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    Educational Philosophy

    Gymnastic: Because Students Have Bodies

    July 15, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    It’s a coincidence that I planned our drill time and posted about physical education on Monday. I hadn’t written this post yet, nor considered how beautifully the two dovetailed. It’s fun when life happens that way — when theory meets reality unplanned.

    Why is physical training considered an integral part of a classical, Charlotte Mason education? Again, we see that Clark and Jain and Charlotte Mason agree.

    Today we’re discussing part of a chapter from The Liberal Arts Tradition called Gymnastic and Music. We’re going to focus on gymnastic and save music for a future post. It’s probably important to note, however, that both of these are a form of poetic knowledge and the chapter expresses so beautifully some of the core ideas from my favorite book ever, ever, ever, Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor.

    But I digress.

    So anyhow, have you ever noticed that students have bodies? I mean, we’d think it should be obvious, but I know that when I first started thinking about education, my thinking was almost completely limited to the intellect — the mind — and the purely academic subjects. When our children ended up with severe allergies, I did notice that eating foods to which they were allergic caused not only a reaction in the body, but in the mind and neurology as well, but it really wasn’t until reading Charlotte Mason that I really began to consider the part the body had to play in education.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start by seeing what Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain have to say. First, what is gymnastic education?

    Gymnastic training is concerned with the entire physical conditioning of a child. It culminates in competitive running, swimming, wrestling, etc., but includes the rudiments of control over the body as well.

    The reason why this matters — why this is considered a part of education — is because students have bodies:

    [T]he body and the soul are united in such a way that failure to cultivate the capacities inherent in either is failure to cultivate the whole person.

    Fully Human

    Why is physical training considered an integral part of a classical, Charlotte Mason education? Again, we see that Clark and Jain and Charlotte Mason agree.

    The goal of classical education is to develop a certain kind of person. Some call this virtue (here I’m thinking of folks like David Hicks) while others call it character (Charlotte Mason, anyone?). In aiming for virtue, we cannot develop the mind and soul while excluding the body. Not only is this a denial of the physical nature of man, it also fails to admit that virtue and wisdom are this: the knowledge of truth possessed by the mind and the proper love developed in the soul applied in the world in the form of actions done by the body.

    Virtue is action. It’s not a thought in the mind or a hypothetical sentiment of the heart.

    This is why Clark and Jain say:

    [T]he students whose minds [educators] are informing have hearts and bodies as well, and … education must in some sense address each of these aspects of their humanity.

    Charlotte Mason and the Making of Heroes

    Since the premise of this series is that The Liberal Arts Tradition is basically presenting the exact same philosophy of Charlotte Mason, let’s briefly explore what Charlotte Mason thought about gymnastic — of physical education.

    First and foremost, physical training in a Charlotte Mason education rests on a single principle: ye are not your own. In her third volume, she reaches back to … wait for it … the gymnastic education of the ancient Greeks! (See how we are always ending up on the same page?) The goal is nothing less than the making of heroes. She wrote:

    [T]his 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? Heroes are not made in a day; therefore, the boy was trained from his infancy in heroic exercises, and the girl brought up to be the mother of heroes.

    Volume 3

    Do you see what she’s saying? The Greeks belonged to their gods, and they trained their bodies so that when they were called upon to serve, they were able. She extrapolated this to apply to the Christian life as well:

    The object of athletics and gymnastics should be kept steadily to the front; enjoyment is good by the way, but is not the end; the end is the preparation of a body, available from crown to toe, for whatever behest ‘the gods’ may lay upon us.

    And later, in order to be perfectly clear:

    ‘Ye are not your own’; the divine Author of your being has given you life, and a body finely adapted for His service; He gives you the work of preserving this body in health, nourishing it in strength, and training it in fitness for whatever special work He may give you to do in His world…

    She presents a strong ideal here, and at its core it is motivated by the vertical and horizontal loves: love of God, and love of neighbor.

    Not the Body Only

    Another commonality between Clark and Jain and Charlotte Mason is the idea that training of the body can have real, spiritual benefit. This is why Clark and Jain called it “training bodies for the good of the soul.” They point to these moral and spiritual applications of gymnastic:

    The proper use of one’s body is central to the moral and spiritual life. There is a profound resonance here with the classical notion of the virtues. With respect to courage, for example, thinkers such as Aristotle considered it axiomatic that a man with an undisciplined body would find it difficult to be brave.

