CHS Must Mandate Self Defense In The PE Curriculum (Editorial)


As the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, self-defense has become a crucial life skill that everyone should possess. Recently, self-defense training has gained popularity, and it is no longer seen as purely a niche activity. Instead, it has become an essential part of personal fitness and well-being.

It is for this reason that we strongly believe that a self-defense unit should be added to the Physical Education 9 curriculum. PE 9 is a class taken by high school freshmen in which they learn about physical fitness, sports and other aspects of health and wellness.

The role of a high school is to educate its students and prepare them for their intended path after graduation, whether that is college or straight to the workforce. As students transition into adulthood, schools have a responsibility to ensure they are equipped with not only academic knowledge but also practical life skills that will benefit them in the future. Adding a self-defense unit to the PE 9 curriculum would give students the knowledge and skills necessary to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

Cupertino High School provides an option for self-defense training through its PE total fitness program, which includes a unit on self-defense, as well as PE martial arts–which is a combination of fighting techniques such as taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu commonly referred to as mixed martial arts. However, the issue with CHS’s current approach to teaching self-defense is that these classes are not mandatory. Students can circumvent this important life-skill curriculum by opting for sports PE or by choosing PE 10-12. According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Association of American Universities, one in four women experienced sexual violence at some point in their undergraduate education. Given the dangers facing young adults, particularly women, it is imperative that CHS and high schools nationwide fulfill their commitment to ready students for the realities of the world. This includes providing education on self-defense as a means of protection against physical violence.

In late January, Coach James Gilmore held a short self-defense unit. The unit covered escapes from potentially life-threatening situations, insight into the legal aspects of self-defense and the importance of self-defense.

According to Gilmore, “When you’re strong in the world, it’s a less scary place.” He believes that having self-defense knowledge and being confident in one’s abilities to defend themselves can positively impact an individual’s mindset, making them less fearful and more resilient in different situations.

Jess Roberts, the PE martial arts instructor and a math teacher at CHS, shares their experience with self-defense and how it has given them confidence in potentially dangerous situations. 

Self-defense should be included in the PE curriculum for all students, not just those who choose to take martial arts classes. When asked about implementing a self-defense unit in freshman PE, Roberts expressed interest in the idea and emphasized the importance of learning self-defense and the confidence it provides in real-life situations. “The more confident you are, the more confident you present yourself. The less likely you are to be attacked by somebody,” Roberts says.

Incorporating self-defense into PE classes could help students develop these skills and build confidence. As Roberts said, “The primary goal [in PE] is fitness,” but learning self-defense techniques can be a fun and engaging way to meet these goals. “You don’t notice because you’re punching stuff, and it’s kind of fun, but we’re actually working out, too,” Roberts said.

Gilmore acknowledged that there might be challenges and concerns when teaching a self-defense unit, such as triggering past trauma for students who have been assaulted. Thus, he has added trigger warnings to the curriculum and learned from past experiences to ensure that the unit is as inclusive and respectful as possible.

Self-defense is not just about learning physical moves but also about understanding how to avoid dangerous situations and making smart decisions. The goal of a self-defense unit in PE 9 would not be to make students experts but to open their minds to want to get more training later and elsewhere. It provides a basic foundation for students to build upon in the future, empowering them with the knowledge and skills to take care of themselves.

From an administrative perspective, PE 9 department lead Craig Ellegood shares that while there are no drawbacks to incorporating self-defense lessons in PE 9, the school must take several factors into account before introducing a unit to the curriculum. Due to the limited time available in the school year, the inclusion of a new unit would require the removal of another. Teachers must weigh the purpose and advantages of the proposed unit against those of existing units. Additionally, they must assess the availability of resources, such as equipment, space and expertise, necessary for the implementation of this change.

In an ideal scenario, all five high schools in the Fremont Union High School District would offer a six-week self-defense unit in freshman PE classes. This initiative would equip Lynbrook, Cupertino, Monta Vista, Fremont and Homestead students with essential self-defense techniques and foster their confidence in utilizing these skills. To address the staffing concerns related to the unit, Roberts suggests that they could travel to each of the campuses during the six-week period to instruct the PE 9 classes. As the PE teachers from each campus would be present during the unit, they could also learn the unit and techniques alongside the students, ensuring the self-sustainability of the unit in the future.

Ultimately, the benefits of including self-defense in the PE curriculum outweigh the challenges as there are no prominent downsides to the unit that would compromise its feasibility. As Roberts notes, “Just giving [students] that confidence, kind of preventing the situation from ever starting in the first place, is really the primary goal.” By teaching students self-defense techniques and fostering their confidence, schools can play a vital role in preventing potentially dangerous situations and empowering students to defend themselves.