There are almost 6.2 million public school students in California.
No one has an adequate count on how many of those students are “non-binary,”, meaning they do not identify as either female or male. They may view themselves as part male and part female. And in some cases they see themselves as female one day and male the next. It’s a safe guess that the number of non-binary students in California could barely populate a city the size of Ceres.
It is worries about the psyches of primarily non-binary students that has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to include in the proposed state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 to suspend physical fitness testing for three years that the state requires in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades. The suspension is designed to give experts time to devise standards that would assure non-binary students will not be body shamed or bullied as the result of taking the tests.
This is a bizarre decision on many levels.
First, the test as currently designed was done so to give youth a report card on not just their fitness and health. It includes determining an individual student’s body mass index (BMI) ranging from “very lean” to “needs improvement – unhealthy.”
The idea is not just to determine where students were on a scale or health and fitness but to nudge students into improving just like grades do in an academic classroom.
Is the test really hurting students? No one knows because that determination was not made.
It makes no sense to walk away – even temporarily –from a test that may have a positive impact on millions of youth because it might undermine the self-esteem of 85,000 or so students.
It would have made more sense to simply allow students opt to not take the test for whatever reason they saw fit without revealing if they are non-binary or simply don’t want to do it.
Then there is the issue is how you tailor test components such as determining BMI if the very definition of a non-binary individual is one who has a fluid gender identity or none at all? You can make weight, height, body fat, and other charts measuring physical components that go together to give you a picture of a person’s health and fitness levels based on the general physical physiology parameters of a male versus female but how do you do that when non-binary doesn’t as much eschew such boundaries as it rejects them?
There could literally be dozens upon dozens of composites needed to be created for testing parameters for various precise definitions of a non-binary student as opposed to simple male and female.
And while the schools should work to avoid body shaming and such, how can you do that when, by the very fluid definition of being non-binary, you may not know what the student literally identifies as from day to day? That also means testing as a fifth-grader they may view their gender or lack of gender one way, define it differently as a seventh -grader, and then see the concept of their gender in an entirely new light in the ninth grade. By definition you would not be comparing one person’s progress as much as starting over each time with someone different.
Since we are getting into the thick weeds of victimology with a simple physical fitness test, let’s talk about body shaming for a second by going down memory lane.
In my case, it’s seventh grade. It is also puberty time.
I was 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds. My mom might have called me husky, jerks both young and old called me fat, and I knew I was overweight.
I had plenty of classmates that weren’t. They almost all weren’t jerks. Among them was Lello Carnesecca. Every seventh grade class has a Lello Carnesecca. Blessed with his genes, a desire to play sports and early onset of puberty Lello as a seventh-grader had an honest-to-goodness six-pack, was athletic, and shaved. He also was smart.
Lello could do laps around the playground in PE with ease. As for me it was short spurts of jogging and then walking. He could do push-ups like a Marine recruit near the end of basic training. Pull-ups were a snap for him. I still can’t do a legitimate pull-up to this day.
Why isn’t Newsom worried about the impacts that puberty might have on the potential for body shaming by those who identify as male or female that haven’t reached puberty as opposed to those that have?
I was not body shamed by any classmates after taking the “test” of the day – the President’s Fitness Test – even though I was fat, a major klutz, and “performed” hideously on the test. There also happened to be another kid close to my size that wasn’t a klutz and tested in the middle – better than a lot of average or slender kids that for whatever reason – they didn’t make an effort or were fooling their selves that they were fit and healthy – didn’t score high.
My negative experiences with being bullied because of my weight had nothing to do with the test and very rarely from kids my own age. Instead it was adults such as spectators during my one and only season as a Little League player that re-affirmed their status as adults for ridiculing me for what I obvious already knew since there were plenty of mirrors at home.
It is tough to get comfortable with your own body for many and not just those that feel they are in the wrong skin when it comes to gender.
In many ways I’m still not.
And while I’m not like everyone I see purely through my eyes and not a rundown on their vitals, endurance, dexterity and strength, I am pleased with where my health and fitness is headed.
I encounter people every day my age as well as young and older that have a fighting chance to be on a GQ cover while I don’t have a prayer in hell.
But when it comes to stuff that counts for fitness and health such as resting heart rate, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and such I’m in the game.
The way you get to such a point is learning from challenges that often make you uncomfortable.
I figured out what works for Dennis Wyatt because I was exposed to a lot of things that would be classified today as body shaming and bullying including taking a 7th grade physical fitness test that, quite frankly, the anxiety was leading up to taking it and not afterwards.
The anxiety for me as a middle schooler has nothing about what anyone would say or what “grade” I would get but the fact I was pretty sure it was going to confirm to me what I already knew. I needed to do something to get better at the fitness thing since worrying about your health isn’t exactly on the radar screen of a typical 7th grader.
In looking back because, that test that rated me not on a scale that reflected who I was which was a borderline severely overweight 12 year-old but with a norm for my age and height was part of the pieces to a puzzle I needed to put together in my head.
That puzzle, when I finished it by the end of the school year, made it possible for me to start my 8th grade year weighting 70 pounds less.
What Newsom is doing without realizing it is taking away a tool that may actually have similar positive impacts on young Californians on the advice obviously of advisors that is rooted in politically correct assumptions that tip the scales against the overwhelming majority of students that are binary.
Besides if a person can actually grasp that they are not binary as a 7th grader and run with it they certainly have the moxie and intelligence to put a physical fitness test in perspective.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.