History & Philosophy of Physical Education

By AndreasVassiliades

Physical education, in its most basic form, existed before the earliest academies. The earliest academy in Europe was Plato's. It was established in Greece in 386 B.C. Early academies naturally included physical education as one of the courses they offered. Understanding your body is the basic concept of physical education. It involves learning what is beneficial, and also what is not, in terms of exercise, diet and activity.


Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, believed physical education was beneficial to every citizen and consequently also the state. Aristotle saw physical education as more than an activity alone. It was an important part in the development of a man's character. Plato, another Greek philosopher, said in his Laws that physical education is an activity and experience that begins before you are born.


Plato believed the mother is responsible for the child's physical education while the child is still in the womb. He advised pregnant women to walk around, as all the movement leads to good health and beauty in the child. After the child actually starts his academic life at Plato's idealistic school, Plato envisioned him contesting many sporting events until he reaches age 18. Then the child applies himself completely for two or three years to physical or military training.


Jean Jacques Rousseau concluded physical education was necessary to achieve a strong body. For Rousseau, physical education explained the benefit of exercise and a strict diet, which allowed you to live a healthy life. For Socrates, the benefits of physical education lay in its ability to help avoid illness. Socrates did not propose a difficult or abstract form of physical education. To have a healthy, functioning and beautiful body, Socrates maintained that it was as important to have a capable intellectual capacity and a just soul as it was to partake in physical education.


After World War I, alarming general health statistics showed that one in three of all drafted personnel in the U.S military were unfit for action. The government intervened and introduced legislation aimed at improving the quality of physical education courses in the United States. After World War II, the Roosevelt administration introduced the National School Lunch Program, aimed at improving the nutrition of American school children. It was a response to an investigation which found that the men rejected from the American military draft during World War II were unfit for duty because of childhood malnutrition.


The American population began reconsidering the importance of physical education in their lives. In the 1950s the American Association for Physical Education & Recreation and the American Health Association initiated national physical education programs. In 1954 the American College of Sports Medicine was established. It developed a reputation as a leading body for the advancement of physical education. Schools and universities were no longer the sole refuge of physical education, from the second half of the 20th century it was a cultural and social phenomena, as well.


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