HC Deb 01 July 1875 vol 225 cc794-9

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the desirability of introducing physical education in the Public Elementary Schools of the country, said:—Sir, I wish to call the attention of the House to the desirability of dealing with the subject in the manner indicated by my Notice, and to say that I think it is time that something of the sort were done. When the education of the people of this country was first seriously undertaken, so many difficulties—social, religious, and financial difficulties—confronted its first promoters, that it was not to be expected that they should burden themselves with more than they could manage, and they wisely confined their attention to the inculcation of reading, writing, and arithmetic. But these early difficulties are now happily surmounted, and universal compulsory education is fairly established in the country. The time seems therefore arrived when we may ask ourselves whether something essential has not been omitted, and if we think that it has, then with as much speed and as small a cost as possible, to endeavour to repair the omission. Now, taking all the wants of the people of this country into consideration, I think it may fairly be maintained that physical education is at least as necessary as intellectual education; in some respects more. In all these cases where physical power is impaired by disease and neglect, and by ignorance of the elementary rules of hygiene, some knowledge, some elementary knowledge of these laws, with practical rules deduced from these laws, is at least as necessary as reading, writing, and arithmetic. But I do not wish to put physical education into competition with these subjects; it is not a rival but an auxiliary, and if rightly understood, and rightly and wisely applied, a very valuable auxiliary. Now, no one can have studied the statistics which I am about to lay before the House without being convinced that all is not satisfactory in the physique of the people of the country. Side by side with great stamina and splendid physical development, we find the following facts:—Out of 1,000 recruits, on an average of four years, 408 are rejected for imperfect physical development. Out of 5,500 boys applying for service in the Navy, a good deal more than one-half are rejected on the same grounds; out of 530 men applying for railway employment 290 are rejected—92 for insufficient breadth of chest—in a metropolitan suburban workhouse visited by an eminent London physician, 23 per cent of the children under 15 were found suffering from chronic diseases. In several ragged schools visited by the same gentleman, 50 per cent of the children are found affected with deformation of the spine, chest complaints, and strumous diseases. And a large manufacturer in Nelson Street, Liverpool, says it is a piteous sight to see the little girls with crooked spines and awry necks who come to his counter for payment on Saturday nights. Most people will agree that there is an eloquence of a melancholy sort in these statistics, and if we can do anything to remedy the evil complained of, it is our duty to make the attempt. It is scarcely necessary to dwell on the advantages which would result to the country from improving the physique of the population. Increased physical power means increased value of productive work; a decrease in depravity and disease means a decrease in poor rates and police rates, for ill-health and disease are too often causes of misery, poverty, and crime. But it is so obvious that the sum total of the happiness and well-being of the community would be augmented if disease, mortality, and depravity were diminished, that it seems like an insult to people's understandings to dwell on these obvious advantages, and I prefer asking the attention of the House to the question of the practicability of attaining these desirable results. Now what is physical education? Unfortunately gymnastics, drill, athletics, and what goes in genteel girls' schools by the ambitious title of calisthenics, are too often jumbled up in people's minds under the common appellation of physical education, and when one talks of introducing physical education into boys' schools, the drill sergeant rises up before men's eyes as the embodied emblem of physical education. Now no one, Sir, has a greater respect than I have for the drill sergeant. He is a great, a useful, and even a solemn institution. I should like to see every able-bodied man in England pass through his reforming hands. But that is another and a totally different question from the one which I am discussing. You only degrade physical education, and defeat the very object which you wish to attain of preparing the whole male population for military service, by calling in prematurely the aid of the drill sergeant, in the case of children who require a whole course of preparatory training in order to make them of the best use in the drill sergeant's hands. You must work your cotton into yarn before it can be woven into cloth. By physical education I distinctly mean the inculcation of some sound, though elementary, principles of hygiene, combined with the practice of simple, though scientifically devised, exercises founded on sound physiological and anatomical principles. Now these two things ought to go together. Sound theory and wholesome practice are here, as in everything else, closely connected together. With reference to the first branch I hardly think its utility will be contested. Among otherwise well-educated people such unfortunate ignorance on the subject of hygiene prevails that we cannot be surprised if in the masses of the people the grossest and most unfortunate delusions on the subject are rife. It is all very well passing Public Health Bills, Pollution of Rivers Bills, and Food and Drugs Bills—an antecedent condition to the utility of all such measures is that their machinery should be loyally and willingly worked by people possessed of the conviction of their value and utility. Now the