The New Curriculum: Patriotism and Physical Ed

I noted here a while back that the University of Chicago was dropping its swimming proficiency test required for graduation along with wider physical education testing. This kind of test is becoming increasingly unusual in US universities as this more recent report on another university, Notre Dame, replacing physical education with courses on “wellness, academic strategies and spirituality” indicates.

Things are moving in the opposite direction in China though where Tsinghua University is reported to have introduced a 50m swimming requirement. Apparently Tsinghua University first made swimming a requirement in 1919, but it was later dropped due “to the university’s popularity and a lack of swimming pools in Beijing”.

Now another Chinese university has introduced fitness tests linked to academic progress – Nankai University wants its students to ‘get off the internet, get out of the dormitory and get into sports halls’ apparently:

It introduced a physical fitness scorecard – based on a test, health check and how much a student exercises – for every undergraduate this year, the report said.

That scorecard is taken into account alongside their academic results, and it also affects eligibility for scholarships.

The university announced the physical fitness policy at the end of last year and said it hoped it would encourage students to do at least one hour of exercise every day to improve their “moral character”.

Some 1,206 graduates were the first to receive physical fitness certificates this year, along with their academic certificates.

Fifty-seven of the top scorers were also recognised for their health and fitness achievements.

At the same time as new fitness requirements are being introduced by Chinese universities, there are some startling developments at one US institution, the College of the Ozarks where the President, Jerry Davis has launched a new course:

dubbed Patriotic Education and Fitness — to combat what he sees as rising anti-American, antipatriotic sentiments in American culture that have been “bubbling for many years.” How much that is true versus how much that is his perception is certainly up for debate, but given that one of the college’s five pillars is “patriotic education,” the course certainly fits the culture of the Christian liberal arts college.

Speaking by phone with Inside Higher Ed Wednesday, Davis had criticisms of the younger generation but said the course — which combines elements from ROTC programming, physical education courses and the college’s patriotic education pillar — was about building a positive citizenry.
“We can all be patriots, but we all can’t be in the military. But we need to understand each other,” he said. “We think that higher education should take a leadership role in closing what we think is a cultural gap, if you will, between the 99 percent [of American citizens] that don’t serve in the military, and the 1 percent that does.”
“We don’t need that gulf to widen — we need it to close.”

Apparently the course includes both physical and military-oriented elements such as “map reading, rifle marksmanship, military organization and protocol regarding the American flag”. It’s the ideal preparation for good citizenship according to Davis:

“I want them to have an appreciation for the country in which we live. They should understand how it works, and they should understand more about the military and how it operates,” he said. “And they should come away with the idea that we’re all Americans, and we have these things — or should have these things — in common.”
“If you’re going to be a good citizen, we can’t think of a better way to prepare you than to take a class like this.”

This does look like an extraordinarily political step for an institution to take. It also seems frighteningly aligned to the latest attacks on academic freedom in universities in the UK from the Daily Mail and others.

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