Physical Training in the Normal School



BY HENRY S. CURTIS, OLIVET, MICHIGAN. mummuua mummHERE is no question but that the people thirty or more years

of in this country who are not working with their hands are getting far too little exercise. This is true of both sexes, but the need is more insistent in the case of the women than the men, because women have the greater need of physi

cal development, and because they are not at presSunOnManniche ent nearly so well developed, and they are not getting much exercise from their daily work. The games and physical exercises that have thus far prevailed in the schools have not been fitted for later life. We stop playing baseball by the time we are twenty-five, and football even earlier. Women are scarcely playing at all. The reasons for this condition are plain. We have not taught the children during their school days physical exercises suitable for use after school days were over. Yet in all the other school activities this has been the basis of selection. We do not teach arithmetic or geography primarily because we think that these subjects give a valuable training to children, but because we believe the adult will need to use them. I see no reason why the selection of physical activities should be on a different basis. The obvious need is that the student should acquire during his period of training an enthusiasm for some form of sport or exercise, so that he will continue this after school days are over. I do not think that we can consider any person as educated who has not acquired some such enthusiasm.


In Germany gymnastics prove a practical form of physical training. They are begun early and carried on late into life. The conditions in Germany are, however, different from what they are here.

There is a gymnasium and a turnverine in nearly every town and village. The people have practised gymnastics from early childhood until they have formed a habit of taking their exercise in that way. Gymnastics seem to be really sport for the German people. Then too, there seems to be a sense of impending war and that everyone must be prepared. This has made of gymnastic practice an expression of patriotism, so it is more or less independent of any natural interest in the movements themselves. The same conditions do not prevail in this country. The young man or woman who has taken his training in the gymnasium of a high school or the college seldom finds himself in touch with a gymnasium afterwards. Almost the only one available in most cities is the gymnasium of the Young Men's or Young Women's Christian Associations. Probably not more than one per cent of college students continue their gymnastics after their college days are over. Many of us have attempted to keep up work with Indian clubs or dumb-bells or pulley-weights, but the well nigh universal experience is that these exercises soon became a bore and have to be continued by a constant effort of the will if they are continued. But even if we do keep them up for a considerable time, we soon realize that they are not satisfying our needs. We require fresh air and recreation as much as exercise, and mere motions within doors do not fill the bill. Under existing conditions, it seems clear that we cannot give our students gymnastics in the normal schools or colleges and expect that these are going to meet their need of exercise in later years. It is possible that by creating a greater enthusiasm for gymnastics, the enthusiasm would call into being a system of public gymnasiums in all of our cities. This is probably true, but it is believed that gymnastics are an essentially military form of exercise, that all forms from the Greek down have been created and maintained for the purpose of military training, that we are essentially an unmilitary people, and the American spirit will not be fashioned to the military ideal or to this type of training.


Gymnastics stand for "physical exercise”, but we do not have mental exercise or moral exercise. Why should we have physical exercise ? The name seems to suggest a conscious system of movements for the sake of training, but the processes of growth are never conscious. In the past of the race physical development has

always been a by-product of work or play, just as mental growth has come from wrestling with life's problems and moral growth from right living. In actual fact the conscious mind does not understand the mechanism of the muscles. It does not know which strings to pull in order to secure a certain muscular movement. These movements are ordinarily controlled by the lower centers, and whenever we do a movement consciously, there is a certain amount of interference, and we make the movement awkwardly. We also do it at vastly greater mental expenditure. We can walk for miles and feel no fatigue, but, if we have to direct our steps consciously in walking over a trestle or avoiding mud, we are soon exhausted. If I put up a big dumb bell, I shall use the motor center of my arm and the rest of my brain will be largely inactive, but if instead I am playing a game of tennis I shall use not only my arm center, but my whole brain and may draft in the other centers to reinforce the arm center. Thus when I am interested, I am not so easily exhausted, and the muscle gains an endurance that it cannot gain from an uninteresting motion. The knotted and bunched muscles of the gymnast stand for physical strength, but they do not stand for beauty, grace, or endurance. They are more unsuited to woman than to man, but they are essentially unsuited to modern life, where the physical work is already or is soon to be done by steam or electricity, and physical strength is less and less required in our daily work, while endurance and the vital energy which is its outward manifestation is no less necessary now than formerly. What I am saying must not be interpreted as in any way opposed to corrective or medical gymnastics, or to very much that is done in the gymnasium, but is really play or dancing. But it seems evident to me that we should not have physical exercise any more than we should mental exercise; that certain activities should be required in the same way as arithmetic or geography are required, and that all physical training should be a by-product of these activities as it always has been in racial history. We should select such activities for the normal schools as will be carried from the school into life, so as to meet the need of exercise and fresh air of later years as well as the years of training. In promoting exercise of this kind for the normal students, we shall also provide the children with the same exercises.


The games of little children do not have the same value as games for older children for the simple reason that they are soon outgrown and left behind. They will be used more or less by adults in playing with their own children, but will not in themselves meet the needs of the adult world.


Every normal man should learn to play baseball and football as a part of his training, because these games are such a large element in American life, and because this knowledge will add greatly to his prestige in the school, but baseball and football can never meet the needs of adult Americans for exercise and recreation, because they require too much space to be practical for the great mass of city dwellers, and because they are too strenuous for later years. There are very few amateur players of either game who are more than twenty-five years of age.

BASKETBALL. Exactly the same objection can be made to basketball. It is not played after school days are over. There is no likelihood that it will be, as it is even more strenuous than football.


Hockey is an excellent game for normal students, but it is not adapted to school yards and it is not played after school days are



Tennis is a game that is carried from the school into life very generally. There are probably more adult women playing tennis than any other game. It can be begun at ten or eleven and played with pleasure till the person is sixty or more years of age, though we do not see many women of that age playing. Tennis has its decided limitations, as it takes a large amount of ground which is expensive to secure in the city, and which requires a further large expense to prepare it for the game. The rackets and balls also add to the cost, so that we can not think that the majority of our city people will ever play tennis regularly. Most of the adults also will have to take their exercise in the evening, and tennis cannot well be played at that time. However, it is admirably adapted to the farm, as there is there plenty of room and all the implements necessary to prepare the court cheaply. There is no reason why the farmer and his wife should not play every evening during a large part of the year. It would doubtless be a great break with farm traditions, but I know of few things that would do more for country life. Tennis has its limitations, but it is practical for so large a number that it ought to be one of the required normal subjects.


Golf is a game for adults, but all the limitations of tennis are still more marked in golf. It requires a very large ground, an expensive equipment; it takes a long time to play a game, and it cannot be played in the evening. This makes it an impossible game for the masses. However, it is so good a game for adults that it would be well to make it an elective in the normal school if the grounds can be secured.


Croquet is one of the commonest outdoor games for adults. It can be started in almost any neighborhood. It is an especially good game for the aged or those whose regular work is so strenuous that exercise is not required per se. It would be a good game for women students during their period of monthly disability, and they could get during this time quite as much practice as they would need.


The bowling green which is common in Scotland and parts of England is coming in in this country. Bowling is practised mostly by men so far as I have observed, yet it seems to be peculiarly well fitted for women, as it is a mild and ladylike game

« ForrigeFortsett »