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La Sierra High PE Film Project
La Sierra High PE Film Project

This 1960s High School Gym Class Would Ruin You

La Sierra High PE Film Project
La Sierra High PE Film Project

“The program, in sum, not only builds physical fitness, but good Americans.” That’s how Look magazine summarized the physical education program of La Sierra High School in January 1962 [PDF]. If you’re wondering how a gym class got a major spread in a national publication—as well as an endorsement from President John F. Kennedy—take a look at this.

That’s a bunch of teenagers looking like they could rip a phone book in half. The PE curriculum at La Sierra in Carmichael, California was not so much famous as it was notorious: It frequently asked more of the students than of prospects entering the Naval Academy. Calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups, suspended sit-ups) were done on a circuit during both a 12-minute warm up and 5 minutes of punishing, high-intensity exercise through an obstacle course. Coach Stan LeProtti, who initiated the program in 1957, even had custom equipment like peg boards and monkey bars built.

“Kids today are not built like that,” Doug Orchard, a filmmaker working on a documentary about LeProtti’s efforts, tells mental_floss. “It was the last great physical education program in the country.”

Students moved through the program based on a color scale: white shorts were for rookies, while red, blue, purple, and gold signaled serious ability. White shorts had to do a minimum of six pull-ups. Today, a Marine can pass a physical doing only three. Most boys, Orchard says, got to at least red. Getting to blue was a big deal; gold athletes were “crazy impressive.” Those who wanted a rare Navy Blue rank had to do 34 pull-ups and carry someone on their back for five miles. Only 19 students in the history of the school ever earned one.

“There were no injuries we’ve found,” Orchard says. “If you got the flu and were out a month, you had to re-test. The intensity and volume were crazy, but there was a progression. Their entire freshman year, they spent a long time just learning how to breathe correctly.”

The media attention surrounding La Sierra was so intense that by 1962, a health-conscious President Kennedy made an open plea for other schools to get involved, and more than 4000 signed up for the program, which eventually grew to include females. America’s youth may have been at its fittest—until the 1960s began to chip away at their resolve.

“There was a lot of resistance when Vietnam lagged on,” Orchard says. “People started showing up not dressed for PE as a form of protest.” By the time La Sierra closed its doors in 1983, LeProtti’s efforts had been mostly forgotten. But a few years ago, clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch phoned Ron Jones, a physical fitness historian, to ask about the workout footage he had uploaded.

It went viral. Now Jones and Orchard are hoping their film—due out in summer 2016—will help both lawmakers and educators to re-assess activity programs across the country. Currently, less than half of all high school students hit the gym for any reason, let alone exhibit the physical feats the kids of La Sierra were able to pull off.

“We have a shot of bringing back real physical education,” Orchard says. “These kids were doing things I’ve never seen anyone else do.”

All Images Courtesy of La Sierra High PE Film Project

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Pop Culture
The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM
Fox
Fox

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]

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fun
Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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iStock

Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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