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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/21

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

physical labor; wealth removes the objective necessity of physical exercise, but the subjective necessity remains; millions of city-dwellers, in their pursuit of artificial luxuries, stint their bodies in the natural means of happiness; they increase their stock of creature-comforts and decrease their capacity for enjoying them; religious and social dogmas pervert their natural instincts; their children are crammed with metaphysics till they forget the physical laws of God.

These evils the inventors of gymnastics managed to counteract, and, before we can hope to recover the Grecian earth-paradise, our system of public education needs an essential and thorough reform. On earth, at least, moral and physical culture should be as inseparable as mind and body; every town school should have an in-door and out-door gymnasium; the same village carpenter who takes a contract for a dozen rustic school-benches should get an order for a horizontal bar and a couple of jumping-boards; every school district should appoint a superintendent of gymnastics; every town a committee of public arenas: cities that can afford to devote a hundred tax-free tabernacles to Hebrew mythology might well spare an acre of ground for Grecian athletics. Plato's Academia and Aristotle's Lyceum were both gymnastic institutions, where the patricians of Athens spent their leisure hours, and often joined in the exercises of the athletes. Our best citizens should emulate their example, and help to eradicate the lingering prejudice against the culture of the manly powers. A field-day, consecrated to Olympic games and the competitive gymnastics of the Turner-hall, should be the grandest yearly festival of a free nation.

In the mean time we must help our children the best way we can by giving them plenty of time for out-door exercise, and providing them, according to our means, with some domestic substitutes for the gymnastic apparatus which, I trust, the next generation will find in every village hall and every town school.[1]

Children have a natural penchant for active exercises. Sloth is one of the vices we should drop from our catalogue of original sins. If a child were banished from the haunts of men, and left to grow up as a wild thing of the woods, he would turn out a self-made gymnast, though perhaps also in the original sense of the term, for gymnasium and gymnastics were derived from a word which means naked. Nature seems to deem the development of our limbs a matter of greater importance than their envelopment, and clothes are often, indeed, the first impediment to the free exercise of our motive organs. The regu-

  1. In 1825 Professor Beck opened in Northampton, Massachusetts, the first American school where gymnastics formed a branch of the regular curriculum. He has found followers, but, considering our progress in other directions, his wheat can not be said to have fallen on a fertile soil. Taking Massachusetts, Ohio, and North Carolina as representative States of their respective sections, it seems that at present (1881) an average of three in every thousand North American schools pays any attention to physical education.