Monday, September 13, 2010

Invasion of the (healthy) Body Snatchers: How the Government and the School System Tried to Control My Family

He came home with a thick, orange information package. I cringed as I began the daunting task of deciphering its instructions. The provincial government and the local school division had teamed up to enforce a healthy lifestyle on my son. It was full of "musts" and "must nots" and narrow definitions of health. Daily activity was to be approved, monitored, measured and recorded, and include cardio workouts that were at least twenty minutes (otherwise it doesn't count) and increased his heart rate but were not part of paid work but were enjoyable. Huh? Risk management strategies had to be studied, point by point. (Did you know that walking has thirty-one risk factors?)

I stopped cringing and I started writing to his teacher....

Dear Ms. G.,

I have received and reviewed the Phys. Ed. 30/40 Out of Class Information Package that my son brought home last week. I have discussed the requirements with him and have told him that this year I choose to not lie. I will not sign forms that include inaccurate or exaggerated activities. Instead, I will present a number of activities that he participates in that promote physical fitness, discovery of individual interests and an enduring active lifestyle as proposed by the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures Task Force Report.

My son's activities include:

Daily walks with our dog
These walks may be brisk twenty minute hikes or leisurely ninety minute strolls down backroads, through the bush, across creeks, wherever he & the dog feel like going. These walks promote his physical development as well as his affective development as he takes the time to care for our pet and enjoy nature. He is aware of the risks ie. poison ivy, bears, etc. and takes appropriate precautions using his common sense.

Regular bike rides
These rides occur 1 - 2 times per week, usually down backroads or around the gravel pits. They may also occur in town where he enjoys the company of friends or his grandparents. Physical and affective development are enhanced and risk factors are recognized.

Skating, shoveling, snow sculpting and tobogganing
These winter activities happen on a regular basis in our yard and on our creek. My son skates with family and friends and helps to keep the creek clear for this activity. He also works with his Dad to build a toboggan slide in the yard. As well, he helps to keep the driveways clear for our cars and for the school bus. Physical, affective and cognitive development are promoted, especially as he helps with can we make the slide higher? longer? faster? The risks are what make this exciting!

Yard work as needed
Cutting grass and raking leaves are completed at home, for free and at two privates homes in town, where the residents are no longer able to do it for themselves. He is paid for this additional work, but he also enjoys it. He gets a physical workout and he feels happy about helping.

Volunteer work
Volunteering weekly at the local food bank involves loading and unloading the food bank truck. The shift is generally 3 - 5 hours. It is hard physical labour. But it is the affective development that is truly strengthened as my son learns about helping in the community. Risk factors? Without any help, others may go hungry.

Part time job
Working at the local general store every Saturday and Sunday for 7 - 8 hours (per day) involves physical skills such as hauling propane tanks, stocking shelves, cleaning floors, etc. Cognitive skills include money transactions, sorting mail, filling out licensing applications, etc. Affective skills include friendly customer service, responsibility, honesty, trust. It is paid work. I don’t quite understand how that negates its value in my son's healthy lifestyle.

Organized sports
These are not promoted in our home as we value cooperation over competition, and artistic creativity over physical prowess. In spite of this, my son has always enjoyed soccer, and continues to play tennis on an occasional basis with his grandfather or his friends. The biggest risk is that his grandfather might still win the game!

I hope this letter serves as proof that we are encouraging our child's healthy development in all areas. If you would like to discuss my concerns, I would be happy to meet with you or members of the Phys. Ed. department.

I feel it is very important to model honesty and integrity as I try to raise my son to be a good person.

Sincerely yours,

Conni C.

(I am happy to report, my letter was accepted and my son's "alternate" activities were approved. Whew!)

©Conni Cartlidge, 2010

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