I adored this chapter. Do you know why? It’s because she starts right out by questioning our reasons for engaging in physical training. I have always hated what we call physical education, and it is mainly because it was never presented to me as a compelling idea. Folks give various reasons for it — so that students burn calories, so they can be attractive, so they can take satisfaction in winning something (when a game is played), and so on.
Charlotte explains that similar reasons were given in her day.
We want to turn out ‘a fine animal,’ a man or woman with a fine physique and in good condition …
Forgive me, but this is not a captivating idea.
In my youth, I was drawn to ballet. We spent hours perfecting a move, not to be skinny and beautiful (not at my studio, anyhow), but to make the dance beautiful. The dancer attempted to control her body in order to be a part of something bigger than herself — a dance.
Between that and the lovely music, I was thrilled. And I wasn’t even that great of a dancer! That didn’t stop me from loving ballet class.
To my teenaged mind, nothing physical education at school offered could compare with ballet and its noble task.
But I’m raising boys, and it is hard to transfer my girlish notions about ballet to something that works for my boys. And my husband and I aren’t so sure we’d put our girls in ballet (if we could ever afford it) because most of the studios in this town seem to have a culture in which girls consider their body shape and beauty to pay some sort of compliment to the art.
And we’re not in the market for anorexia, if you get my drift.
As I was saying, Charlotte has a way of elevating physical training:
[I]t is questionable whether we are making heroes; and this was the object of physical culture among the early Greeks anyway. Men must be heroes, or how could they fulfil the heavy tasks laid upon them by the gods?
So Charlotte wouldn’t have our sons, for instance, playing sports so that they can (1) get a scholarship to college, (2) be in shape, (3) attract girls, (4) make friends, (5) win a trophy, (6) get recognition for his skills, etc. — not that any of these things are necessarily bad. They just aren’t compelling reasons, and they are selfish if they are the reason. Charlotte gives us a reason, a reason we can stand upon quite firmly.
Men. They must be heroes.
Women. They must raise heroes.
My, my. What a task! Maybe we should engage in a little physical training for this, hm?
You know what else I like? This doesn’t leave anyone out, either. The little chubby kid who is uncoordinated and would rather play video games doesn’t get a pass. He, too, is human, and therefore, he, too, might be called forth for some great task someday. He needs to be prepared as well as the child who shows natural aptitude.
This is great, by the way. I think I’ll use it next time one of my children doesn’t want to do something.
The end of physical culture, then, is “a serviceable body” — a body fit for serving others.
We had already thought about this before, but isn’t it amazing how we can forget ourselves, what we are about, and slip into sloppy thinking about things?
I put my children in swimming lessons because all heroes can swim.
I am not kidding.
There are a lot of other good reasons to put them in — the fact that, living in California, we have quite the aquatic culture being among them — but in the end, children ought to know how to swim because heroes can swim.
And we are in the hero business.
Get the (almost) weekly digest!
Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.