The Naked Truth About Swimming in PE Class

Originally published at Chicago Moms Blog in November 2009.

Back in the 1950s when my dad was a student in a Chicago Public School, the naked truth was that the boys went swimming in the buff during PE class. As Mark Brown described in a recent column in the Chicago Sun-Times, "This was an organized school activity where gym teachers would order their students to take off their clothes and get in the pool for swimming instruction."

I remember my father telling my brother and I such things every time we drove past Lane Tech on the North Side. As a modest child, skinny dipping sounded odd enough, but swimming naked alongside your classmates? Unthinkable.

Now that I'm a wizened adult the whole idea sounds completely whacked. Eventually others must have agreed; the practice was abolished. According to Brown it faded away during the mid-1970s. It's still hard for me to fathom how it remained in place for so long.

I realize that moms back then weren't searching the Internet for convicted pedophiles in their neighborhood, background checks were unheard of and they likely never gave their children the good touch/bad touch talk, but still something about a pool full of naked teenage boys just seems weird. I'd think it would take less than two decades for someone to speak up.

Then again, I attended school in an era when anyone and everyone had free and open access to our buildings and the students within. My gosh, we'd never even heard the term lockdown, let alone practice one. And (hold onto your chair) my brother and I slept over at a teacher's house.

I suppose that at some point we'll look back at today's standards and shake our heads in amazement. A national education policy that ignored our most competent and highest performing students? What were we thinking? Now that I'm reflecting on it, that may cause even more embarrassment than boys without bathing suits.

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