The Atlantic

Letters: ‘The P.E. I Was Exposed to Was Not Evil, Just Sad’

Readers share their memories—the good, the bad, and the humiliating—from childhood gym class.
Source: Corbis / Getty

We Asked Readers:

Was gym class a traumatizing part of school that still brings back shivers about that one particularly menacing bully? New research backs up what all too many of us already know: P.E. is kind of the worst.

Tell us: What was your childhood P.E. experience like?

Here’s how readers responded.


A handful of readers explained how gym class creates a culture where bullying thrives:

Twelve years old, entering high school, physically underdeveloped and socially challenged, I was a prime candidate for bullying. Our high school allowed upper-class students to choose where they spent their time during free periods. One of the options included the gym. There was a group of older students who spent their study time in the bleachers during my gym classes. To this day (I’m now 77), I remember their taunts and jeers as I participated in the exercises. They had a nickname for me, one I can’t say even after all these years, so real is the pain when I recall it, not because it was forbidden language, but because of the mocking way in which they used it.  

A painful experience, yes, but suffering that was mitigated by my very wise eighth-grade teacher. He had taken me aside one day to tell me that my brain had developed faster than my body but in

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