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School Management - Physical Culture

( Originally Published 1897 )

Importance of Physical Training.-Any system of education would be seriously defective that did not give prominence to the laws of health. The value of bodily strength was felt by the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans ; and the nations of modern Europe and of America are becoming more fully alive to its demands. The researches of science, and especially the study of hygienic laws, are saving intelligent nations from blind empiricism. Protection against disease is an important matter, since a condition of health is the foundation upon which all physical culture must rest.

It is clear that matters of everyday occurrence call for more attention to all that affects bodily vigor. Not one person in ten takes proper care of his health. Broken-down constitutions indicate lamentable negligence. Statistics show an amount of sickness that might have been lessened. Premature deaths are numerous. Experimental psychology has furnished us with data that may be turned to great advantage. Sweden has pointed out the large number of boys and girls-especially the latter-that are troubled with headaches and weak spines. Germany has called attention to the defective eyesight of many of its people. French physicians have urged a halt regarding the pressure of school studies. Educational reformers in England, Canada and the United States are strongly advocating more attention to physical training. The words of the immortal Juvenal-"Hens sana in corpore sano "-embody a principle which should be widely recognized.

The Duty Of the School.-Physical culture must have its place in the school. Physiology and hygiene should form part of the curriculum. Sanitary conditions cannot be ignored by trustees. The health of the child, his rapid growth during school age, and the effect of this rapid development upon his ability to study, demand the careful attention of all school authorities.

In a new and sparsely settled country, where the inhabitants are mostly connected with agriculture, some of the dangers to health which beset large cities are absent. The problems relating to school life become more complicated when questions affecting a supply of pure water, the disposal of sewage, the heating and ventilation of large buildings, and the organization of graded schools, are pressing for solution. The haste to advance from one class to another, the demands upon the young organism in the critical period of its growth, the aspirations that stimulate mental activities, and the numerous exposures to danger, render it imperative that the work of the school should be carried on in such a way as will not foster intellectual development at the expense of bodily vigor.

Instruction in Hygiene.-The ignorance of the most elementary principles of hygiene so often shown, proves that the subject should have its place in the public school programme. It may be made interesting to pupils if divested, as it can be, of many of the terms pertaining to anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Children should have some scientific knowledge of the food they enjoy, the air they breathe, the rest they require, the bodies they use, the care required of the eyes, and the voice to be trained.

It is irrational to require students to understand mathematics, history, botany, drawing, philology, etc., and at the same time to give them no means of gaining a knowledge of the muscles, the nervous system, respiration, digestion, the evils of narcotics, the circulation of the blood, and the laws that govern the development of the body.

Healthfulness of School Site.-The site of a school should not be chosen where children may be exposed to accident, or where there is danger of contracting disease. The day is gone by when, for the sake of getting a site for nothing, a school is located near a swamp, or near stagnant water, where malhelvetica or aticmatic vapors abound. If built in a town or city, it should not be placed where the occupants breathe the gases and effluvia arising from improperly drained streets, neighboring factories or stables, or leaky and defective sewers. Apart from sanitary requirements, the surroundings should be attractive, the grounds fenced, well laid out and ornamented, and necessary provisions made to secure ready ingress and egress. For purposes of health, one of the most important accessories of the school-house is the play-ground. Whether it is used as a place for continuing the discipline of the school-room, or simply as a spot where the children may be free to pursue their games, its size, location and exposure should be carefully considered. Pupils are more easily con-trolled when their environments are agreeable. Good facilities for play and recreation are essential to good discipline. Interest should be taken in Arbor Day observances and in every other means of improving the school grounds. The cultivation of the aesthetic taste in these, and in other directions, will secure greater regularity of attendance, and promote good order and that love for school life which, in itself, is helpful to physical growth.

The Building.-This is not the place to mention in detail the requirements of school architecture. The regulations compel trustees to comply with important sanitary conditions. In the erection of a school-house, utility, comfort and beauty may be combined. Health is the first consideration. It is hard to preserve order in a room where no regard has been paid to these requirements. The school-house should be the pride of the community. Commodious schools furnish more working space and a better supply of pure air. Small, low, over-crowded school-rooms show wretched economy. A few paltry dollars will often be grudged for what may be needed for the comfort, health, and even for the safety of the lives, of children.

School Furniture.-The furniture of a school should be selected with due regard for the comfort of the pupils. Good order, as well as health, forbids the use of seats that are too high or too low. Dangling feet or cramped limbs are soon attended with restlessness and disturbance. In a rural school, seats of different heights are usually provided. Even in a graded school, unless there are practical difficulties in the way, a similar arrangement has its advantage, when pupils of different sizes are put in the same class. The object is sometimes met by the use of foot-rests, or by means of "adjustable" seats and desks-i.e., seats and desks that may be adjusted to the size of the occupant. It is to be regretted that sufficient attention has not always been given to the question of suitable school furniture. Not to speak of nervous disorders, round shoulders, sunken chests, curvature of the spine, and other physical defects, which are often due to improper positions of pupils in school, much inattention and disorder are traceable to the same causes.

