The true past departs not;
While social conditions influence the development of physical education, it is also true that physical education likewise has the power to change social conditions. The current disunity and chaos within the physical education profession are linked to the absence of a sound paradigmatic foundation to guide it, and this chapter identifies three recurring content threads that surface when the linguistic, historical, and sociocultural roots of physical education are explored. Ancient Greece, 19th Century Germany, and 19th Century Sweden are first considered, with final attention given to physical culture in the United States.
Greece and Rome
Kretchmar (1990) suggested that ignorance dominates the physical education landscape because "we are given very little historical, socio-cultural, and linguistic context against which to understand our problems and identify potential solutions" (p. 331). The ancient roots of American physical education are traditionally traced to the Greeks (Leonard & McKenzie,1927). Van Dalen, Mitchell, and Bennett (1953) called ancient Greece the "birthplace of Western Culture" (p. 40). Knudsen (1920) wrote "in all that concerns development of the body the Greeks still stand to this day an unattained model for all nations" (p. 1).
The civilized Greek city-state was a bold departure from the scattered villages and settlements of their barbarian ancestors who, as late as the 8th Century B.C., were "primarily herdsmen ruled by a monarch" (Van Dalen et al., 1953, p. 54). The city-state brought private ownership and the division of the community into classes. Economic success brought expansion abroad, development of a monetary system, and emergence of a wealthy nobility in competition with a growing merchant class. These and other forces produced a democracy that began in Ionia and eventually spread west to the colonies across the Aegean. Athenian politics produced a cultural climate out of which emerged an extraordinary model of physical culture (Willetts, 1965).
Athenian physical education was primarily available to the free male citizen. Young boys were first taught good posture through deportment training that included systematized exercises for the whole body. They also practiced rope-climbing, leaping, and ball games. Strength, agility, speed, poise, tenacity, productivity, and alertness in battle were expected from all citizens, so older boys received training in martial arts including wrestling, boxing, the pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), running, jumping, swimming, and throwing the javelin (Hackensmith, 1966; Willetts, 1965).
The training area was called a palaestra, and the teacher was a paidotribe (Hackensmith, 1966, pp. 33-34). The teacher was "required to know which exercises were suitable for different types of constitution, and he was in the habit of prescribing diets" (Willetts, 1965, p. 24). With the harmony of body, mind, and soul as the ultimate goal, Greek physical education was characterized by remedial, military, and religious motivations (Holmes, 1909).
Butts (1947) described a pre-5th Century B.C. Athenian educational system that sought organic harmony and stressed an elementary curriculum in which grace and poise were not subordinate to stamina and physical endurance:
The ultimate aim was then found in the moral ideal of an individual fitted to participate in the activities of the State and to promote its welfare. Literature and poetry, music and song, dancing and physical prowess all had their proper place, not as separate subject matters to be learned separately but as integral parts of a larger purpose. (p. 67)
Between 700 and 500 B.C., physical training dominated post-elementary education of Athenian youth during the middle teen years. From ages 18 to 20, military training was emphasized. This complex relationship between restorative and martial arts, often strengthened through social and spiritual impulses, is one of those notable and currently ignored threads that weaves its way through historical paradigms of physical culture.
Interpersonal and transpersonal motivations played a key role in Greek society. Van Dalen et al. (1953) noted that "although the Athenians agreed that a youth must be able to assume his military duties with courage and confidence, they also wanted him to develop the virtue and capacities needed to nurture the peaceful progress of the nation" (p. 55). They wanted a citizen of action and wisdom, and "aimed to uphold the traditional standards of morals by training youth to revere their gods, respect their elders, and remain loyal to their state" (p. 55). Beyond the military value of physical perfection, the Greeks discovered an ideal of fundamental and culturally essential beauty, balance, and harmony. Gardiner (1910) noted that "the Greek, with his keen eye for physical beauty, regarded flabbiness, want of condition, and imperfect development as a disgrace, a sign of neglected education" (p. 88).
