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High school physical education: A place to compete not necessarily a place to learn

Karen Lynne Sykes, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to examine how college freshmen make meaning of their secondary school physical education experiences. The study was also designed to explore the events, individuals or factors associated with their physical education experiences that influenced the ways in which students construct their meanings. Using concepts first identified in Kelly's (1955) "personal construct psychology", the study was designed to understand how college students describe their experiences in high school physical education and their current beliefs about the value and meaning of those experiences. A semi-structured, open-ended interview format was used to engage 27 college freshmen from a small private, two year college in New England in a discussion about their high school physical education experiences. This methodology allowed the students/participants to ascribe their own meaning to the experiences they had in physical education. Each audiotaped interview session lasted approximately sixty minutes and was later transcribed for analysis. Two overriding themes emerged from the data. Students recognized and have come to understand that athleticism means power and physical education has little value as a subject matter offering. Several factors contributed to these understandings. The most influential factor was student skill level. Skill level influenced interactions with and treatment by teachers and other students. In many schools it created an adolescent society where personal status and underlying self worth were accorded solely on an individual's physical ability. Curriculum content and teaching behaviors were also identified as strongly influencing student experience. Programs which had a strong team sport foundation disenfranchised many students whose talents and interests did not find avenues of expression in the activities offered. Closely aligned with participants' remarks about curriculum choices were comments regarding the lack of instruction. Participants indicated that little teaching was occurring and low-skilled students believed this put them at an even greater disadvantage. Participants believed physical education had little value as a subject matter offering. These beliefs were most directly influenced by their association with parents and peers, while indirectly influenced by grading schemes and contrasts with other more "academic" subjects.

Subject Area

Physical education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Sykes, Karen Lynne, "High school physical education: A place to compete not necessarily a place to learn" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9721495.