Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.
the mere bulk of a muscle is now a matter of little importance.  Of the utmost importance, on the other hand, is the power to coordinate and graduate the activity of our muscles, so that they may become highly trained servants.  This is a matter however not of muscle at all, but of nervous education.  Its foundation cannot be laid by mechanical things, like dumb-bells and exercises, but by games in which will and purpose and co-ordination are incessantly employed.  In other words the only physical culture worth talking about is nervous culture.  The principles here laid down are daily defied in very large measure in our nurseries, our schools and our barrack yards.  The play of a child, spontaneous and purposeful, is supremely human and characteristic.  Although when considered from the outside, it is simply a means of muscular development, properly considered it is really the means of nervous development.  Here we see muscles used as human muscles should be used, as instruments of mind.  In schools the same principles should be recognised.  From the biological and psychological point of view, the playing field is immensely superior to the gymnasium[1].”

It would be a mistake to under-estimate the value of the Swedish system of physical exercises.  Its object is not the abnormal development of muscle, but the production of a healthy, alert and well balanced body.  The military authorities in the last three years have been confronted with the problem of restoring promptness of movement, erectness of carriage, poise and flexibility to numbers of men whose muscles have been given a one-sided development by the constant performance of one kind of manual work, or have grown flabby by long sitting at a desk, and the task would have been much less successfully tackled without the aid of the Swedish methods.  In schools these exercises may be used with real benefit given two conditions, small classes and a really skilled instructor.  For the value a boy derives from the exercises, to a very large extent depends upon himself, on the concentration of his own will.  It is almost impossible to make sure in a large class that this concentration is given, and any kind of exercise done without purpose or resolution rapidly degenerates into the most useless gesticulations.  But though we may use physical exercises as an aid, I should be sorry to see them ever regarded as a substitute for games.  Even supposing that they were an adequate substitute in the development of the body (which I doubt) they cannot claim to have an effect at all comparable to that of games in the development of character.  Sometimes the most extravagant claims are put forward on behalf of athletics as a school of character, almost as extravagant as are the terms in which at other times the “brutal athlete” is denounced.  I don’t think it is found by experience that athletes cherish higher ideals or are more humble-minded than their less muscular fellows; I doubt if they become more charitable in

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