Like many of you, I’m joining Brandy on her journey through W.H. Woodward’s Vittorino de Feltre and Other Humanist Educators: Essays and Versions: An Introduction to the History of Classical Education, a book Charlotte Mason highly recommended. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Vittorino has an important place in the history of physical education. In fact, one might call him the first official P.E. teacher due to his formal inclusion of physical training for students of all ages beginning in 1420 according to one timeline of physical education.
From what I have read about Vittorino da Feltre and his school in Mantua it is clear to me why Charlotte Mason admired his philosophy. In Volume 5 she writes of Woodward’s book,
Persons who wish to have just and liberal views of education … will do well to give this volume a careful and studious perusal (p. 437).
He was committed to the ideal that God is the imparter of all knowledge, much like Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition. He recognized the importance of developing the physical as well as the mental realm and sought to integrate the two. According to Charles Thurber in The School Review published in May, 1899, Vittorino
considered regular exercise in all conditions of weather as the foundation of health, and health as the first necessity of mental progress.
F.E. Leonard in A Guide to the History of Physical Education wrote that Vittorino
did not allow weather or season to interfere too much with life in the open air.
He also believed that lessons should be interspersed with periods of free play outdoors. These were merely a few of the similarities that resonated with my understanding of some of Charlotte Mason’s ideals as I researched this topic, and left me eager to learn more about this man.
Vittorino da Feltre recognized the importance of being a role model in the realm of physical health and participated in games and exercises with his students more often than not. This reminds me of Charlotte Mason’s admonition that we are not merely to send our children out of doors but to accompany them in this delightful activity.
In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. (Vol. 1, p. 43)
Charles Thurber wrote that Vittorino
aimed at sending forth young men who should ‘serve God in the church and the state in whatever positions they might be called upon to occupy.’
According to Woodward, humanists routinely promoted skill in arms as a necessary component of one’s civic duty,
that each citizen may be capable of taking his part in the defence of public liberty and independence.
As a result, children aged 10 years and older under Vittorino’s tutelage began formal training in arms including archery, fencing, and the use of a sling as a precursor to official military training.
Yet Vittorino was able to see beyond this practical benefit of physical training. He was the first to approach gymnastics as an art apart from its benefits towards future military participation. The value gymnastics could lend to a person towards good posture and confident and graceful movement, in addition to the pure joy of activity as well as the integration of the body and mind, were his primary goals in incorporating physical activity into his curriculum. He made unique contributions to the development of the physical aspects of the body — gymnastics in particular. He was systematic in the application of instruction in physical activity. Vittorino emphasized modern principles of progression of prescribed exercise and adaptation into his individualized programs for students. According to the Encyclopedia of World Sport all students under Vittorino’s guidance had exercise prescribed to them individually based on testing for their physical capabilities as well as considering their age and body type. Dietetics was also implemented, and a wide variety of sports were engaged in.
My research into da Feltre’s contributions in the area of physical education is not exhaustive, but it definitely has my interest piqued. How about you?
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