« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
being, I urge and entreat you to give it careful thought, to allow it all the weight to which it is fairly entitled. So shall your influence never be lost, but go on, extending and widening. No sincere effort to promote the good of others can be wholly ineffectual. I remember the kindly tones, the pleasant face, the affectionate warning, and the cheering words of encouragement of a teacher under whose care I was placed when a small boy. The influence which he exerted upon me will, I think, be felt forever; and it is an influence always leading to right. I shall never forget him. How often do I see him in imagination! He is living at the present time, and if he knew that I have been thinking and speaking of him to-day to an audience of teachers upon the distant Pacific coast, his first emotion would be that of surprise that I still think of him after the lapse of so many years; the second would be a thrill of joyful gratitude to God that his counsels had made so deep an impression upon the minds of his scholars, that he had been remembered with esteem and affection.
May our efforts be such in relation to all who may be entrusted to our care that hereafter, wherever the lot of our pupils may be cast upon the broad earth, they may look back upon the school-house which they attended, as the place where they received, besides all useful learning, a love for all that is good, pure, and honorable, which has never left them, but exerts an abiding influence on their characters. So shall your memory be ever kept green in their hearts; so shall your faithful efforts be blessed in their lives.
Intellectual training being the main object of the public schools, it is not surprising that the body has too often been remorselessly sacrificed to the brain.
The neglect of physical culture having produced a long train of evils, too serious to be longer evaded by the most stubborn conservatives, the result is, that systematic physical training is beginning to be_recognized as a duty in the public schools of the United States. In some schools, gymnastic and calisthenic exercises form a part of the daily drill of pupils, quite as regularly as the mental exercises in arithmetic and grammar. In some colleges, muscular training in the gymnasium is insisted on quite as strenuously as a knowledge of the classics. They are using their gymnasiums to build up stout bodies, as well as strong minds. A four years' war taught the nation to place a higher value on physical manhood. In many public schools, the elements of military drill have been introduced, and, under the stimulus of the war spirit, successfully carried into effect. But the first great requisites for good soldiers, before which all others sink into insignificance, are sound health, activity, and power of endurance. The rawest recruits can be taught to handle a musket in a few weeks, but muscles of iron and sinews of steel cannot be fastened upon men like knapsacks. The Greek and Roman veterans were trained from boyhood, by gymnastic
*First Biennial Report, 1865.
exercises, and athletic games and sports. To lay a solid foundation for our own military strength as a nation, we must begin with the three millions of boys in our public schools; and, while we breathe into their hearts the spirit of patriotism, we must train them to a muscular power which will give us fit soldiers to fight and win the battles of the republic. Ten years of boy-life in schools where regular gymnastic drill is followed up, and where a fondness for all athletic games and sports is cultivated, will make a good foundation for military drill.
Physical training is important as an efficient aid to mental culture. It comes into school as an amusement, a relaxation from the hard work of mental application. School amusements are a necessity of childhood. One of the greatest defects of our schools, is their failure to recognize the laws of animal life.
In Germany and Prussia, the children are trained in the schools to gymnastic and athletic exercises; and the result is a national trait of fondness for out-of-door life. English schools are noted for rough-and-tumble games, foot-ball, cricket, leaping, running, wrestling, rowing, boxing, and fencing. Pluck is a national trait of English school-boys, and of English men.
Amusement, in all nations and among all people, in some form, comes in to lighten the burden of toil. Labor is a means, not an end; and the true end of life, usefulness and happiness, lies in the golden mean, the alternation of labor, rest, and amusement.
When the only standing recreation of the American people is business, and their lighter amusements billiards and the ball-room, we have little reason to expect great fondness for sports in schools. This distaste for fun and frolic comes down to us as a natural inheritance. The grave old Puritans, who settled New England, and laid in granite the foundation of the nation, had too much hard work to do in clearing farms and hunting Indians, to think much of amusements. They brought with them, too, something of the old Roundhead antipathy to May-poles, dancing, and theatres.
Whatever may be the reason, it is certain that the Americans, as a people, have little fondness for athletic games and out-of-door sports, without which it is hard to keep the muscular system in good condition.
