Gym Class Used to Be So Much Worse

To all those nerds who hated — or are still suffering through — gym class, take heart. It used to be much worse. Physical education in centuries past was sadistic and just plain bizarre. Let’s start with gym class’s stereotypical nightmare: Dodgeball. Many schools today have banned the game, or they use pillow-like balls in place of the welt-creating rubber missiles of yesteryear. If you’ve ever been hit by a strategically aimed ball, you’ll understand why the creampuffs of this generation have all but banned it. Setting aside the more damaging part of gym class, let’s move on to one of the most humiliating ones: Square dancing. Yes, from the 1920s to the 1980s, square dancing was part of the physical education curriculum. If your desire was to major in dorkiness, square dancing would have been your go-to class. Moving on, rope climbing was a thing. It was the perfect storm of regrettable features. It was dangerous — thanks to the paper-thin mat that was placed under the rope to break your fall — the inattentive spotters, the rope burns on your hands and legs, and the grand spectacle of one student climbing, while the rest of the class watches. It was designed to give you a PhD in humiliation. Finally, there was the Presidential Fitness Test put into place in the 1950s by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The test was better suited to military training than to gauging the fitness of youth. The test, which included pull-ups, curl-ups, an endurance run, and a test of flexibility, was designed to point out each student’s weaknesses. Talk about an instant ticket to the Hall of Shame. If you were in a gym class today, you would most likely find yourself scratching your head. With events like aerial arts class (think Cirque du Soleil), fitness fandango (a.k.a. dancing), hoola hooping, shadow boxing, and yoga, you have to wonder if flying off the handle and jumping to conclusions will be included on next year’s lineup in gym class.