    Likewise, Charlotte Mason believed that proper physical training developed self-control, self-restraint, and self-discipline. She even pointed out that aspects of fortitude, service, courage, prudence, and chastity were all developed through gymnastic. And it makes sense, right? Seeking virtue and avoiding vice require a mastery of the body and a sense of duty toward God and neighbor.

    What about you? What stuck out to you in this portion of the chapter?

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  • Reply Tania July 21, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Brandy, I have been reading your blog for about a year and a half, maybe longer, now. I absolutely love it! This is my first time commenting. I just wanted to say thank you for the time you take in thinking through these areas of education, and writing about them for us to share your gleaned wisdom. The CM quote about needing to preserve our body in health to be able to do whatever He requires us to do, highlighted for me the need for maintaining a level of health and fitness for myself as well as my children. I’ve focussed on what I thought was healthy for my children, but not so much on what is healthy for me. And, of course, they are exactly the same thing. This has reminded me that all humans, big or small, need to nurture their bodies as well as their minds. Thanks

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2015 at 8:51 am

      Oh, thank you so much for commenting, Tania! ♥

      It is so easy for us to forget ourselves, isn’t it? I was thinking about this in regard to when one of my children gets sick. My husband will ask me what I’ve done and I’ll name all this stuff — I gave them Vitamin C, I gave them a bath, I made them take a nap, etc. If it is ME that is sick, he’ll ask, and I’m like, “Nothing.” !!!

  • Reply The Liberal Arts Tradition–Classical Education is Not Just About The Intellect | Rooted in Deep July 18, 2015 at 6:55 am

    […] week, Brandy has been discussing about gymnastics and music as part of a classical education. Jain and Clark […]

  • Reply Heather M July 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I read a post by Cindy Rollins in why she did baseball with her sons and what stood out to me in that is that it was a powerful way to learn humility. The goal wasn’t to be the best, although of course hard work was involved. Humility in losing, humility in learning to be a team, humility in not being the best, humility in learning criticism and how to take instruction. I loved that idea. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 18, 2015 at 9:06 am

      I remember that post on baseball! And I totally agree.

    • Reply delightfullyfeasting September 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      And also….humility in winning. We should know how to be humble in both losing and winning. <3

  • Reply Brandy Vencel July 16, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    You know, I was thinking about all these wonderful comments you’ve all made this week, and I thought I’d add in a little something about limits. I know that some of my readers are like me and have struggled with chronic, sometimes very difficult health issues. Charlotte Mason — and some of you may not know this — had a heart condition. At a fairly young age, she had to give up her daily walks in exchange for a daily drive. She had to be sent away sometimes for a rest. While she is *definitely* talking about physical fitness here, I think she was also very aware that this is something that was more possible for some of us than others. In thinking of having a “serviceable” body, then, I think a caveat would be — for those of us who are apt to put pressure on ourselves — that we do what we can to be as serviceable as possible and to be good stewards of what God has given us while accepting the limits of reality.

    Just a thought.

  • Reply Julia July 16, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    I have many thoughts about this section of the book but I think I will write a blog post so I don’t have to worry about length. About sports, though, we are not an athletic family (much to my husband’s chagrin) but my kids love participating in some sports. The problem we are finding is similar to Dianna’s situation; everything for older kids is geared for competition. My kids are not gifted for that level; hence frustration and discouragement. My son loves playing football but last year his coach told me subtly that I shouldn’t put him in football the next year cause he wasn’t very good. My dd loves, absolutely loves her gymnastics class but the coach has drained all the joy out by making my dd repeat poses and routines until she gets it right. Many nights last year she came home in tears because she wasn’t ‘good enough to be in gymnastics.’ We are not certain if she will continue this coming year.

    In reading your previous post, though, I am seeing the gymnastics that it is referred to in TLAT is more movement than sports. The purpose is to get outside of your head and be in tune with your body, this can be attained by dance, pilates, yoga, jumping on the trampoline, hiking, jogging, etc. This is encouraging to me and need to think as to how we can institute this into our daily routine. I am loving these posts, Brandy. I am starting to have a different view about this book.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 16, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Oh, goodness, that sounds so discouraging! I’m very sorry — I mean the situation with gymnastics and football and such. I am not against being competitive, but things have gotten SO overboard that it is just ridiculous!

      And yes: movement and control of the body. I keep thinking that really this might help in the long term that we aren’t able to do many sports, because it forces us to focus on building habits that they can carry throughout their lives. Maybe.