Heating.-The temperature of a school should be from 65 to 70 degrees, Fahrenheit, so that every pupil is comfortably warm, whatever part of the room he occupies. The thermometer should be frequently consulted. A temperature too high or too low distracts attention, renders pupils dull, destroys intellectual activity, and endangers health. School trustees are slow in adopting modern methods of heating. A common stove, without any pro-vision for ventilation or any plan of moistening the air, is still found in many rural schools and even in some city schools. Defects of this kind render it the more imperative for the teacher to see that the children are not exposed to draughts, or to excessive heat or cold. Carelessness here is next to a crime. More excusable to neglect grammar or arithmetic than to be blind to the importance of the health and physical comfort of the pupils.

Ventilation.-Good school work needs pure blood, and pure blood largely depends upon pure air. Anyone who in winter enters a crowded and badly ventilated school, and notices the vitiated atmosphere which pupils and teachers breathe, will not wonder at the disastrous results to health that are ascribed to bad ventilation. Bad air sends noxious elements to the blood, depresses the organs of circulation and respiration, produces languor, and destroys the pleasures of school life. It makes the pupils stupid, and it is apt to cause the teacher to grow irritable and cross. In a badly ventilated room the energy flags, weariness follows, the work suffers, and the order is poor. Listlessness, head-ache, giddiness and dulness are signs of a vitiated atmosphere. In a well ventilated room a good teacher feels energetic, and the children readily respond to his demands for mental exertion.

The question of ventilation is closely connected with that of heating, and both are now receiving much attention: Unfortunately, window ventilation is still the only method adopted in a great many schools. To protect the pupils from exposure, and to keep the room supplied with pure air, will require careful study. The lack of thought on the part of the teacher often compels children to sit in a room which for one hour is filled with a hot, stifling atmosphere; and for the next with air almost as cold as that outside. A teacher who becomes so absorbed in teaching as not to anticipate the state of the atmosphere for the next hour, is unfit for his position.

Lighting.-Light is essential to good health. A half-lighted room has a gloomy look, and exercises a depressing effect on teacher and pupils. Children should not be allowed to sit with the sunshine either coming in their eyes or beating on their heads. It is a mistake, however, to exclude sunlight from the room. Large windows and plenty of them will, with a judicious arrangement of blinds, readily secure all that is desired. Pupils should not be required to face the windows. Facing the light often produces pain in the eyes, headache, general nervous irritation, and possible injury to the sight.

The best light for a school-room is from the left of the pupils. Buildings are not always planned with this object in view, and, therefore, greater care devolves upon the teacher. Too often low windows, glazing (which diminishes the light), and badly tinted walls are to be found, as well as an arrangement of furniture which brings pupils in their own light. The cultivation of house plants is to be encouraged, but the absurd habit of darkening rooms by placing too many plants in the windows should be avoided.

Cleanliness.-" CIeanliness is next to godliness," is a maxim the truth of which science will not dispute. Nothing is more certain to sanitarians than that disease revels in dirt, dampness and darkness. Soap and civilization are inseparable. A free use of water promotes mental growth as well as physical vigor. The school-room must be kept scrupulously clean, and children must be trained to avoid bringing in dirt, spitting on the Hoer, or forming other objectionable habits of this nature. A judicious teacher can, without giving offence, accustom children to pay proper attention to personal cleanliness. Much good may be accomplished by giving plain talks to little children on the necessity of forming regular habits, and on the consequent importance of attending promptly to all the calls of nature. In these matters parents are often remiss, and a false delicacy limits teachers in their duties.

It is time trustees were compelled to give more attention to the construction of the outside buildings. Care should be taken to have the closets frequently cleaned, and placed under regular inspection. Apart from sanitary considerations, negligence here is an obstacle to moral training, and a sure sign, if overlooked by the teacher, of bad discipline. The paths leading to the closets, where the latter (as is generally the case) are separated from the buildings, should be kept free from dampness, dirt or obstruction. In winter the snow should be promptly cleared away. Carelessness is a sure sign of neglect on the part of the responsible school authorities. Disinfectants when needed should be applied. It is scarcely necessary to add that the closets, if not properly connected with the building, should be screened or sufficiently retired, and not conspicuously placed in the play grounds. Separate provisions for the sexes is imperative.

