Wednesday, December 3, 2008


The bane of The Common Man's existence in elementary and middle school were the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. The award was created by Lyndon Johnson in 1966, who used the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (established by Eisenhower in 1956) to promote it and the tests by which the awards were won. So, every year, The Common Man and his classmates had to spend a full week of gym doing the shuttle run, pull-ups, sit-ups, the 100 yard dash, and other events designed to make The Common Man realize just how slow he really was. It's not that The Common Man was out of shape, mind you (that's what college was for), rather that he was just very unathletic. What little success he did have as an athlete was achieved largely on guile, aggressiveness, and dumb luck. But during these tests that actually measured physical ability, The Common Man was left in the dust by the Jeremy Beaulieus and the Jason Youngs of the world who were gifted with phenomenal speed, strength, and flexibility.

Despite his hatred of these tests, however, The Common Man appreciates their ability to help us understand what is happening to America's school children. According to a report released by the California Department of Education, the athletic prowess of their students is decreasing. The Sacramento Bee reports that "roughly a third of California students met all standards measured on the state's annual physical fitness test last school year. Elementary kids were even less fit; only 28.5 percent measured up. In Sacramento County, 29.1 percent of elementary students tested met fitness standards." This is in part, the D.o.E. believes, because recently constructed schools tend to have no actual gymnasium. Rather, they have multi-purpose rooms that double as assembly rooms or cafeterias. On many winter days, then, when it rains, California students are forced indoors, but without a place to play. And in several schools, the breakfast and lunch programs offered by the school leave the room available for only an hour anyway.

It is also worth noting that, according to the national Parent Teacher Association, 40 percent of elementary schools have eliminated recess entirely, and many more have cut it back. The pressures on educators to increase test scores in order to secure funding and save jobs, and the need to save money on school construction, has severely limited the exercise that America's children are getting. No wonder, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17 percent of schoolchildren are obese in America. Bring back recess and gym!

It's remarkable what power three little letters have. Consider: Recess, that disappearing hour of awesome in the middle of the school day, was awesome. This fixture of elementary school life for The Common Man allowed hours of freeze tag, kickball, and touch football for The Common Man as he grew up. It promoted social and physical growth and made Mrs. Seifert's fourth-grade math class somewhat bearable. The Common Man has only good memories of recess, except for the one time he got in a fight with Jason Magnuson in third grade and both participants ended up crying and holding their groins in the aftermath.

However, recession generally sucks. And according to the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, America is mired within one. Spawned by an unholy alliance of risky debt, high oil prices, and unsustainable growth, the recession has already dramatically altered the course of this nation by providing Barak Obama an easy victory over John McCain. And as it either drags on or is abated by new stimulus packages, the strength of the economy will have real effects on the U.S.'s ability to wage war in the Middle East, protect and support its allies, and counter the increasing economic strength of China and India (not to mention the military aggression of growingly fascist Russia). So it is fair to say that, like the worldwide Depression of the 1930s, the current economic crisis has a similar potential to change and fundamentally reorder the global powers.

By global powers, of course, The Common Man means the Disney Corporation. According to NPR, Disney's profits have slipped sharply as American families are taking fewer and less expensive vacations. Orlando, in particular, has seen a 10 percent drop in hotel reservations, and Florida has seen about a million fewer tourists this year. In response Disney has been offering free nights at its hotels and free food vouchers for its attractions. Disney is close to The Common Man's heart. It is, after all, where he and The Uncommon Wife fell madly in love after they snuck away from a dry wedding party to get liquored up at the House of Blues. But even so, The Common Man anticipates that Disney's bottom line will continue to suffer as more Americans cut back on extravagances, and the company continues to charge an arm and a leg to get close to Mickey.

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