be active with him and his local environment is not conducive to any sort of outdoor play. Without regular PA his development delays in FMS will certainly prove problematic and will act as a “proficiency barrier to Deshane’s ability to successfully engage in sports and lifetime PA. Without motor intervention (which can have a significant impact after 8-12 weeks and 16-24 lessons [of 30-45 minutes per session]) Deshane’s lower PA levels, inadequate fitness, and poor self-perception of motor competence will only serve to further inhibit his PA levels.

From a cultural studies perspective it becomes clear that Deshane’s narrative as a black American son of single mother in both high-poverty community and school is not unusual. His life presents him with many mixed messages. His blackness and maleness intersect with his high weight and improvised status. His experiences of violence and grief intersect with the support of his family and church and their respective encouragement and support and spiritual upbringing. As a consequence his ethnicity is largely reflected in his cultural heritage i.e. his social experiences, his way of life (i.e. food and music choices) and his material possessions. In this way his race and ethnicity are separate and are ideas constructed by society and not biology; as race, for example, is based on visible human attributes (i.e. skin tone and colour) and not genetic markers.

Blackness and maleness, for example, are depicted in stereotypical ways. Black males are better athletes but are less intelligent (society believes) than their white counterparts and therefore black males and their teachers are often led to believe this. To be intelligent, black and male is often portrayed as “acting white” or  “selling out” and is the focus ridicule. This in turn leads young men to underperform rather than be bullied. Simultaneously about 37% of Black youth are reported to live in poverty which is significantly higher than White (12%) and Asian (14%) youth. The low social economic status of their families can have “significant [adverse] impact on obesity and health”. Therefore, as a consequence of poor diet and a lack of activity in the home, it is vital that the school model good behaviour in terms of a healthy diet and daily PA.

While one long-term solution to the problems faced by an estimated 16 million children in the US who live below the poverty line is social justice this is not something that can hope to positively impact on Deshane or his community. Therefore there is a need for health promotion advocacy and intervention by the local community. The use of schemes such as program champions (people willing to bring community member together) and peer mentoring (a programme at high school level that connects young people with older students who live in their communities and understand their problems and challenges) offer some hope to Deshane. By using the positive and safe environments afforded by the church and school it is possible to enhance the plans these children and their families have for PA. It seems to be beyond the influence of traditional classroom practices in physical education and therefore teachers needs to work with the community to overcome the significant barriers that exist to a healthy lifestyle.

It is clear that there is a fair degree of “environmental determinism” (or put more simply, the odds and expectations are certainly staked against Deshane) that has been built upon social and ecological factors: “Poverty, disabling family structures, health challenges, violence, and personal and social behaviours…place children like Deshane at-risk.” Only by helping students to remain of a path towards positive health, academic and socioeconomic outcomes can the cycle be broken – but that requires some joined up thinking. Trust between teachers, students and communities needs to be developed, students need to set high but achievable goals and be helped to achieve them and they need positive role models. In many cases this means that physical education is not well placed to act alone (especially with one lesson a week). Consequently, before- and after school and church activities are vital and can complement formal physical education and help to help Deshane and millions like him.

Fundamentally, however, we need to continually strive for social justice but alongside that we also need to put the unity back in community.

What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.