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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Vittorino da Feltre, the First P.E. Teacher

    December 1, 2016 by Dawn Duran

    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.

    A glimpse into the history of physical education a la Vittorino da Feltre and, naturally, Charlotte Mason.

    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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  • Reply Becky December 5, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    I was so shocked to read that he would not use artificial heat! I’ve heard about people doing that or leaving a window cracked open even in the dead of winter! I think it’s going to be 5 degrees here tomorrow, but I do notice when I’m cold if I just have a good chase with the kids I’m instantly warmed. I think that the more the kids have been active, the more they can concentrate on their studies.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      I was, too! It sort of reminded me of a story I once read in which someone offered to buy Charlotte Mason’s school a couch and she declined. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I am a baby. I like my artificial heat. But I think he probably produced tougher students than I do, so there you go. 🙂

    • Reply Dawn December 5, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      There are actually wonderful metabolic benefits to allowing your body temperature to adapt to the natural environment and remaining exposed to the same temperatures day after day and month after month. Vittorino was ahead of his time – just like Charlotte!!

      You can read (or listen) to a very interesting conversation about this in the Katy Says podcast (featuring Katy Bowman) at the following link.
      You can find links to more on the topic at the end of the podcast transcript if you have interest (and time!) in learning more.

      I’m hot natured and prefer colder temperatures out of doors, but that also applies to indoors exposure. I cannot stand artificial heat. I can almost feel my skin cracking when the furnace is blowing. If it weren’t for my husband, who is cold with temperatures below 85 degrees:), and my young sons I would rarely use it in the mild winter months of Maryland. But because I love them I draw the line at keeping the windows cracked when it gets below 40 degrees:).

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