The complex and perennial relationship between education of and through the physical is another recurring thread in the fabric of Greek physical education. Knudsen (1920) noted:
The Greeks understood the close connection between the mental and physical side of man, and had learned that during the development of such physical qualities as health, strength, and control over the body, there must be a strong effect on the mental qualities of will, energy, courage, self-reliance, and self-control. They expressed their conception of the aim of gymnastics in two words--Euexi and Eutaxi. By Euexi they understood good condition of the body and its entire well-being, attained by training and hardening; by Eutaxi, the discipline of the human being and good conduct generally--in other words, all pertaining to the discipline of man as warrior and to good order in society. (p. 2)
Equally intriguing is the Athenian link between leisure, human movement, and spirituality. Athens spent 70 days a year in celebration, and physical activity was at the center of these religious festivals which played an important role in civic and spiritual life (Willetts, 1965).
Pieper (1963) defined celebration in its highest form as "man's affirmation of the universe and his experiencing the world in an aspect other than its everyday one" (p. 56). He added:
The soul of leisure, it can be said, lies in "celebration." Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure come to a focus: relaxation, effortlessness, and superiority of "active leisure" to all functions. But if celebration is the core of leisure, then leisure can only be made possible and justifiable on the same basis as the celebration of a festival. That basis is divine worship. (p. 56)
Yoshioka and Simpson (1989) noted that the Greek philosophers called leisure "the basis of culture" (p. 4), and Brightbill (1960) stated that "the Greeks believed that the purpose of work was to attain leisure, without which there could be no culture" (p. 3). Pieper (1963) wrote "Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship" (p. 17).
Leisure represents a condition whereby basic human needs such as food, shelter, and comfort are met. This state of repose offers the security necessary to expand consciousness. Aristotle's requirements for leisure include peace, prosperity, and an understanding of leisure and its proper use (Yoshioka & Simpson, 1989). Barker (1946) noted:
Leisure (skole) is not contrasted with activity. It is itself activity, and the highest form of activity, the activity of the part of the soul which possesses rational principle . . . . It is, therefore, contrasted not with activity, but with "occupation" (ascholia), in other words with the sort of activity which is pursued not for its own sake (as the activity of leisure is), but for the sake of something else . . . it is also contrasted with, or distinguished from, "recreation" (anapausis) and "amusement" (paidia)--"the sort of thing children do." Amusement and recreation mean rest after occupation: they are thus both essentially connected with the idea of occupation. Leisure stands by itself, in its own independent right. (pp. 323-384)
Leisure is related to the Greek skole, the Latin scola, and the English eventually became school. Pieper (1963) noted that the "Christian and Western conception of the contemplative life is closely linked to the Aristotelian notion of leisure," which in general serves as a "source of distinction between the artes liberalis and the artes serviles" (p. 21).
Dare, Welton, and Coe (1987) noted that the deterioration of Athenian culture paralleled the shift away from contemplation and toward exploitation and material excesses. As simplicity and contemplation were overwhelmed by pride and greed, Athenian culture was doomed (Yoshioka & Simpson, 1989).
By the first half of the 5th Century, physical culture in Athens began to decline. The rigors of martial training were displaced by a growing emphasis on a rather weak approach to restorative exercise. Introduced and popularized by the writings of Herodicus, a paidotribe from Selymbria, this low-impact approach to longevity crept into the fabric of Athenian physical education. Hot baths began to take the place of highly sophisticated and demanding physical skills and led Plato to note that "instead of extending his life span Herodicus had but prolonged his death" (Hackensmith, 1966, p. 37). Professionalism in athletics also contributed to the deterioration of Greek physical culture (Marrou, 1956), and history records the eventual decline of Greek physical education and classical Greek culture in general.
At its zenith, Greek society enjoyed a physical culture that successfully blended the educational, restorative, and martial content of physical education. This highly refined and balanced content area was driven by a view of human nature that sought first personal, then interpersonal, and finally transpersonal development. The Greek vision of the human body in its divine nobility is clearly summarized by Van Dalen & Bennett (1971): "They gave to all future civilizations the aesthetic ideal; the ideal of harmonized mind and body; the ideal of bodily symmetry, of bodily beauty in repose and in action" (p. 47).
Roman conquest brought a shift toward martial training (Zeigler, 1973), increased professionalism in athletic competition, and a weak strand of restorative gymnastics kept barely intact by the likes of the Greek physician and philosopher, Claudius Galen, born in 130 A.D. long after the end of the Classical Greek era (Zeigler, 1979). Gardiner (1910) stated, "We do not know how far Galen's principles were ever carried into practice, though we may suspect that it was only in the case of individuals, and that they had little influence in the nation" (p. 8).
