Is Physical Education Needed in Schools?: Hundred-Year-Old Advice

Source: Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women (1911)

Today there is a lot of discussion about whether students need physical education classes in school – or whether the time is better spent on academic subjects. I recently discovered that this issue has been discussed for at least a hundred years. This is what it says in the October, 1916 issue of American Cookery:

Physical Preparedness

The belief seems to be growing that physical training in the American public schools should be standardized, greatly improved, and made obligatory. The Swiss system, which begins with youngsters of eight or ten years, or some adaption thereof, is being strongly urged in many quarters.

Adoption of such a system, administered by carefully trained, and thoroughly competent instructors, ought in a very few years to bring American youth to the requisite degree of “physical preparedness” — which would fit them, broadly speaking, for better and more useful citizenship in peace and in war time.

28 thoughts on “Is Physical Education Needed in Schools?: Hundred-Year-Old Advice

  1. Well, isn’t that something? I would’ve thought that the schools, back then, wouldn’t have considered pe a priority. I say this because it was hard enough keep kids in school for the full day without them having to leave to go work the farms or help their families.
    It’s great that they considered pe an important part of the students life a hundred years ago.

    1. People were concerned a hundred years ago they they weren’t getting enough exercise because of automobiles and other forms of “modern” transportation. Your comment reminds me of a post that I did a few years ago about how there was concern back then that people weren’t walking enough. I called the post, Don’t Cultivate the Street Car Habit, and it included a quote from a 1911 book, called Outdoor Sports, that said in part:

      “Walking is one of the most healthful forms of exercise. It may seem unnecessary to devote much space to a subject that everyone thinks they know all about, but the fact is that, with trolley cars, automobiles, and horses, a great many persons have lost the ability to walk any distance.”

  2. When I was at school, I’d have sold my soul to dodge hated games and gym lessons. Now they do far more interesting things and I might be more cooperative these days.

    1. I felt the same as you when I was in school. I wasn’t particularly good at athletics, and didn’t enjoy gym class – now I try to get as much exercise as I can. Body maintenance becomes more important as we age. πŸ™‚

  3. When I was in grade school (the 1950s) we had phys ed classes twice a week, and twice daily recess. In phys ed, such things as square dancing and clogging were included, as well as gymnastics, tetherball, and so on.

    At recess? Dodge ball, tag, and Red Rover were common, as well as free play on teeter-totters, jungle gyms, parallel bars, and the merry-go-round. You know: all the things that currently are banned in so many places because they’re considered dangerous. It’s not just a matter of physical health. The playground and gym were places where we learned to deal with the bumps and bruises of life.

    1. Your comment brings back lots of memories. The phys ed and recess activities sound very similar to the ones at my school I hadn’t thought of Red Rover in years. I loved that game when I was a child.

  4. I actually taught first grade (in these modern times) in a public school that had no recess. The students were expected to sit all day. In another school, there was no PE teacher, so I had to do it. All kids need exercise and breaks during the day, just as adults do.

  5. I had the same reaction, E.C. I honesty would have thought that P.E. was a fairly modern invention that began after most homes had television sets and people started to become more sedentary.

    It’s fascinating to think that people were debating the merits of it a hundred years ago. According to a site I just found online, physical education started to become part of the school day as early as 1855. It took decades it to become widespread, though: http://toastpedanzy.weebly.com/pe-history.html

    This was an excellent topic for a post, Sheryl! Bravo. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for finding the link. It’s really interesting to learn more about the history of physical education in the U.S. I like how many of the efforts to bring physical education into the schools emphasized the relationship between physical activity and mental well-being.

    1. I didn’t like it when I was in school either. At my school it seemed like there was often a focus on competition and winning in phys ed – and I always worried that I’d be the last person picked for a team.

  6. Lol, Sheryl ,you amaze me at what you find,that’s really quite interesting from a hundred years ago! PE ..who’d of thought..πŸ˜€

  7. While I personally was never a fan of phys Ed class, I do think students need more and daily opportunities to get out of their seats, get fresh air and run around freely. 20 minutes of recess isn’t enough. Sitting all day is unhealthy and unnatural.

  8. I’m one of those who thinks students need time to be active in school, whether form a phys ed class or just games at recess. I think the trick is to make the class something that all the students, regardless of their coordination levels and competitive spirits, can enjoy.

    1. I think that you are absolutely right. I didn’t like phys ed when I was in school. I think that I didn’t like it because the teacher often organized the class in a competitive way and I wasn’t very athletic.

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