Classes around here tend to transform people. Gaetano’s Renaissance can change a major; Jackson’s Dostoevsky can change a mind; Smith’s Great Books can change a life.
Physical Wellness Dynamics can wreck a morning.
Our time at Hillsdale is too short. When each passing day increasingly feels like another tick of a time bomb, there’s a colossal opportunity cost for every course we take. It’s nothing short of calamitous to have to spend three priceless hours a week sitting through Physical Wellness class. Hillsdale should remove Physical Wellness Dynamics from the core curriculum so students don’t waste precious credit hours and money on a class that isn’t in the nature of the liberal arts or a Hillsdale education.
Physical Wellness offers students a series of lectures on New York Times Health articles regarding healthy blood pressure, how to avoid diabetes, and other mildly useful factoids. I recently took Physical Wellness. The class taught me some interesting things, got me into the gym to exercise, introduced me to various opportunities around campus — like the bike paths at Hayden Park and the wall‑e ball court in the sports complex — and was even enjoyable at times.
Clearly, my experience wasn’t abominable. Nevertheless, nothing about it was necessary to my liberal-arts education. The class was merely a series of facts about neuroplasticity and the benefits of exercise on the brain with a few Aristotle quotes thrown in. Dressing those facts up with a little Plato on how “lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being” failed to make the time spent in class essential to my education as a free human being.
If I hadn’t had to take Physical Wellness, I would have taken Anglo-Saxon Literature, Artes Liberales, or Ancient Philosophy. Any one of those classes would have better educated me for life. Let me be clear: while we probably should take a break from Aristotle once in a while to go work out (and many of us do), that’s a vastly different thing from taking a class that forces us to create Power Point presentations on brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the benefits of sleep instead of reading our Dante and Heidegger.
All students in the class are required to read John J. Ratey’s book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” because of what it says about the effects of aerobic exercise on brain health and academic performance. Indeed, it is useful to know a little bit more about how to have a healthy mind. Perhaps the book could be assigned summer reading, with a required quiz; perhaps the knowledge could be offered in a CCA-length seminar. But it doesn’t deserve a full-fledged 2‑credit course.
At many other schools, with Physical Wellness Dynamics would be an acceptable class. In fact, other than the few well-placed Aristotle quotes, it looks exactly like a class you could take at any other school — and that’s not a good thing.
While physical wellness is part of the good life and essential for the truly free man, Physical Wellness Dynamics is not. Let’s acknowledge Hillsdale students to be as smart as they deserve and not force them to miss out on exceptional Hillsdalian courses by making them take a class like Physical Wellness Dynamics.
Tausz is a senior studying English and journalism.