The ancient Greeks carried to the highest perfection the cultivation of the intellect and the training of the body. Their Olympic games, their athletic exercises, their school discipline, their military drill, secured the highest possible degree of physical perfection. Their poets, orators, philosophers, painters, sculptors, and historians, were good fighters. Alcibiades, the sybarite, the fop, the reveler, could live on black broth, and rough it in the camp with the hardiest of the common soldiers.
Socrates was a soldier as well as a philosopher, and would have been less respected had he wanted the attributes common to all citizen soldiers-strength, courage, and endurance.
When, in Greece, a luxurious civilization corrupted the tastes of the citizens, and reduced them to effeminacy, the rude barbarian claimed the land, and won it.
Their severe gymnastic training, it is true, had for its primary ob
ject the perfection of military discipline; but it also produced clear heads, strong minds, and the perfect forms which still live in marble. Its influence was felt in literature, to which it gave a healthy cast. It gave to the nation its immortal sculptors and painters.
It is in the power of the public schools to educate the nation to a more healthful taste for simple amusements, and to raise the standard of manly strength and womanly beauty.
But apart from this, the highest degree of mental culture cannot be attained in violation of the laws of physical life. Childhood is the season or growth, of animal development. It is a mistaken notion that children are born into the world for the purpose of going to school to learn to read and write. Playfulness is, with them, as much an instinct as with kittens. Even in the long, dark winters of the arctic zone, where nature in her savage forms almost freezes out the life of man, Dr. Kane found the stunted little Esquimaux boys playing their games of ball on the snow-banks. Let the children in school have amusements in the form of healthful, muscular exercises. It is absolutely painful to think how most of our primary schools sin against the laws of nature; how they cramp the little bodies, and repress childish emotions and impulses.
Education is the harmonious development of all the faculties of the human mind, and the training of the human body to its greatest strength and highest beauty. Why, then, in our public schools, should not physical training be considered, as well as mental development?
It is evident to all who are in the least familiar with the daily routine of our schools, that the muscular natures of the children are as little regarded as if they were made of gutta percha. Now, I do not suppose that many children are killed outright by the high pressure of mental training. Occasionally some nervous boy, brilliant and ambitious, his vitality all running to brain instead of body, drops out of school into his grave, and his death is attributed to Providence instead of mathematics. But thousands of boys leave school, thin, pale, and weak, or bungling, clumsy, and awkward, when they might as well have left it strong, active, and graceful.
It is not so much the positive harm which the schools inflict of which we complain, but their neglect to accomplish positive good. It might be hard to prove, in court, that delicate girls, of fine nervous organizations, have been killed outright by long lessons, overstimulated ambition, late study hours, and mathematical puzzles; yet all teachers very well know that brain fevers have taken off many promising young girls, and that many more leave school with diplomas and ruined constitutions. All the girls in public schools have neither crooked spines, round shoulders, sunken chests, nor pale faces; but how much more perfect might be their physical development, did their health receive half the attention devoted to music, drawing, and mathematics. Can any mental culture be of greater importance than the health of those who are to become the mothers of the next generation of men? Few girls who are educated in the public schools escape the universal law of labor. Most of them, when they enter homes of their own at an early age, will need strength as well as accomplishments. Many of them must do their
own housework, in addition to the care of children; and is the question of physical strength of no consequence to them? Is it of little consequence to the laboring man, with a family to support, whether his wife be strong or feeble, well or sick?
The strong boys, in the long run, come out ahead. When an ox is let into a pasture full of cattle, there is a trial of horns, and the strongest takes the lead. So with the boys of a public school. The strong, the energetic, the active, are the real kings of school, whether they are at the head or foot of the arithmetic class. Give the boy, then, the exercise his nature craves, and which will make him a live boy and a manly man. If he leaves school with a fondness for athletic amusements, he has one of the surest safeguards against expensive and ruinous dissipation.
A judicious union of social, mental, and physical culture, will make our public schools practically adapted to the wants of the people. If parents, through ignorance, neglect the proper training of their children, let the public school take charge of them. ments form a part of education, and much excellent gymnastic and calisthenic training may be connected with games, or made delightful by music.
