Reference: Hal A. Lawson (2020) Social Determinants of the Physical Education System, QUEST, 72: 2, 208-223 https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2019.1632214
The abstract and section headings: At its heart physical education (PE) is part of system that determines paediatric health and wellbeing. However, given the discrepancy of outcomes across different contexts and the sub-optimal outcomes for so many children and teachers, there is need, according to Lawson, to both improve and redesign the subject. Despite this well-recognised need for change, PE is not a neutral space. It has been socially and institutionally reproduced, is swayed by the effects of occupational socialization, and bound to public policy. Consequently, discussions about PE have become mired in talk about physical activity and how children’s participation should extend beyond school both now and in the future.
The section heading is: Theoretical propositions for research and development. Following this Lawson proposes 16 different theoretical propositions to help structure the co-ordinated changes he calls for in this paper.
Introduction and conclusion: Nearly 57 million young people attend America’s public and private schools and the majority of these either choose or are required to complete school-based PE. Given this, and several arguments beyond this blog [indeed the paper], there is cause to question whether high-quality, and equitable opportunities are the norm for most young people and whether high-quality, and equitable working conditions are available to most teachers.
Lawson argues that the two-component system of school PE and PE teacher education (PETE) is no longer fit for purpose because (a) families and communities are facing new challenges, (b) alternative models for schools exist, (c) digital-aged learning is developing quickly, and (d) higher education is changing. Given these changes, Lawson argues that the PE system is a perilous position. He further states that this is the case because there are few, if any, quality control mechanisms and no consensus what PE is (which is epitomised by the intra-subject struggle that rages over which PE model is best).
PE is currently based on an idea which has undergone reification to the point of obscurity. It, PE, has been positioned at the fulcrum of education, sport and health and while decades have transformed society, families and communities, PE has remained on a kind of autopilot. It recruits a committed, resilient, and stable workforce and prepares and then certifies those individuals who “fit the bill” and who then engage in similar career trajectories. Consequently, teachers, teacher educators, and doctoral faculty became one of the social determinants of the PE system.
Lawson concludes by suggesting that leaders in PE need to develop the social and organizational structures and communication mechanisms (which they currently lack) to mobilize and organised for collective action. In partnership with kinesiology and public health specialists, PE needs to open its eyes to the reified idea of PE and challenge the excessive variability, weak quality controls, internal conflicts, inadequate recourses and “insufficient, high-quality research and scholarship for practice and policy” [his words not mine]. To do this, PE needs to (1) identify, explain, and augment beneficial social determinants of paediatric health and well-being, (2) identify, describe, explain, and prevent undesirable social determinants, (3) facilitate the design, development, and improvement of physical education/physical activity systems which systematically produce desired outcome chains, and (4) substitute new institutional designs for a reified, anachronistic Pe system. Such an agenda promises a heightening and enrichment in the school-relate PE experiences of 57 million young people and enhancements in PETE and doctoral programmes in PE.
Tables and diagrams: The were no tables or diagrams.
The point of the paper: The paper argues that PE – as a combination of school-based PE and PETE – is broken. While this is not a new argument, Lawson’s solution, i.e., to join with kinesiology and paediatrics, is new. I believe that Lawson, who has long argued against the currency of PE and has long held researchers and teacher educators such as myself to account for their part in this, is seeking a new, system wide response to what he sees as decades of failure. While it is hard to comment on the robustness of his theoretical propositions for research and development (as I haven’t read them), his argument for change carries weight and isn’t short of a demand for accountability.
The main arguments: PE is broken in many ways and lacks the collective voice, the allies, and the ideas to make significant change. Only by joining forces and recognising that our subject doesn’t serve its key communities of students and teachers - nor does it reflect society, communities, and families – do we stand a chance of making worthwhile change to the experiences of the self-same students and teachers.
The importance of this paper: The metrics on the paper are not high and yet I would encourage many of higher education colleagues to have a read. Lawson has long been a voice for change and in this paper, he bangs a familiar drum. That said, he shines another light on the challenges facing PE and offers alternative perspectives on how to begin to make the difference that is needed.
The paper’s contribution to my knowledge: To be fair the models war idea stung a bit, and while the core argument isn’t new, the solution(s) is/are and it/they opened my eyes. Do I need to be less of a voice for change and more of an ally in change? I think I do.
Summary of the paper in one or two sentences: PE, as the combination of school-based PE and PETE, isn’t supporting the young people or young teachers in its care. To do this better we need to join with paediatric health and well-being and move beyond the reified ideas we have of PE and find better solutions.
To the Author: I would welcome a response to this blog. If you wish to write a response to be published on PEPRN, please email me – A.J.B.Casey@lboro.ac.uk with the final text.
About the Twenty 20 Vision Blog: For many years I wrote a weekly blog. In fact, between 2011 and 2021 I accumulated a catalogue of more than 450 blogs. But then I hit a wall. I simply ran out of energy and time. Consequently, 2022 wasn’t a great year for PEPRN. Following a modernization of the blog by Philte (thanks), and recognising my enduring desire that this break be a blip and not an end, I’m back with a new format and renewed ambition.
During 2022 I acknowledged that I needed to run PEPRN differently and over time the idea of a “Twenty 20 vision” blog emerged. This was, in part, in tribute to T20 cricket (which I love) and 20/20 vision (which I used to have) and in part due to the recognition that PEPRN needed to be easier to write and therefore sustain.
The idea, therefore, is for me to read a paper in no more than twenty minutes using an approach I’ve often recommended to my students but never actually done myself. For each paper I will do a shallow dive, reading only (a) the abstract and section headings, (b) the introduction and conclusion, and (c) the tables and diagrams. All other writing will be ignored. With this information to hand, I will then write the blog in no more than 20 minutes (thus twenty 20) using the eight headers above. Whatever emerges will then be published (after a little editing because I make a lot of grammatical errors typing that fast). The aim is to make paper reading and blog writing manageable once again whilst maintaining the integrity and usefulness of PEPRN. I hope I have achieved this, but feedback is welcomed and invited. Please let me know how I can get better at this and how the blog can better serve the community.