Galen denounced Roman athletic professionalism and promoted medical gymnastics for the masses in hope of restoring health and harmony to the decaying nation. His critiques were often sharp and his message urgent:
In the blessings of the mind athletes have no share. Beneath their mass of flesh and blood their souls are stifled as in a sea of mud . . . . Neglecting the old rule of health which prescribes moderation in all things they spend their lives in over-exercising, in over-eating, and over-sleeping like pigs . . . . They have not health nor have they beauty. Even those who are naturally well proportioned become fat and bloated. . . . Even their vaunted strength is useless. They can dig and plough but they cannot fight. (Gerber, 1971, p. 18)
Rome could not be saved, and Galen's medical gymnastics slept in the subconsciousness of Western culture for 1,300 years until Girolamo Mercurialis awakened restorative arts in his 6-volume De Arte Gymnastica, a treatise on preventive and therapeutic gymnastics published in 1569. Mercurialis found sources in the works of Hippocrates, Galen, and other ancients who believed in the restorative value of rational human movement (Gerber, 1971), and De Arte Gymnastica ultimately helped carry restorative arts across Europe and eventually into the American physical education curriculum.
American physical culture has been shaped by a multitude of ethnic forces, but the German and Swedish systems of physical education provided initial and primary influence to American physical education in higher education and consequently the entire American educational system.
Johann Cristoph Friedrich Guts Muths is known as the grandfather of German Physical Education. He was 27 years old in 1786 when he began teaching physical education at the famous Schnepfenthal Educational Institute, and he stayed for 50 years (Gerber, 1971). The initial curriculum was a combination of knightly exercises and Greek gymnastics, and it provided a basis for his book, Gymnastics for Youth, published in 1793 (Burke, 1970). This work later influenced a wave of physical culture that helped transform Germany in its struggle against Napoleon. In Guts Muths' Generic Classification of Exercises (Burke, 1970), the perennial content areas of restorative, martial, and pedagogical are again apparent.
The beginning of the 19th Century saw a weak and divided Germany with hundreds of independent sovereignties that were no match for Napoleon's mighty army. Friedrich Jahn was not yet 30 years of age when he rushed to help defend Prussia at the Battle of Jena in 1806. He arrived to witness overwhelming defeat, the loss of almost half of his beloved homeland, and its eventual occupation by 150,000 French soldiers (Reisner, 1922).
Jahn spent his youth as an outsider to the inertia, provincialism, drinking, and dueling that dominated much of the academic environment. He was dismissed from most of the many universities in which he studied, and he never finished formal training (Gerber, 1971). His real education came from wandering throughout the countryside and coming to love his troubled nation with a fervor that aroused all he met along the way.
Between his retreat from Jena and the 1813 War of Liberation, which eventually led to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Jahn began teaching at Graue Kloster, a boys school in Berlin. Borrowing heavily from Guts Muths' theories (Zeigler, 1979), he planted the seeds for a system of gymnastics that transformed German physical culture. Zeigler (1973) wrote:
To Jahn, gymnastics were not merely the means of augmenting physical powers, but a tool for achieving political goals as well. German freedom and strength revolved upon the youth of the state and, therefore, the supreme aim of physical education was to develop sturdy citizens possessing a love of their homeland and the aggregate strength to throw off the rule of the oppressor. (p. 311)
A wave of patriotism followed the defeat at Jena, and Jahn's call for action made him a national hero. By 1814, he was even receiving a government salary, and the Turnvereine (Gymnastic Societies) grew rapidly. Jahn had inspired a nation of citizen-soldiers. After Germany was liberated, the Turners joined the call for more personal and political freedom. The government reacted. Many Germans had hoped that Napoleon's defeat would be followed by national unity under constitutional rule. However, the monarchs organized under Austrian Prince Metternich; and the Turnvereine, along with other "demagogic associations," was banned and forced underground by government edicts (Gerber, 1971).
The failure of the bloody revolutionary movement in 1848 forced thousands of Germans to flee their homeland. Many chose America, and in that same year the first American Turnvereine opened in Cincinnati. Twenty-two Turner Societies were operating in the United States by 1851. Ten years later, the Turners, vehemently opposed to slavery, were among the first to volunteer as units in the Northern Army. Of an estimated 10,000 active Turners, approximately 6,000 enlisted (Metzner, 1974).