But some will say, leave children to follow their own inclination in plays and sports; it is not natural for boys to climb the ropes and ladders of a gymnasium, to swing clubs, lift weights, and revolve on bars; nor is it desirable that young ladies use wands, swing dumb bells, and romp in the play-ground. Any attempt at systematic and repeated drill will prove irksome, and therefore useless.
Then why not leave the mind to its natural, untrained action? Why submit the brain to regular training? Children's brains are as active as their bodies; why not leave both alike to the ill-regulated laws of impulse and feeling? In mental culture we recognize the great law of nature, that no perfection is attained without repeated and systematic effort. Mental gymnastics of the severest kind are rigidly practised during at least ten years of early life. Strength, readiness, and quickness are the result. Leave the mind to its own aimless action, and its strength all runs to waste.
The same law applies to the muscular system; yet we leave the boy in school, day after day, year after year, cramped over his desk, his muscles weak and relaxed, and his nervous energy, diverted from his growth, to be poured on an already overworked brain. If he have unusual stamina, he comes out in tolerable health, but clumsy and bungling; if of a nervous temperament, he leaves school precociously sharp and quick, but thin, pale, and weak.
Take a class of boys and subject them, from the age of six years to fifteen, to a careful and judicious daily exercise of an hour in such gymnastics as are best adapted to the growing body, and will not their physique be vastly superior to that of a class left to run wild in the yard? And would not such an additional stock of animal vigor and strength stand them in quite as good stead in the world as their limited store of school-book learning? The graduates of West Point can be singled out of a crowd by their straight forms, erect walk, general quickness of movement, and superior physical development. On a small scale, why cannot the elementary
schools reach the same results? Any business man knows that sound health and power of endurance are quite as necessary to success as quickness in mathematics, or skill in the use of language. What merchant would not rather have his son come to the counting-room with every muscle strung to its highest tension, quick, active, self-reliant, strong, and proud of his strength, even if he knows a few pages less of a few books, than to see him drag home a thin face and attenuated muscles? Do not mechanics and laborers think it of some importance that their sons, who will take their places and live by manual labor, shall have sinewy frames, as well as intelligent minds? By far the greater number of boys who attend the public schools grow up working men. To all such, power of endurance is the most practical education. The arm to lift a fifty-pound dumb bell is better than the analysis of cube root.
A sound body is the only capital they have to start with in life, Knowledge may be power, but muscular strength is food and clothing. Some men must earn their living by muscular labor, as well as others by their wits. Horace Mann said, and he knew the truth of it, "All through the life of a pure-minded but feeble-bodied man, his path is lined with memory's grave-stones, which mark the spots. where noble enterprises perished for want of physical vigor to embody them in deeds.
Sound health is a necessary condition of all permanent success, and the greatest drawback to our public school system is the neglect to provide for this necessity. Better illiterate strength than sickly erudition. It is true that sometimes a heroic spirit conquers physical weakness, but such cases are exceptions. Dr. Kane braved the terrors of the arctic regions, and endured more than many physical giants, but died in Cuba. Nature had her revenge.
Many teachers will say, that is all very fine theoretically, but it is utterly impossible to carry it out practically in the school. Yet, it can be done, has been done, and is done in a great many public schools.
Connected for a period of ten years with a public school of five hundred children, during five years of that time gymnastic and calisthenic training was made a part of daily education, just as much as arithmetic, or geography, or grammar, and with quite as satisfactory results. Having practiced all that I recommend, I am troubled with no doubts in urging the practicability of physical culture in the public schools. True, it was rather hard in the beginning, to be blamed for innovations, laughed at by conservatives, and found fault with by parents. But persistence and patience overcame all obstacles. Mothers who at first objected to letting their boys exercise in the gymnasium, for fear they would break their necks or tear their clothes, soon grew proud of the strength and agility of their sons.
Delicate girls, who horrified their mammas with accounts of wands and dumb-bells, grew to like both, as they grew stronger under daily drill. Pale, weakly, good-for-nothing boys, who at first only moped around the yard and looked at the other boys, soon became interested and took hold in earnest, until the narrow chest expanded, the round shoulders straightened, and the soft, flabby arm became like knotted whip-cords.