John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Smugly sedentary

The end of the semester approaches, and you can begin to smell the fear. I'll be on campus this afternoon to see students who are fretting about what their grade in the editing class will be. I myself have only gone grade-begging once. 

It was my freshman year at Michigan State, and I approached a couple of my teachers to urge them to assign me the highest grade they could justify, because if I got a sufficiently high grade point average at the end of the term, I would be admitted to the Honors College and exempted from the physical education requirement. 

They did; I was. 

At Ewing Elementary School, when I was in the seventh and eighth grades, our physical education classes consisted of a series of calisthenics to a recording ("Go, you chicken fats, go!"), followed by dodge ball. The instructor, who I think had been a physical education major at Morehead State, played dodgeball gleefully, with full adult male velocity and power. He particularly delighted in nailing the bookworm, but he had to work at it. I was surprisingly nimble then. 

In my sophomore year at Fleming County High School, the teacher had it in mind that the students should learn something about anatomy and physiology in the classroom. (He didn't last.) I, of course, got grades on tests that wrecked the curve for the rest of the class and was hopeless in the gym or outdoors. Class consisted of running laps followed by miscellaneous sports, with little or no direction. It was, I think, assumed that boys all knew that stuff. 

Little or no direction also marked my one term of phys ed at Michigan State, where the graduate teaching assistant passively observed us in miscellaneous activities. We had, I recall, one day of splashing around randomly in the pool. It was at eight o'clock in the morning, too, which made the exemption from further phys ed classes the more welcome.

There was no mention of anything like a fitness program, nothing to connect whatever it was we were supposed to be doing in class to the rest of our lives. It would by nice to think that physical education classes today are a little better developed, but I haven't gone looking. 

And, as you may well imagine, these various classes did little to mitigate my lifelong distaste for jockery. 

Today, at sixty-five, I am ten to fifteen pounds overweight and mildly troubled by arthritis in my feet and knees. But my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal. I am on no medications. Unless my body is harboring some as yet unknown pending disaster, I should have several more good years ahead. 

I can't say that I owe that to my phys ed classes. 

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