In 1885, Herman J. Koehler, an accomplished German-American Turner, was appointed Master of the Sword at West Point Military Academy. He had studied in the Turnvereine throughout his youth and graduated in 1882 from the Milwaukee Normal School of Physical Training, a Turner school (Degen, 1966). At that time, the Normal School was directed by his uncle, George Brosius, who also served as Superintendent of Physical Training in the public schools of Milwaukee from 1875 to 1883 (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927).
Koehler distinguished himself as a teacher and soldier. A report to the Board of Visitors in 1889 stated:
We confess that it was exceedingly difficult to believe that the gymnastic exercise performed by the fourth class could be the result of only one year of practice under the instruction by Professor Koehler. The feats of agility were simply wonderful; they are valuable chiefly as evidence of sound, muscular, trained bodies . . . . Professor Koehler is an accomplished teacher. (Degen, 1966, p. 64)
The Koehler system had four main functions: "To build the men up physically, to wake them up mentally, to fill them with enthusiasm, and to discipline them" (Wilbur, 1918, p. 11). Koehler (1919) believed that mechanical proficiency through physical training is essential for self-reliance, courage, and personal discipline; he further argued that the discipline of the individual determines the discipline of the mass. He defined discipline as:
. . . the voluntary, intelligent, coordinated and cheerful subordination of every individual in an equal degree with every other individual of the mass to which he belongs, and of which he is an interdependent and not an independent unit, through which the object of the mass can be attained. (p. 5)
The relationship between physical training and discipline, according to Koehler (1919), was not sufficiently appreciated in or out of the military. He further noted:
The experience of the author, stretching over a lifetime at the academy, but particularly that gained in training several hundred thousand men, directly and indirectly, in which men of every walk of life, in every part of our country were involved, proved conclusively that the disciplinary value of military physical training equaled, if it did not surpass its purely physiological value. (p. 6)
In 1892, the Koehler system was adopted for use throughout the Army (Degen, 1966). Koehler's martial arts emphasis is apparent in the combatives, rifle drills, and bayonet training of his system; but he also stressed restorative exercise to diminish heart action, regulate respiration, and restore normal condition. Sports and games were also included in the Koehler program, but he recommended they be viewed as "recreational and only those activities should be indulged in which it is possible to employ large numbers at the same time. It is best to select those activities in which the element of personal contact predominates" (Koehler, 1919, p. 9).
As in the Greek concept of physical education, the recurring and ever-changing relationship between restorative, martial, and pedagogical content also appears throughout the German system. Similarly, education of and through the physical are equally valued in both the Greek and German systems.
McIntosh (in Willetts, 1965) wrote that "the relationship of physical education to the structure of society and the pattern of culture in Sweden can hardly be studied otherwise than in close association with the life and work of Per Henrik Ling" (p. 85). Born in 1776, Ling is called the founder of Swedish gymnastics, but he is also remembered for helping to ignite the youth of his country at a time when Sweden's spirit was badly wounded and weakened by military defeat and cultural confusion. Weston (1962) noted the international conflicts and humiliation that preceded the transformation of Swedish physical culture in the 1800s:
After a disastrous war with Russia in the early eighteenth century, Sweden lost most of her southern and eastern provinces. Her remaining possessions south of the Baltic were lost during the Napoleonic era. The severest setback of all was administered, however, when Russia conquered all of Finland in 1808. (p.17)
As early as 1797, Ling complained about the weakness of Stockholm society in general and eventually moved to Copenhagen where he began to study fencing. There he also fueled his literary and political inclinations that led to his "desire to revive the vigor of the ancient Norsemen in his own generation" (McIntosh, in Willetts, 1965, p. 88).
Ling returned to Sweden in 1804 and taught at the University of Lund for the next eight years. Beginning as a fencing instructor, he was soon appointed to teach swimming, climbing, wrestling, balance exercises, and gymnastics based upon the Guts Muths system. During that time he also studied anatomy and physiology, and he began to develop his own system of exercises designed to correct poor posture and "cure faults of bodily development" (McIntosh, in Willetts, 1965, p. 89).
