Influence of Historical Events on Physical Education

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  • 0:04 Physical Education
  • 0:37 European Origins
  • 1:10 A Brief History
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Physical education has had several philosophical shifts since its inception in Europe in the 1700s. In this lesson, we'll identify and discuss some historical events that have influenced the profession and practice of physical education.

Physical Education

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ''We are not makers of history. We are made by it.'' Our origins and the events that have occurred over time make a difference in how we see and do things today. Keep this idea in mind as we talk about some of the history of physical education in this lesson.

Physical education programs first developed at the end of the 18th century. While many of the primary purposes still exist, changes have occurred over time based on societal needs. Let's examine some of these events.

European Origins

From the late 1700s to the middle of the 1800s, physical education programs were part of the curriculum in Germany, Sweden, and England. In Germany, most programs focused on gymnastics. In Sweden, jump ropes, climbing ropes, and wands were used to teach balance, improve stamina, and build strength. The English approach to physical education included games and sportsmanship. When immigrants from these three countries came to America, a combination of these three approaches began to appear in classrooms.

A Brief History

The first school in America to include physical education as part of the curriculum was a private school in Massachusetts in 1823. The following year, the Hartford Female Seminary began to include calisthenics, which are exercises such as pushups, jumping jacks, and running that do not require equipment.

Catherine Beecher developed the first physcial education curriculum in the US.
Catherine Beecher

The founder, Catharine Beecher, strongly believed that exercise was a vital component to any school curriculum. However, it took more than 30 years for public schools to catch on to the benefits.

The public school system in Cincinnati, Ohio was the first to offer physical education to students in 1855. By 1866, California was the first state to pass laws requiring exercise twice a day in public schools. Over the next few decades, the biggest debate facing physical education was which program (German, Swedish, English, or American) offered the best type of physical education program.

However, things changed in the 1890s with John Dewey, an educational reformer that helped develop constructivism, or the idea that how we learn is through experience and reflection, not memorization. He thought that students ought to be able to engage in real-world situations and given the chance to show their knowledge through creativity and working together. This included physical education as a way to help students develop social skills.

Thomas Wood expanded on Dewey's ideas in 1893 by developing a physical education program that promoted learning educational content through play and physical activity. He said that ''the great thought of physical education is not the education of the physical nature, but the relation of physical training to complete education, and then the effort to make the physical contribute its full share to the life of the individual.''

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