    • Reply Virginia Lee July 16, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      I am in complete agreement with you Julia on the sports front. My children are not super athletic and neither am I. That’s why we avoided team sports and my oldest does archery and my next two do swimming lessons. They can be active, compete with themselves, gain the focus and perseverance that each activity teaches, and have fun. We’ve only been doing this for a little while, so I’m no expert. But other than supper and toddler wrangling it works. I wish the cost was less. We have 4 children and it seems so expensive.

      Honestly, if we lived closer to hiking we probably would skip all of that. Because I think, for our family at least, that one of the biggest parts of the body, mind, and soul connection comes with the physical activity in nature. We are more weekend warriors when it comes to hiking though.

      I’m not reading this book, so I’m probably missing the point. But I just wanted to say I think it is a very sad state indeed what you described with your children and sports. My husband experienced this and that went into our decision making process with our kiddos. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the purpose can be obtained in other ways. Ways that I would imagine would be more positive than what you were describing for sure.

      So much to think on here.

  • Reply Dawn July 16, 2015 at 2:49 am

    One wonderful way to get around these issues is to organize your own “league,” – especially if you have multiple children! Get together another family or two or three, choose one day of the week, and VOILA! your very own soccer league. No pressure, no travel, reasonable time commitment – and tons of fun.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 16, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      That is a great idea, Dawn!

      I secretly want to organize a kick ball league. Is that dumb? 🙂

      • Reply Dawn July 16, 2015 at 3:09 pm

        Not at all! That sounds like great fun!!

      • Reply Virginia Lee July 16, 2015 at 8:26 pm

        I LOVE kickball!!! Organize it in Colorado and I’ll sign up my whole family.

      • Reply Dawn July 20, 2015 at 12:23 pm

        I just saw this posted on Facebook and immediately thought of you, Brandy. Kickball to the extreme adapted for a CA heat wave!

  • Reply Sharron July 15, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I love this! It’s convicting for myself as much as for my children. I have two daughters who both take ballet. One class at 5:15, two nights a week and the other at 7:00 two nights a week. Yes, dinner is a huge pain on those nights. We eat at 4:00 and then when they get home, of course they are starving. Fortunately, the hour in between the two classes can be spent at the library that is on the other end of the block. It’s worth it. Their teacher is awesome and it’s wonderful exercise. I do think though, that organized sports or activities are not necessary at all. Depending on where one lives there is hiking, walking, running, play grounds, etc.
    The question is, am I convicted about this enough for myself to actually do something about it? Am I willing to sacrifice my wants in order to be fit for the work God has for me?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      ” Am I willing to sacrifice my wants in order to be fit for the work God has for me?” → THAT is one of those universally applicable questions, isn’t it? I pray we all are!

  • Reply Dawn July 15, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Oh, man, did I have a ton of highlighting going on in this chapter. Not only is the concept of gymnastic and developing the physical body right up my alley but the many allusions to the Integrated Humanities Program run by Quinn, Senior and Nelick sucked me in. James Taylor, of course, was a student in this program and his Poetic Knowledge was deeply influenced by his experiences therein. Earlier this year I read Truth on Trial which is about the dissolution of the program and it was incredibly inspiring…and sad.

    The youth sports culture today is incredibly warped, but the experience of team sports and the incredible benefits that they have to offer are worth it in our experience. Both my husband and I were college athletes and the involvement of our children in team sports was a natural transition for us. However, guidelines, boundaries and expectations have to be established going into the experience, and we were determined that it would not take over our lives or the lives of our children. We enroll them in low pressure leagues and we skip practices and games when they are not convenient for us. As they get older – perhaps the middle school years but definitely by high school – if they decide to continue participation then they will be held to honoring commitments in all their forms and not have the option of skipping for convenience sake, but for now it is all about being part of a team, having fun and being healthy.

    I could go on about this all day – but I won’t. I’m enjoying this book very much and look forward to continued conversation.

    PS – That is very cool about your son and archery, Brandy. I have been wanting to get my sons involved in an archery program as I have heard such wonderful things about it. I think it is very CM, too, in that it requires so much attention and precision.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Dawn, I think you just found a topic for one of your guest posts! {hint hint!}

      The archery has been so fun because my husband got into it and now all of my children shoot! I like to shoot, but I’m a baby and hurt myself a lot. 🙂

      • Reply Dawn July 15, 2015 at 5:10 pm

        I can soooooo do that, Brandy – or should I say Muse?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 5:33 pm

          Ha! You call me whatever you like. I even answer to Hey You. 😉

  • Reply Melissa July 15, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Ironically, I just finished posting about Charlotte’s Principle 5c & 8, Education is a Life, before hopping over here. In the assigned reading for the study of these principles, Charlotte mentions the word “gymnastic” as “a continual drawing out without a corresponding act of putting in”. Of course, I believe she’s referring to the mental gymnastic. However, one could also liken it to gymnastic of the physical body as in we get out what we put in.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Your post was so great! I just shared it on my FB page, Melissa. 🙂

      “One could liken gymnastic of the physical body as we get out what we put in.” Goodness, I really like that, and I think that seeing it that way provides a logical place for health/nutrition education, etc.