Leonard and McKenzie (1927) described the situation in Sweden during this period as grim. Napoleon occupied Swedish Pomerania and Stralsund; Rugen in the Baltic had also been lost. Russian troops had conquered all of Finland, which had belonged to Sweden for centuries, and the Danes had conquered the southern provinces. Ling's plays, poems, and particularly his gymnastics were designed to help prepare his nation to defend itself against further aggression, restore the nation's health, and develop the race. Under Ling's leadership, Swedish physical education developed "along three more or less distinct lines, educational, military, and medical, i.e., as an integral factor in school life, as an agent in the training of men for the army and navy, and as a therapeutic measure" (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927, p. 149).
Van Dalen et al. (1953) suggested that the Ling system evolved in four directions, including military, medical, pedagogical, and aesthetic:
Deeply tinged with the nationalistic purposes of raising the physical standards of the army, Ling's program was naturally high-lighted by emphasis on power, alacrity of action, and the ability to endure strain. As a modern pioneer in the field of medical gymnastics, he was also intensely concerned with the possibility of restoring health to the weak through exercises. Pedagogical gymnastics were designed to develop the innate potentialities of the body, creating a well-balanced and perfected organism. They were to teach the individual to hold his body erect and bring it under the control of his own will. Aesthetic gymnastics, which were left to be cultivated by more modern successors, were to give bodily expression to inner feelings, emotions, and thought. Ling merely touched upon these latter themes; but he believed all military, medical, pedagogical and aesthetic goals to be mutually interdependent and that to disregard the unity that should exist among these parts was merely to base a gymnastic system on whim and fancy. (p. 247)
In 1813, Ling left the University of Lund to become the fencing master at the Royal Military Academy near Stockholm. Seven years earlier he wrote about his desire to see his integrated concept of physical culture developed in Swedish universities. Shortly after arriving at the Royal Military Academy, he attempted to interest officials at the University of Stockholm in his curriculum. The university chancellor responded, "We have plenty of tight-rope walkers and acrobats without burdening the budget with their keep" (McIntosh, in Willetts, 1965, p. 90). The inertia and ignorance of academic leaders, coupled with the urgency brought on by the loss of Finland, may well have convinced Ling to abandon the university community and develop his own institute. With government and military support, Ling's new school opened in 1814. It was eventually called the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics and remained for generations the premier school of its kind in all of Sweden (McIntosh, in Willetts, 1965).
Ling's General Principles of Gymnastics was published in 1840, a year after his death. In it he further refined the definitions of the four areas of physical education he believed integral to a complete system:
1. Medical--by means of which one seeks, either by his own proper posture
or with the help of another person and by helpful movement, to diminish or
overcome the ailment which has arisen in the body through its abnormal
Sixty years after his death, Ling's work lived on at the Stockholm Central Institute of Gymnastics. It is interesting to note that in 1900 the control of the school was given to a board which included a president and three other members: one from the military, one a teacher (a skolman), and one a physician (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927).
While Ling is well known to physical education historians, there lived at the same time a virtually unknown pioneer in Swedish physical culture whose ideas were expressed in a doctoral dissertation published in 1803. Andres Otto Lindfors was a few years younger than Ling. They lived in the same province and at times attended the same schools. Lindfors studied at the University of Lund during a time when physical culture was sluggish and certainly not a priority. He saw beyond the decay around him and successfully wrote and defended the first doctoral dissertation in his country that dealt with physical education. His dissertation, as did Ling's system, provided a revolutionary vision for Swedish physical culture. Like Ling, he used the Greek model, but he combined the pedagogical and aesthetic to make three categories:
1. orthopedic--to prevent and cure bodily sickness,
Here again, an attempt was made to balance and harmonize the three recurring content areas of physical education.
Dr. Hartwig Nissen arrived in Washington, D.C. as Vice-Consul for Norway and Sweden in 1883. Trained in the Ling System, he introduced medical gymnastics to Washington physicians, founded the Swedish Health Institute, and personally treated a number of prominent patients including Benjamin Harrison and Ulysses S. Grant (Lee, 1983).
Nissen set the stage for the Swedish system in the United States. He was followed by Baron Nils Posse, who was 23 years old in 1885 when he arrived in the United States. Posse was born into nobility. His father was an army officer who once headed the Royal Army Staff College. As an only son, young Posse was afforded an excellent private education and entry into the Royal Military School. He served 5 years in the Swedish Army and took 2 years of training in educational, military, and medical gymnastics at the Central Institute of Gymnastics in Stockholm. He graduated the same year he departed for America (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927).