Fatigue.-The brain, like any other physical organ, is benefited by effort, but it becomes wearied with over-exertion. For healthy exercise it needs the nourishment that comes from good food, pure water, fresh air, and a vigorous circulation. Mental exercise should be suited to the stage of development and to the age of the pupil. The first intellectual efforts should not go much beyond the acquisition of knowledge gained through the senses. The power of attention cannot be secured at once, and further time will be needed for that of conception, judgment and reason. To attempt at an early age the abstractions of grammar, the principles of science, or the reasoning of mathematics, is to produce weariness and to dwarf the intellect.

Fatigue may often be prevented by a wise arrangement of the time table (Chapter XII.). In the case of young children, school life should not be made unhappy by assigning much home work. There should be no interference with the necessary physical exercises of the evening. Abundant sleep is a primary condition of sound health, profitable study, and mental and physical growth. Frequent alternation of bodily and mental exertion will often prevent fatigue and promote physical, as well as intellectual, development. It is a sound rule in elementary classes to avoid the continuation of any effort up to the point of weariness. Children need rest, and any neglect of sleep or recreation is pernicious in its consequences. A healthy child is benefited by mental exercise, provided the exertion does not cause fatigue. The annual examination, if the classification is good, should never injuriously affect the bodily condition of a scholar who has had during the year proper intellectual work of a reproductive nature. When work has been done in a hurried way, and pupils expected, by storing their memories with badly-digested matter, to complete in one year what should require two, it is no wonder that the examination is approached with nervous anxiety, or that it demands a vast expenditure of effort, and gives rise to worry, fatigue and even bodily collapse (Chapter XVI.). Good teaching produces pleasure and not fatigue.

Mental fatigue may be due to the neglect of bodily exercise, but it is a mistake to require immediately from the over-taxed student a large amount of physical exertion. His condition may demand economy of nervous energy, perfect repose of brain, and therefore no difficult gymnastics. A good walk, or a run in the green fields, will free the mind and rest the head better in such a case than any system of physical exercise. There are physiological reasons that should prevent a thoughtful teacher from ignoring the apathy often shown to drill and gymnastics by intellectual students. Severe gymnastics are not desirable in any case. To become a scholar and an athlete is difficult.

Physical Exercise.-Physical growth, like intellectual or moral development, cannot be secured without exercise. Lessons in hygiene will not give bodily strength. Exercise of the body is a direct relief from exercise that is purely intellectual. If the limbs are exercised, a better growth of the various structures of the brain is the result. Bodily exertion promotes also moral restraint, and secures better discipline in school. Too often it has been supposed that physical culture is valuable only because it sustains and improves the bodily strength by expanding the lungs, quickening the circulation, and developing the muscles. It does all this and more. It contributes to brain growth, and to the symmetrical development of the mental faculties.

In the matter of moral training it promotes courage, fortitude, determination, and obedience. It tends to restrain the appetites and passions, as well as to check tendencies to selfishness.

Each class of physical exercises has its own characteristic effect. Athletics. will develop perseverance, courage, and power to adapt one's self to emergencies. Greece, Rome and England present illustration. Gymnastics will develop endurance and faith in one's powers, as witnessed in Germany. Calisthenics, as practised in Sweden and France, will promote grace of movement. No one of them should dispense with the spontaneous exercises of the school-yard.

Exercises which call into action the greatest number of muscles are the best. In addition to the ordinary occupations of life, there is a variety of common forms of exercise. Walking, using the bicycle, riding on horseback, rowing, swimming, skating and playing lawn-tennis or football have their respective advantages. They take per-sons into the open air and sunshine, and thus supply the lungs with air, enrich the blood, and exercise the muscles.

There is danger of over-straining in physical as well as in mental exercises. ' This is especially true during the nascent period of each organ. Some exercises of a physical kind, as well as some of an intellectual nature, should not come early in life.

"The body does not grow alike in all directions and at all times. In the first stages of development the lower organs receive the most nourishment, and at a later stage the brain and arms. Each organ and each faculty has a nascent period. When we shall have determined the order of the nascent periods, we shall have a scientific basis for education never before known. The nascent period of the arms comes before that of the wrists and hands. So the child should work with full-arm movements before being expected to make use of the fingers. . . . If an organ is exercised much before the period of greatest growth, it is dwarfed and stunted from over-work. If not exercised till after that period, the energy developed goes to waste. If the work comes before that period, the organs suffer from over-work ; if after, from underwork."-G. Stanley Hall.

