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Why is There so Little Critical Physical Education Scholarship in the United States? The Case of Fitnessgram

In posing the question in our title, we have set ourselves the task of trying to understand why so little scholarly scrutiny and questioning of Fitnessgram—a product designed to assist in the school-based physical fitness testing of young people—exists in the country of its origin and then consider the implications of this silence. We begin our interrogation by offering a broad definition of ‘critical scholarship’. We then briefly describe the contemporary landscape of physical education research and its preoccupation with an instrumental and applied approach to scholarship that seems limited to questions about ‘what works’ in schools. Following this overview we discuss the scholarship of Fitnessgram. Our analysis focuses on the increasing influence of various webs of connection between academics, professional organizations, corporations, funding agencies and publishing outlets. To substantiate the claims we make, we offer some examples from the recent history of abstracts accepted for presentation at prominent national conferences and discuss the contents of leading United States health and physical education journals. The overwhelming apparent message emanating from these scholarly outlets is that school and university personnel should simply fall into line with the mandates of government and public health advocates when it comes to the implementation of Fitnessgram. Our review reveals that the Fitnessgram literature suffers from a lack of counter-balancing scepticism particularly when it comes to the interpretation of research findings. As we will argue, virtually no critical scholarship of any kind exists on the use of Fitnessgram, a remarkable situation given recent public policy developments that call for its expanded adoption in United States schools.