With the financial support of Mrs. Mary Hemenway, Posse introduced the Swedish system into the public schools through the development of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. In 1890, the superintendent of Boston schools reported that over 400 teachers had been trained in Swedish gymnastics, and the Boston School Committee ordered all schools to introduce it (Leonard, 1915).
Posse (1894) outlined his theories based upon gymnastics as "systematic exercise of the muscles for the restoration of health, and for the development and preservation of the physical powers" (p. 1). Again, the emerging and ever-changing attempt to balance the restorative, military, and educational dimensions of physical education is clearly demonstrated.
Physical culture in the United States is always moving and shifting in search of balance. With powerful forces continually pulling toward mediocrity, the history of American physical education chronicles the struggle to discover a content formula for physical culture that allows for a rational balance between restorative, martial, and pedagogical physical education.
Amherst College established the first American department of physical education in 1860 (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927). Its curricular mission was primarily restorative and preventative. Its president, William Augustus Stearn, had argued four years earlier for "regular drills in gymnastics and calisthenics exercises," and in 1859 he stated:
If a moderate amount of physical exercise could be secured to every student daily, I have a deep conviction . . . that not only would lives and health be preserved, but animation and cheerfulness, and higher order of efficient study and intellectual life would be secured. (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927, p. 275)
In 1859, a "fair gymnast and remarkably good teacher of boxing" (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927, p. 273) named Abram Molineaux Hewlett was appointed director of the newly constructed Harvard Gymnasium, but martial arts took lasting roots in American higher education when all colleges built under the Morrill Act of 1862 were required to provide military drill to male students. The initially poor performance of Northern troops during the Civil War was partially attributed to the numerous military schools in the south (Leonard & McKenzie, 1927), and American leaders decided after the war that at least one school in each state should provide some martial training.
American physical education and military physical training in the early 1860s were both influenced by German and Swedish gymnastics, and consequently they looked much alike. Cobb (1943) noted:
Since physical education programs were very largely centered around formal gymnastics, it is quite easy to see how educators and the lay public might regard military drill and formal gymnastics (the physical education program of that day) as very similar in purpose as well as in program. Colleges that offered both physical education and military drill frequently excused men from required physical education if they selected military programs. (p. 105)
The turmoil and aftermath of the Civil War ultimately brought prolonged and heated debate concerning the content and purpose of physical education in American public schools. Militarists called for training designed around military needs, but many physical educators began leaning toward games, exercises, and sports (Zeigler, 1975).
The "New Physical Education" of the early 1900s, with its emphasis on sports and games, eventually replaced the formal gymnastics of the German and Swedish tradition, which "focused on corrective and postural exercises that concentrated on developing the physical body" (Weston, 1962, pp. 48-52). Education through the physical eventually replaced education of the physical, but World War I brought renewed attention to the "disgracefully low state of health and physical fitness among the prime youth of the country" (Weston, 1962, p. 71). The National Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920 brought Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs to American campuses, and physical education departments again competed with military training for space, resources, and respect.
Leonard and McKenzie (1927) published and reviewed a report concerning the aims and scope of physical education prepared by a special committee appointed by the Society of Directors of Physical Education in 1919. It divided the scope of physical education into theoretical instruction and activities. Exercises were categorized as follows:
1. Formal gymnastics for "corrective" purposes, erect posture,
and neuromuscular control.
Restorative and martial arts regained some respect during the First World War, but once the battles were over, formal gymnastics gradually gave way to sports and games.
Dr. Dudley Sargent, one of the formative thinkers in physical education, stated his views concerning the displacement of formal gymnastics by the new physical education when he told the National Physical Education Convention in 1920, "Read into physical education everything you can of the slightest value but don't read out of it the most fundamental thing of all--that is, all-around muscular exercise" (Weston, 1962, p. 71). In 1922, William A. Stecher of the Philadelphia Public School System defended formal gymnastics in an address at a convention held at Springfield, MA: "I am not afraid to say that in the hands of a skillful teacher a lesson composed mostly of formal work can be made enjoyable" (Weston, 1962, p. 71). Sargent, Stecher, and other supporters of formal exercise spoke eloquently in favor of reason, but by the early 1920s the "Battle of the Systems" was over. European gymnastics with its restorative and martial content eventually faded from the American educational landscape, and sports emerged as the key element in American physical education.
