Dawn Duran posted a short overview of physical education on the Afterthoughts blog, worthy of any human’s consideration in our day and age.
In her article, she grants that most people today define this broad concept of “physical education” as something which “promotes physical fitness in a school setting”. Yet what precisely does this mean? She identifies the telos as being the promotion of a healthy body over a lifetime, and says the means by which such ends are to be achieved is found in physical activity. These definitions, though certainly core to the idea of physical education, suffer from the reductionism of modern science and philosophy. And while Mrs.Duran is obviously somewhat familiar with older traditions of worldview, her ability to reconcile the ancient concept of “Gymnastic” with her modern training in health science and physical therapy demonstrably suffers in how the article tends to vacillate between these two worldviews, rather than sifting and harmonizing them.
The fact is, P.E. is not simply about achieving physical skill (fitness), though it does include this. Mrs.Duran pays homage to this reality in a later article which focuses on the character-building potential of team-sports, and yet here “P.E.” is defined as isolated from such character-building qualities.
Her definition fails not only in identifying the totality of P.E.’s goal, but also the totality of qualities which are involved in the acts of the education itself. One is not merely achieving physical potential/skill, through merely physical means, nor are these things to be attended to in a training model which lacks any consideration of the ends for which they are purposed. The powers and abilities of our physical bodies are not an end in themselves.
So what are the ends for which we pursue P.E.? If we do not assert such ends, they will simply be asserted for us, just as they are in the academic studies of modern public school, which profess only the goal of empowering student “ability” and not purpose. Again, we see that in some way Mrs.Duran knows that this is true, for she cites the greek concept of “Gymnastic” in this article, as explicated by “The Liberal Arts Tradition” by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark, where the telos of Gymnastic is defined as being aimed at the development of “the whole person”, giving the example of mental discipline as being a part of physical education. She furthers and finalizes her case, saying that P.E. should have an ultimate goal of “making heroes”, (a character concept, rather than a bio-mechanical quality).
Obviously Dawn Duran knows on some level that Gymnastic is about more than physical potentiality being developed via physical practices. Obviously she recognizes on some level that P.E. has a goal which we should consciously aim at. And yet her opening definitions seem to fall back upon what one can only guess is the sickly indoctrination she suffered in training for her profession.
Having pointed out the inconsistencies of the essay, the essay still contains content worth wrestling with. Furthermore, Mrs.Duran avoids a compartmentalized definition of “holism” in education, which is much to be applauded. Though perhaps accidentally implied, she does not blatantly tell her reader to “get physical education for the physical body”, “academic education for the mind”, and to “go to church to train the soul”. One can never isolate aspects of one’s experience, though one may highlight certain realities. Thus, we can agree that so-called “physical education”, perhaps better labeled “gymnastic” education, is indeed something which highlights and involves our physical bodies in physical activity which have physical results which even have physical purposes/ends. Yet a true gymnastic education must also recognize that it involves more than the physical, and that its activities, results, purposes/ends should never be pursued without the totality of one’s being, in one’s world. To do so, would be to deny the reality of the existence which God has created, where all things are made from, through, and to Himself.