"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, January 30, 2012

When Did Physical Education Become An Issue of Social Justice? Do School Districts Using Polar Bracelets Understand the Goals of Producing Fit Workers for the System?

The Suburban Journal  wrote about Polar bracelets in use at the Parkway School District (suburban St. Louis area) and questioning privacy issues involved in wearing them not only in PE classes, but also about the plan to have the students wear them 24/7 for one week and tracking activity from home.  We followed up on the story and included the video from the School Board meeting in December where the district representative said to the Board members:

We don't want to just assess fitness we want to assess behavioral change w/regard to physical activity patterns with our students and then we know we've done our job and this tool here will help us do that.

Other news services and bloggers wrote about Polar bracelets and their use became more widely known and researched.  As we wrote in the previous posting about the Polar bracelets, we wondered where the line was drawn between better health and surveillance.  Subsequent articles by the Revered Review included information about Polar's ability and data sets available to track health of students, including information about sexual history, diabetes and drug use. 

In one Iowa school district, apparently the use of data gathered from Polar bracelets echoes what the parkway District representative said in the Board meeting, except this behavioral change is not restricted to just Parkway or Iowa students, it is directed to all children on a global scale. As a result of a global forum held in Grundy and subsequent statement from the forum, schools should be:

“establishing physical education and health programs as models of social justice which foster a safe learning environment, promote the joyful participation of physical activity with appreciation of cultural, racial, ethnic and social and economic differences.”

So now physical education is to be looked upon as data driven and leveling the playing field (no pun intended) in terms of cultural, racial ethnic, social and economic differences.  The Revered Review ("TRR Investigates, Part 2: Rural Iowa-A Decade of Polar Monitor Use") has an excellent article on what it found in Grundy, Iowa and the research provided from its students for the last several years on a global scale:

The Grundy Center School District, located in the American Heartland, has 700 students who have been using Polar monitors for a decade. The small town of Grundy, Iowa, is where 2,700 residents call home and the county of Grundy has a total population of 12,500—a small rural community by any measurement.

However, its school district is on the leading edge of technology: All students have school-issued laptops, and its physical education department has used Polar monitors for years. In fact, Grundy is where Polar Electro researched its monitors in a school setting, according to Superintendent Cassandra Murra.

School Garners International Attention

This small school district has even garnered both national and international attention. Politicians and delegates from around the world have visited the school, many looking to the school as a possible role model for physical education, using the monitors, and the fight against childhood obesity........

Read more here from the Revered Review on the decade long use of Polar bracelets and how this research has attracted international attention and visits from researchers and educators.

Parkway School District agreed to pull the bracelets from their programs due to privacy concerns.  If the Parkway District or other school districts institute the Polar bracelet in the future, they might want to review the Grundy Iowa school district's use of data.  It has been used not only for individuals to track their physical progress, but its ultimate use points to providing data to achieve social justice via physical education programs. 

Is this the main reason for this increased use of technology in PE classes and the tracking of data on students?  From a 1998 paper, Social Justice in Education in 'new times', delivered to the Australian Association for Research in Education:

What we see within schools is that most of what is done is drawn into the production of the 'flexible' worker. Parent participation is seen as good, not in relation to the happiness of the child but for the way it can improve a child's performance in school. Social skills are taught so the child will become a better worker. Physical Education is important as it will produce a fitter healthier worker. In such a curriculum all areas of school life are attuned to the 'production' of a 'flexible' worker who can stake a claim for the individual or corporation in the market place.

Parkway District may have just dodged a bullet in terms of providing sensitive physical information of their children to unknown research organizations in the quest for social justice.  When the Parkway District employee was explaining to the School Board about tracking students and effecting behavioral changes, did he know that these behavioral changes were to "produce a fitter, healthier worker"?  Did he think or know that most of what is done in schools is for the "production of the 'flexible' worker"?

Here are some agencies in Missouri for the years 2002-2010 receiving funding for physical education outreach from the Carol M. White Physical Education Fund via the Department of Education.  However, you might want to check with your district if it purchased (as my district did) Polar bracelets with funding from its regular budget:


About Our Kinds, Inc. (MO) – $750,000
Serving 1, 205 rural, high-need students, the mission of this project is to wrap students in a blanket of wellness strategies by integrating physical activity into a child’s day at school and in the community. WAVE’s philosophy is that physical education and activity is not just an event or a class that you attend but a cardinal part of a healthy, happy life. This approach not only assigns value to engaging in regular physical activity but also challenges students to “Catch the WAVE.” WAVE is designed to expand and improve PE programming to make progress toward meeting State PE standards by providing (1) equipment and support to enable students to participate actively in PE and physical activity and (2) funds for professional development. The collaboration joins a community-based organization, About Our Kinds( AOK), Inc with three schools, two local governments and nine community groups. AOK is an experienced federal grantee. Under this leadership, staff and coordination is in place.

Chilhowee R-IV School District (MO) - $202,561
The Commit to be Fit program will help the district and rural community develop a fitness-oriented PE programs for K-12 that meets PE state standards and improves the instructional skills of PE teachers, Specialists, classroom teachers and after-school program staff.  Additionally, this program will implement nutrition components of the Comprehensive School Health Plan and Wellness Policy to promote health eating habits and good nutrition.  Through the Commit to be Fit program, the district will integrate outdoor activities into the PE program that motivate students to increase the number of hours that they spend in physical activity out of school.

The schools listed below are previous PEP winners and the entire list including other states may be found here.

Wentzville R-IV School District
P.O. Box 311
Wentzville, MO 63385
Contact: Gregg Klinginsmith




Kansas City # 33                                                                              $459,868
1211 McGee Street
Kansas City, Missouri  64106
Contact:  Nancy Bailey
(816) 418-1272

Ferguson-Florissant School District                                             $283,086
1005 Waterford Drive
Florissant, Missouri  63033
Contact:  Laura Beckmann
(314) 506-9052


St. Louis--Support a Child International  (no amount provided)


Young Women's Christian Association-St. Louis
Webb City R-7 Schools-Webb City
Dunklin R-5 School District-Herculanuem

(no amounts provided)


Excelsior Springs School District #40-Excelsior Springs
Cornerstones of Care-Kansas City
Maternal and Child health Coalition-Kansas City
Lamar Community Betterment-Lamar
Twin pike Family YMCA-Louisiana
Ozark R-VI School Distirct-Ozark
Pierce City R-VI School District-Pierce City

(no amounts provided)


Kansas City-Kansas City #33
Sullivan-Sullivan Public Schools
St Louis-St Louis Public Schools
St Joseph-St Joseph School District
Lamar-Lamar Community Betterment

(no amounts provided)


  1. Promoting physical fitness is all well and good, but when you tie it in to justice and standards you push society to attain a human specimen that is better than what nature provides. The goal is utopian and ignores the inevitable human casualties of a war on "unfitness." Don't we already castigate Hollywood for promoting an unrealistic body image? Now we have our school system doing the same thing and we are supposed to cheer it? We should be very careful about setting standards in this area because, when a bureaucracy sets a standard, they must also set penalties for people who don't meet the standard.

  2. Thank you SO much for keeping us informed on this stuff. It is amazing!
    The problem I have had so far, is getting people to understand how serious this is!


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