Posture can be defined as any position in which the body resides. In 1932, the orthopedic subcommittee of the Hoover White House Conference on Child Health and Protection defined body mechanics as "the mechanical correlation of the various systems of the body with special references to the skeletal, muscular, and visceral systems and their neurological associations" (Klein, 1932, p. 14). By the early 1930s, it appeared that American children by the thousands were suffering from postural inadequacies. In other words, they were losing their balance and movement (Klein, 1932).
There were voices in the wilderness calling for a return to a fundamental education of the physical. Drew (1929), Lippitt (1923), Lovett (1922), Rathbone (1954), and others continued to promote restorative, preventive, and corrective gymnastics. Women took the lead in promoting the restorative curriculum, but their students were often not receptive. Saylor (1930) wrote:
It is true that there are a few girls who admit that they are interested in trying to get their feet back to normal, in curing their functional disorders, or in having a straight back; but more of them, to judge from what they say, want to be having a good time, and not be "laid on the shelf," as it were, by physical disabilities which they do not consider handicaps. Radiant, dynamic health is much desired by everyone, but unfortunately too often is not sought because it might mean doing something the girl does not want to do. (p. 33)
Between 1958 and 1988, the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance featured only one article exclusively concerned with posture (Althoff, Heyden, & Robertson, 1988). Given the relationship between posture, flexibility, muscular balance, backache, and scores of other health and fitness factors, the ongoing absence of a restorative arts emphasis in the physical education curriculum might well be linked to the declining fitness of American youth.
By the early 1940s, sports and games dominated American physical education (Zeigler, 1975), but World War II brought sobering realities concerning the poor physical fitness of young American males. Their legs were generally strong, but their arm, shoulder, and abdominal muscles were pitifully weak. Bodily function and movement were often distorted by poor posture, and many young men in the prime of their lives stood idly during recreation periods seemingly unable or unmotivated to participate in organized physical activity. Far too many were physically inept and quick to reflect on the uselessness of their school physical education experience (Hackensmith, 1966).
Almost a quarter of a century earlier, Calvert (1920) called for a return to traditional European gymnastics training. Noting the dominance of sports and games over exercise geared toward total body development, Calvert challenged the reader to:
Test it for yourself. Buy some Indian clubs, dumbbells, or chinning bar, etc., and let your friends know that you are exercising regularly at home. Immediately you are dubbed a crank, and these friends first grin at you as they inquire about your system of exercise, and then spend valuable hours in trying to get you to join their particular boating, canoeing, tennis, or golf club . . . . A man who goes out and wanders over a golf link twice a week is a "good scout," but the man who takes thirty minutes daily exercise in his own room is a "nut." (p. 31)
The Kraus-Weber test of the early 1950s again suggested that American youth (this time baby-boomers) were seriously deficient in muscular strength and flexibility. Kraus (1965) studied medicine in Vienna in the early 1930s. His professional training was complemented by personal and practical insights into the old European systems of physical culture. In his youth he also practiced judo, acrobatics, fencing, boxing, skiing, and mountain climbing. Kraus moved to the United States in 1938 and was soon surprised at the extraordinary number of patients who came to him in search of relief from idiopathic back pain, which he eventually linked to under-exercise (hypokinesia) and over-irritation. Kraus believed hypokinetic disease and nervous tension contributed to at least back pain, stiff neck, headache, emotional instability, duodenal ulcers, diabetes, and heart disease.
In search of the elusive sources of America's massive backache, Kraus (1965) joined forces with a team of experts at New York University in the mid-1940s. Suspecting that muscular imbalance might be a contributing factor, they developed a test using six simple postures designed to measure the muscular efficiency of the lower back and abdominal region. Patients who scored poorly were given exercise prescriptions which often proved effective in helping to relieve their back pain. It then followed that the test might be used to predict backache. More than 5,000 American children between the ages of 6 and 19 years were tested, and 57.9% failed one or more of the postures. In contrast, almost 3,000 Italian and Austrian children were tested, and only 8.7% failed. The test proved too easy for Japanese children and educators to take seriously.
