I went to Friday Night Family Fun Night at my daughter’s school. I have been to many such events through the years. It’s a good way to get a feel for the school and its administrators. This was pleasant and well run. Over by the lunch room I saw an official looking flyer on the wall illustrated with something that looked like a food pyramid. I walked over to check it out, and it turned out to be a “Be Active!” poster or an activity pyramid.
The photo is below:
At the bottom of the pyramid, representing the desired majority of activity, was the category of “Active play: Playing Outside”. The middle section is titled “Aerobic Exercise” and calls for thirty minutes of jumping rope, dancing, bicycling, etc. three to five times a week. The top section is labelled “Sitting*” and adds, “one hour or less per day” of TV or computer, or presumably other sedentary occupations. What’s wrong with this picture?
I will go on at length in a moment, but first and foremost, where is reading in this pyramid?
Inside an elementary school they are advocating a lifestyle anathema to school and schoolwork. While asking young humans to sit and be still for most of seven and a half hours of a school day (including bus time), they are telling kids not to do that. They have an official poster telling these young humans that they should officially not be sitting for more than an hour a day for screen time. In other words, they are encouraging these young humans to behave in ways likely to make them social outcasts.
For the duration of this rant I will not consider the argument that we should let people lie, cheat, advocate bad ideas, promote social inequality by damaging these students’ social skills, or any other negative outcome because ‘they mean well.’ In my life I have more abused by the well-meaning than the malicious brutes of the world, and this is my blog. Well-meaning can sit in time out for this eight hundred words.
Studies show that people under the age of twenty-five read more than ever before. I am sure a number of factors contribute to this. For example, there are far more writings and kinds of writing available to appeal to young readers than ever before. More importantly, there are more platforms on which to read.
Last time I checked, reading was about the best possible activity for the brain, and definitely sedentary. Given my excess of college degrees, and extensive personal library, it is likely I have read a few books. I am also exceptionally fit for my age. These two statuses are not mutually exclusive.
My ten year-old reads many books every week. Hardcover books from the library, paperback books from everywhere, e-books on the e-readers (I own four), and in a pinch, she has read books on my smartphone. She plays tens of hours of video games per week on the PC and the handheld gaming system (DS). She watches videos on the PC, and movies with her mom. In addition, my daughter draws, creatively writes, and plays the violin multiple times per week. These are all sedentary activities, most of which involve the dreaded ‘screen time’. I’d wager that my daughter is physically fit, and can certainly outswim me.
At the end of this complaint is the simple question, ‘who thought this was a good idea?’ I haven’t even explored the fact that the internet and TV carry countless messages reinforcing social and generational behavioral guidelines. For better or worse, the internet and TV do a lot of social teaching, and without it a young human will have a hard time navigating social situations. (Can you tell I minored in sociology?)
Keeping young humans physically active is a great cause that recognizes social changes that have reduced physical play among the young. But once again a good idea has been taken to a ridiculous extreme. The truth is that sedentary jobs and lifestyles are prized and highly sought after in our society. Therefore, the “Be Active!” pyramid is encouraging young humans to eschew the most valued lifestyles of our society. Looking at it that way, perhaps it’s a good idea after all, indeed, a revolutionary one designed to overthrow the status quo. But I’m pretty sure they did not intend to deliver a counter-cultural message. And I’d like my daughter to be able to interact with her peers.
In the end, sitting one hour per day or less is not just bad advice, it ventures into idiot territory. We aren’t supposed to use such harsh and politically inappropriate terms, yet some projects are worthy of such things. We live in a society that is consistently willing to do the wrong thing if it feels like the right thing. At some point, realism must exert itself. And realism excludes a world in which anyone deemed a success sits less than an hour a day.