Physical Education

Where You Come From Matters

In our sociocultural course we have frequently been encouraged to incorporate diversity into our classrooms both outright and with subtlety. In the language curriculum this seems simple: read books with diverse characters from different social and cultural backgrounds, both for the purpose of discussion and to simply ensure that those cultures are represented. Lately, however, I’ve been considering how this type of cultural inclusion could be integrated into other areas of the curriculum; this week I’m considering PhysEd.

What does cultural inclusion look like in a Physical Education class?

Where is the line between appreciation and exploitation, and how do we ensure that we do not cross it?

Culture is a very precious thing to a person: it’s their values, beliefs, where they come from, the basis of all their knowledge, the very foundation of who they are. This is why it’s so important to make sure our students see their cultures represented in our teaching; it’s a way of validating who they are and signifying their importance. If all of our stories are about white people, if all of our math problems focus on white people and their white problems, we’re simultaneously excluding everyone else and backhandedly telling our white students that they and their problems are all that exist. We’re helping no one.

In the school where I was placed for Practicum A, I was in a large class composed of ~30% Indigenous students from the Curve Lake Reserve, and the local Indigenous culture was heavily promoted throughout the school. This fostered really insightful discussions during social studies, and the students brought a lot of their own knowledge and experiences to the learning environment which benefited us all. But, somehow, that was where the representation of our classroom diversity both started and stopped.

Math was white. In fact, it was white-collar white, because we had questions about the area of a pool, and then the deck around that pool, and then the pool house. All I could think was, do these kids even know what a pool house is? Because what I read from the students in the room was that it didn’t align with their experiences of social class, or my own. When I was growing up there was only one neighbourhood in town where people had pools, and those families owned businesses in town or owned the land that those businesses were built on. Most of my classmates lived in tiny bungalows on half-acre lots, or on one of the last farms north of Highway 7. And nobody ever asked us about the area or perimeter of that.

Where does that leave PhysEd, then? In my experience, pretty white. And there’s no reason for the absence of culture in PhysEd, because culture is embedded in sport; if you don’t talk about it, it’s because you’re purposefully leaving it out. How important is hockey to Canadians? Baseball to Cubans? Football to Europeans? Dance to Chinese? Cricket to Sri Lankans? And importantly here in Ontario, why aren’t we incorporating more traditional Indigenous activities, such as the ones we played at Camp Kawartha? The games that we teach students to play have cultural relevance, perhaps in multiple places throughout the world, and I think it’s time we talked about it.

Perhaps the lack of cultural inclusion in the PhysEd classroom is because there is fear; fear of misrepresenting, of offending, of exploiting. Yes, I think there is a line that teachers need to be wary of so that they don’t offend anyone. But that doesn’t give us a free pass to play Capture the Flag or Dodgeball every week. Our students deserve to see themselves represented in our classroom, just as much as they deserve to be exposed to the sports and activities of different cultures and their significance within those contexts.

Your teaching can reach every student. Your lessons can validate the existence of children in your classroom. Your activity can tell a child that they matter. Wouldn’t you want that for everyone?

Talk to me. Tell me where you think culture belongs in school; should we have a culture-check at the door when we come in, and pick it back up on our way out? Where does cultural inclusion become appropriation? Is PhysEd more/less “white” than other areas of the curriculum? Am I way off-base here (sorry for the sports pun!)?


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