The Kraus-Weber emphasis on hypokinesia (a quantitative deficiency) overshadowed but did not completely obscure the troubling and complex qualitative problem of clumsy and unnatural body movements caused by a general impairment of motor function. Kraus (1965) noted:
Look at people you know are tense. How do they move their bodies? Certainly not smoothly. Their body movements are not fluid or rhythmic but jerky and stiff. They freeze themselves into a position, whether they are sitting in a chair, standing, or driving a car. They force their muscles into a steady alert reaction. Their muscles, already under tension, are forced to become even more tense, and they become even more tense. The muscles of the neck, shoulder girdle, and back are particularly tense, and they become the prime target areas for even more tension. (p. 63)
Kraus (1965) called for a return to rational and carefully taught restorative exercise, but sports continued to dominate the physical education curriculum in the mid-1950s. Kraus later wrote:
At the time I simply did not realize that many physical educators had such an ingrained dislike of exercise. I found this out in 1957, when I attended a meeting with a number of physical educators. It was a very friendly session. After a few minutes we got down to the main problem. I asked, "Why are you against exercise?"
"We can't use exercises," one physical educator said.
"Why not?" I asked.
He smiled. "Very simple," he said, "Twenty-five years ago we gave exercises to school children. And as far as I'm concerned, that's enough. We were looked down on as the boobs of the school system. We had no status at all. So we changed our emphasis. Now who are we? Well, we're not the boobs we used to be. We're respected members of the academic community. We're educators, physical educators if you wish. We're not 'exercise teachers' any more. We're educators, coaches, and administrators. You want to know the truth? Exercise is finished! It's passť. It's out of date. You want us to turn back the clock. Well, I'm telling you doctor, we don't care what your findings show, we're not going back to the old days. We've worked hard to get where we are, and we're going to stay there." (pp. 49-50)
When education of the physical gathered new momentum in American culture during the late 1960s and early 1970s, physical educators were challenged to teach the fitness-related skills they had long been conditioned to ignore. Schultz (1979), for example, noted the relatively recent popularity of static stretching: "Indeed, flexibility itself, for years the overlooked sibling of strength, endurance, and speed, has come to be appreciated for its own virtues as an aid to overall physical performance and as a protection against muscle soreness and injury" (p. 109).
Many university physical education programs in the early 1960s attempted to remain reputable by moving away from sports and aligning their curricula with respected scientific disciplines such as medicine, physics, and psychology. Thus began the discipline movement. The tragic cost for physical education's inability to impact significantly on the physical fitness of today's American youth and adults is still apparent, and current literature continues to debate the problems of specialization, fragmentation, and irrelevance in the physical education curriculum. As generations of Americans continue to lose their grace, poise, and balance, physical educators have responded by supporting a physical reality that includes a growing list of contraindicated postures. Lindsey and Corbin (1989) recently added to the expanding list of questionable or dangerous postures which includes, for example, the squat. Outside the borders of the United States, millions if not billions of people comfortably rest, sleep, work, defecate, copulate, and sometimes even give birth from the squat position, while today's American physical educators often complete university training convinced they must prevent their young students from assuming the simple squat posture. As the list of forbidden postures grows longer, and American movement deteriorates further, the culture faces deeper peril.
National productivity requires a healthy work force. Research indicates that low back pain alone disables from 2.6 to 5.4 million Americans each year (Alper, 1989; Frymoyer, 1988; Frymoyer & Gordon, 1989). The indirect cost to the American economy is estimated at $50-80 billion annually (Alper, 1989).
National security is threatened as the U.S. Army eases its physical training in response to the poor physical condition of its recruits ("Boot Camp Gets Softer," 1989). Franks (1984) wrote unchallenged that:
physical conditioning has often been associated with the military preparedness of our nation. Because of the perceived public support for high level military and athletic performance, it has been tempting for professional physical educators to attempt to justify our programs on those bases . . . . the military bases for a strong physical education program [are] no longer necessary." (p. 41)
It is apparent that the course of American physical education must change if the nation is to regain its balance.
The previously described ancient and modern systems of restorative, martial, and pedagogical physical education have evolved from Western cultural traditions, but Eastern cultures have also applied the same principles. Rice (1930) described Chinese systems of military and medical gymnastics dating from the 5th Century B.C. The perennial recurrence of these three content areas is well-established, and the decay of American physical culture suggests that the current and continued emphasis on the pedagogical at the expense of the restorative and martial may well be a grave and fatal miscalculation.