  • Reply Mystie July 15, 2015 at 7:18 am

    My only comfort in life and in death is that “I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” 🙂

    I love how this dovetailed with your previous post, because all through this chapter I kept whining to myself that I don’t want to do sports. 🙂

    • Reply Virginia Lee July 15, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Agree. Ugh. Sigh.

      I don’t wanna do “sports” myself, I don’t wanna haul kids around for it either, and I want to use that time and money for something else. But it’s not about “I.” You just had to go and back this up with scripture, Mystie.

      You and Brandy are really messing up my, “let’s drop swimming lessons and archery on Thursday nights so I don’t have to haul the toddler around, figure out a fast and healthy supper, get everyone ready and out the door, and miss my evening reading time,” rationalization. Thanks a lot. 😉

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        Dinner!! Yes, it is dinner that makes all of this more difficult, I think. I mean: toddlers, too, yes. Of course. But even when toddlers grow up and get bigger, there is always dinner, looming over us.

        We didn’t really start sports, beyond two week stints at swimming, until age 11 or 12 with my oldest. If I could go back, I would start him at 10, but probably not younger than that.

        Virginia Lee, we have solved the archery problem by having targets and shooting in our back yard. Of course, depending on where you live that may be neither safe nor legal, but it’s working for us for now. And I mean really working: our oldest is first place in the state for his division right now. 🙂

        • Reply Virginia Lee July 16, 2015 at 8:22 pm

          We started our oldest with archery at 9, he will be 10 in August. My two girls have taken 6 weeks of swim lessons. So really, I should not be complaining. 🙂

          I really wish we could have a target in our backyard. But we have neighbors behind and to one side. The chickens are on the side with no neighbors, but there is a street. Suburbs are probably not the best place for archery practice. But that idea rocks!

          Very cool about your son!

          • Brandy Vencel July 16, 2015 at 8:29 pm

            Yes, the suburbs are tricky. We are in one, too, but our property is large and oddly shaped and so there is a place where it works without putting neighbors, pedestrians, or animals at risk. 🙂

            I am jealous of your chickens. Our local regs don’t allow those right now. Boo hiss! 🙁

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      I forgot that one, Mystie, since we don’t usually do the Heidelberg! Oh, how I love this!

      And I’ve been really thinking about this. I do think that sports, in this paradigm, become necessary — at some point. But I don’t think that point is super young, the way we do it in our culture. And unfortunately, I think it is hard to find a way to do it in a healthy way…

      • Reply Dianna @ The Kennedy Adventures July 15, 2015 at 6:15 pm

        When I was a kid — we PLAYED so much at school. Not so much organized team sports, but jumping rope, playing tag, mother may I, dodge ball, swinging from a giant rope attached to the gym rafters, etc.

        It’s completely different now. In our area, my daughter (9) is aging out of ‘developmental’ (or non competitive) sports, so it’s becoming difficult for her to be involved in something organized that’ not a)super expensive or b) for the super talented.

        I’m not sure how to fix this dilemma. Luckily, she’s found her physical niche …. horseback riding, but I’d love to introduce her to other sports without having to pay out the nose for private lessons, or worry that she’s not good enough to make a team.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 8:09 pm

          I hear ya! Do you have Upward sports there? I think ours here go through junior high. They are more focused on the fun and being active and not on college scholarships.

          A huge barrier for us is the cost. It is SO expensive to do these sorts of activities!

          I know what you mean about schoolyard play. I spent a ton of time jumping double dutch in school. I have yet to see a child around here who even knows how to do that!

    • Reply Dianna @ The Kennedy Adventures July 15, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Isn’t that funny, Mystie? I’m all like ….. WHOOOO, my kids love physical activity so much, we have trouble fitting other things into the day!

      Brandy, are you taking the CAP online course and I’ve missed you there?

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 8:06 pm

        I’m not! I do, however, like to pester Mystie and Pam about what they are learning when I can. 🙂

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