GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy wants to add a fitness section to the SAT, so students will be graded on fitness tasks like running a mile or doing push-ups and sit-ups. Ramaswamy presents these fitness tests as a “merit-friendly solution” to the inequities created by a college admissions environment in which “subjective measures” unfairly predominate. Those who do well in math and reading exams, he explained, “tend to do poorly in the one-mile run, and vice versa.” he posted last week on X (formerly Twitter).
Ramaswamy recycles an outdated assumption that the activities of mind and body are in contradiction.
In a presidential contest that (so far) has featured one unapologetic personal fitness performance after another — as well as more age jabs and big jokes than usual — it’s refreshing to hear a candidate highlight his physical form as policy rather than just as an opportunity to flex (although Ramaswamy does that too). And fairness in admissions, especially in light of the end of affirmative action, is important, as is fitness in an age of sedentary youth. But Ramaswamy’s plan to make fitness a high-stakes admissions category — and call it a “merit-friendly fix” — amplifies the worst aspects of contemporary fitness culture and historic education politics. physical.
First, like the promise that six minutes of sit-ups or a few cups of flat-tummy tea a day can give you washboard abs, Ramaswamy’s premise is false. Not only is it not “a fact” that success in the math and reading sections of the SAT is inversely correlated with speed over a mile traveled, but the data suggests that the opposite is likely true (this precise correlation n has, of course, not been studied). Physical activity is indeed linked to better academic (and mental health) outcomes. Ramaswamy recycles an outdated assumption that the activities of mind and body contradict, rather than reinforce each other. It’s an old and strange idea to conjure up, especially since a holistic understanding of the interdependence of mind-body wellness is one of the few ideologies our polarized populace can agree on.
By calling a high-stakes fitness test “pro-merit”, Ramaswamy is buying into the illusion that fitness is a single bastion where only merit triumphs – truly level playing fields where hard work is whatever matters (unlike the unfair world of test prep tutors and inherited preferences). This myth of self-reliance echoes the general celebration of initial individualism that’s common among conservatives, but Ramaswamy also amplifies an idea that’s particularly prevalent among fitness advocates of all political stripes. “There is only you and the road”, announce many broadcast advertisements. “The difference between success and failure is whoever comes up,” shout the spin instructors in class. “Either you have results or you have excuses” Instagram warns us early in the morning. These are alluring ideas for selling gym memberships and sneakers — and while it’s unquestionably true that it takes willpower, regardless of your socio-economic status, to commit to making money. If you exercise regularly, the cold corollary of this perspective is that if you fail to get in shape, you have only yourself to blame.
This is important because, as Ramaswamy suggests, fitness activities do not represent an egalitarian corrective to the unfair world of academics. In fact, poor people of color are less likely to exercise regularly; are more likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes and hypertension; and their children are also less likely to participate in sport or physical activity. That’s not because they lack effort, but because exercise is just as structured by inequality as other areas, like housing and food, where it’s talked about more often. Control of your schedule and your workspaces and your home, access to parks and swimming pools, street safety and even forest cover which can make a difference to several degrees: all these circumstances condition the difficulty getting out and exercising deeper than the ability to do so. afford a gym membership or pay youth sports fees (both are exceptionally privatized in the US). Virtually superhuman, mediagenic stories of fitness transformations by prisoners and busy stay-at-home moms might suggest that anyone can exercise consistently and successfully if they want it just enough, but these narratives tend to downplay the lack of “motivation”. and “hustle” are necessary for those who can afford it.
These ideas die hard. As we learn more about structural inequality, it has become less intellectually acceptable (or at least, more blatantly ignorant) to pretend that meritocracy works. (Even a Republican candidate like Ramaswamy clearly recognizes that the SAT is not as “objective” as its proponents have long touted.) Yet we are only beginning to understand how these dynamics relate to and exacerbate fitness inequities. As a teacher and fitness professional, I see this all the time: My generally socially conscious students understand wealth disparities between black and white Americans based on centuries of discriminatory politics rather than a lack of ambition. or talent. more likely to view lack of fitness as the result of ‘personal choice’. Incorporating a fitness test into the SAT will only reinforce this ignorance.
Incorporating a fitness test into the SAT will only reinforce this ignorance.
However, putting fitness at the heart of education, and even admissions — beyond the broken elite athletic recruitment system — is a fantastic idea. And if Ramaswamy is serious about it (and hopefully other candidates will take notice), he has other presidential examples and counter-examples he can learn from. Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy celebrated youth fitness as integral to a healthy society and as a way to help young people realize their full potential. Especially JFK contrast fitness with competitive sports: inclusion in the movement rather than in elite programs was the priority, as the latter encouraged children less inclined to sport to stay away, afflicted with ‘spectatorism’. The purpose of such a policy was to encourage a lifelong habit of exercise and recreation, especially for children who were unlikely to play quarterback or be a prima ballerina. Almost every president since then has had some kind of youth fitness policy platform. And the Obama White House’s Let’s Move initiative has shown unique energy in making inclusive exercise a top priority, as did Kennedy; although 50 years later it focused on urban communities of color as opposed to white suburbanites.
Applicants should definitely take inclusive fitness seriously and emphasize the importance of public recreation facilities and physical education programs. Yet Ramaswamy seems to have chosen the worst of these presidential precedents: Eisenhower narrowly defined physical fitness as a means to a single goal (military readiness), JFK berated “soft Americans” for betraying their duty civics with softness, and Obama’s program has not achieved this goal. codify the strong exercise, nutrition, and mental health infrastructure that was so clearly needed in the 2010s.
As students return to school this fall and candidates craft their platforms, Democrats and Republicans alike should make equal access to exercise in school and beyond a national priority – not because it will help the fastest or most flexible students get into college, but because we we should all have the opportunity to exercise on our own terms.