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Lessons Physical and Health Educators Should Learn from the 2016 Election

Posted 11 months ago - by Dr. Steve Jefferies

No matter your political preference, the results of the 2016 election surprised everyone. And while I don't claim to be a political pundit – why would I since pretty much every prediction was wrong – I believe physical and health educators should learn an important lesson from this recent election.

Regardless of what you might think about the qualifications of either candidate or the two parties they represent, what’s striking is how effective Mr. Trump was and how ineffective Mrs. Clinton was in capturing voting support.

A few weeks ago (on PHE America), I noted the success that Mrs. Clinton's husband Bill had in his campaign many years ago. It's widely agreed that one of the great reasons for Mr. Clinton’s success was due to his campaign’s effective messaging. Among the many issues that then-candidate Bill Clinton could have discussed, for a variety of reasons, he chose to target the economy. The slogan, "It's the economy, stupid" became the strategic focus of Clinton and his staff.

Fast forward almost 25 years and what did we see in the recent election? Based on the results, it's clear that Mrs. Clinton's message did not capture the hearts, minds, and voting fingers of the electorate. In contrast — despite widely-held negative perceptions about the messenger — Mr. Trump's messaging proved effective.

What was the Trump message? As others are now reporting, it focused on distrust, dissatisfaction, and the urgency to change the Washington political environment. It didn't much matter what direction or topic Mr. Trump talked about, he repeatedly emphasized the need for change. And perhaps most importantly, he linked his change message to the lives of the voters. It worked.

What was Mrs. Clinton’s message? She spoke about many issues, all of which appealed to some but none that appealed to all. Many people couldn't see their lives changing for the better due to the Clinton promises. In contrast, despite concerns about the uncertain outcome of electing Mr. Trump, voters were assured of change. Unpredictable change perhaps, but change nonetheless, and it turned out to be incredibly effective messaging. So then, what can physical and health educators learn from the Trump victory?

Clearly, the public, and even many within our profession, aren’t clear about the purpose and value of what we do. Mired in confusion, it makes complete sense why we lack widespread public support or respect for our teaching. Ineffective messaging was both the root cause of the recent Clinton failure and the reason why our profession continues to struggle.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try it out. Ask a neighbor or teacher to tell you what they see as the purpose of physical education. Ask five people and I'm betting you'll get very different responses, yet all related to student health and physical activity. Some might express alarm about the so-called obesity crisis, others will not, but what you and I know is that obesity is the more visible symptom of a sedentary society and a world in which making unhealthy choices is easier than making good ones.

So again, much like a broken record that repeats its refrain, I point out the value, indeed the simple brilliance, of SHAPE America's efforts to transform and elevate the profession through its commitment to the vision of 50 Million Strong: A vision of a society in which young people – through our instructional efforts – acquire the knowledge, skills, commitment, and desire to lead physically-active lives and make healthy lifestyle choices.

We are now in the second year of SHAPE America’s commitment to 50 Million Strong. Many state conferences have used 50 Million Strong as the event theme, but still as a profession, our message isn’t clear. Until you, I, and our colleagues with a single voice, shout out to the world that our goal is to prepare ALL students to live physically-active and healthy lives, we won’t capture the hearts, minds, and support of parents, the public, school administrators, and most importantly, our students. By now the winners and losers of the 2016 election clearly understand the consequences of choosing the right message and repeating it everywhere and to everyone. It’s a lesson we should learn too before it’s too late.


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