Recess.-Study exhausts. Amusement of the proper kind is the best hygienic agency. Recreation is essential to good work. School life must have its periods of play. The more studious the boy the more vigorous should be the recreation. Injury will follow any reversal of Nature's methods of recuperation. Three or four hours of daily work may be plenty for pupils under seven years of age. The number, length and distribution of recesses must vary with the ages of children. Exercises during recess should, if the weather permits, be taken in the open air. Play is the most healthful of all exercises. "Play," says Richter, is, in the first place, the working off at once of the overflow of both mental and physical powers." Plays which are dangerous, or which tend to make pupils rude, should be prohibited. The intermission gives good opportunities for judging character and developing the moral nature of children. It helps to cultivate a healthy public sentiment among pupils. The outbursts of passion, differences of opinion, and accidents of the play-ground, are positive forces of childhood. They are primitive embryonic forms of that society in which adult life moves.

"I am a great stickler for the old-fashioned recess-the wild recess ; the pupil bursting out of the school-room, running about, shouting, and pushing his fellows. It is the recess that recreates the pupil and restores the nervous energy. After the enjoyment of a little freedom and a run, the child returns to the school-room and does his work better. But these set exercises which strain the attention of the child are hurtful."- W. T. Harris.

Games.-For the older pupils hardy and vigorous games should be encouraged. Cricket, football, lacrosse and base-ball have long held prominence. In he case of High School students, football has at present most popularity. Even younger boys may engage in this game if they are not allowed to come into collision with those much bigger and stronger than themselves. It is well for the teacher to be frequently on the play-ground to suggest games, and thus quietly to select what is invigorating and refining.

It is no harm to allow girls to " romp" and take abundance of outdoor recreation. False views of decorum often debar them from play. Every school-yard should have a portion fenced off for the girls, where they may play ball, lawn tennis, or other games. More physical vigor, and less music and painting, would not harm many young women.

Gymnastics.-High School and College students need a system of bodily exercises to develop muscular strength, and to promote general physical culture and health. In the employment of the severe gymnastics, regard should be had to the age and physical constitution of the students. Much injury may be done by requiring all the members of a school or class to perform the same exercises. It is doubtful whether, up to. the age of entering a High School, pupils need much more than abundant opportunities for the outdoor sports and recreations in which their natural activity will prompt them to engage. False views of the purposes of gymnastics are often held. It should be understood that the object is not to turn out athletes, but to promote physical culture. The practice of sending all the members of a class into the gymnasium to engage indiscriminately, and without direction, in any exercises they may choose, is to be condemned. The building should be properly heated, and fitted up with simple appliances of the most approved character, and the regular masters should give proper directions regarding the exercises, unless a special instructor is provided.

Calisthenics.-This system of physical exercises for girls is based on the same principle as gymnastics for boys. Apparatus may or may not be used. The movements are neither violent nor complicated. Unlike the common active sports of girls, their advantage consists in their systematic regulation, so as to give regular action to the muscles. A great variety of beneficial, graceful and interesting exercises may be performed with such simple instruments as wands, dumb-bells, light-weights, etc. The movements train to promptness, develop grace of body, promote harmony of action among a number of pupils, and break up sluggishness. A judicious use of calisthenic exercises will prevent many nervous ailments to which girls are liable. Care is necessary in their use. When not taken in the open air, the room during winter should be properly heated, and should be well lighted, ventilated, and kept free from dust. The dress worn should be light and easy, and the exercises should not be prolonged. Much intellectual exertion must not be expected if the physical system has become jaded and fatigued. The exercises, for neither boys nor girls, should be taken immediately before or after meals. Early in the morning, or near evening, is the best time for both gymnastics and calisthenics.

Military Drill.-Military. or Swedish drill may be an efficient substitute for certain gymnastic exercises. It is found to be not only an effective means of giving physical culture, but an excellent method of forming habits of attention, order, subordination, and prompt obedience.

Many a boy with ungainly walk, stooped shoulders, or sluggish movements, may be cured by a few months' practice in drill. The body becomes better set up, the chest is expanded, the shoulders are thrown well back, and the head is kept erect. The step also becomes elastic, and the limbs are moved with ease and precision.

Drill is a method of physical culture that is inexpensive to trustees, and capable of being taken up by any intelligent teacher and adapted to the conditions of all classes of pupils. Too often the real purposes of drill are lost sight of. The main object is to develop the body, and not to foster any ardor for military glory or display.

Manual Training.-This is a late addition to the curriculum of city schools in some countries. The most grotesque notions are prevalent with many persons as to the object of Manual Training Schools. A boy is not taught a trade but he is taught many principles that underlie all trades, and he acquires facility in the use of all the common tools. A Manual Training School affords the students of a large city opportunities which those in the rural districts enjoy. It co-ordinates literature with art, and both with science and mathematics; so that the youth learns that no form of honest labor is without its inherent dignity, and that beauty and utility are not necessarily separated from the every-day life of the mechanic. Incidentally, Manual Training Schools furnish physical culture, which, though limited in .its scope, is highly valuable to the class of boys that attend these institutions. Schools for girls are also established.

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