value of fresh air, pure water, and wholesome food, is scarcely appreciated at all by the great majority of the people, and until you have opened their eyes, your labour will be more or less thrown away. With reference to the second branch of my definition, I think I can best illustrate my meaning by referring to what other nations have done on the subject. The lead in these matters has undoubtedly been taken by Sweden, and that owing to the genius of a man who was neither a politician nor a drill sergeant, but a poet and a patriot—I mean the great Ling. Ling's idea was a patriotic idea; he wished to raise the small population of his native country, by the physical training of each individual Swede, into a position to resist the encroachments of its dangerous neighbours, at that time seriously menacing its independence and very existence. With this view, he invented a thoroughly rational system of gymnastics, founded on physiological, anatomical, and mechanical laws, and which he divided into educational, military, medical, and athletic gymnastics. In 1813 he induced the Swedish Government to establish a large central institution at Stockholm for the training of teachers, who, after they had pursued a theoretical and practical course of instruction, and had passed an examination, were diffused throughout the different schools of the country; and their can be no doubt that much of the fine physical appearance of the population of Sweden is owing to this widely diffused early physical training. In 1845, the Prussian Government sent a Major Rothstein into Sweden to report about another matter, and he was so much impressed with this Swedish system of gymnastics that, on his return, he persuaded the Prussian Government to adopt it, and now not only throughout Prussia, but throughout the whole of Germany, and notably in Würtemburg and Saxony, the system is adopted, and central institutions for the training of teachers are established at Berlin, Stuttgard, Dresden, and other places. Italy, too, has not been backward, and has paid particular attention to an important branch of the subject—namely, the physical training of the girls. Hungary, too, in consequence of the initiative of the late able Minister of Education, Baron Otoos, has made physical training compulsory in all her schools. Russia, too, after having long adopted physical training in her military and naval academies, has now instituted it for all the primary and secondary schools of the country. I have mentioned the case of Saxony. I wish now to call the particular attention of the House to the case of Saxony. Saxony is a manufacturing country, and here, as in the manufacturing districts of Prussia, it was found that there was such a deterioration of physique that the numbers in the conscription lists did not keep pace with the increase of the population. But since physical education has been made compulsory this falling off has been arrested and no more complaints have been heard. I think this fact is well worthy of the consideration of a manufacturing people like ourselves. Indeed, go into the manufacturing districts and what do we see? Little children whose quick brains and stunted frames seem to require rather physical than intellectual fostering, and where physical education ought scarcely to hold a secondary place in any wise system of education. Now contrast what has been done by other nations with what we have been doing in this respect. Except a few unscientific attempts at drill, absolutely nothing has been done for the physical education of the people of this country. One reason of this undoubtedly is that in no country in the world is so much done in the way of athletics and outdoor sports as is done in England. But I would call the attention of the House to this fact—that it is not among the classes who habitually practice athletic sports that I am especially advocating the introduction of physical education. There are our public schools, our higher and middleclass schools, the Universities and Colleges of the country. But where are the athletic sports in the crowded alleys of our large towns? It is no answer to the complaint that large classes are deprived of the advantages of physical exercises to say that other classes are devoted to those exercises! The fact is England is a nation of contrasts. Side by side with vast accumulations of wealth there are ugly patches of misery and wretchedness. Side by side with splendid physical development there is no physical education at all. It is to remedy this state of things, to raise the physical level of the whole population, that I am advocating to-day the cause of physical education in the schools of the country. Before I sit down I wish to call the particular attention of the House to an experiment on a small scale, of this very thing which I am advocating, which has been tried through the public spirit of an eminent London physician, Dr. Roth, of Wimpole Street, who has devoted so much attention to this subject, and with remarkably successful results. Dr. Roth instructed gratuitously a number of female teachers who had been sent to him by the Educational Union and other societies, by giving them lectures and teaching them Ling's free educational exercises; and after a course of a few months they were enabled to instruct their schools in what they had learnt; and at the present moment some 400 or 500 girls are receiving physical training through this public spirited movement on the part of Dr. Roth, and what is important to note is that these teachers write to Dr. Roth and tell him that they find their efficiency as teachers in other respects decidedly increased by the physical training which they are able to give their pupils. Now, Sir, it had once been my intention to move for a Royal Commission to consider the whole subject—The necessity for the introduction of physical education and the best means of introducing it—but I am so convinced that a cause like this can only be advanced by the Government taking the initiative in the matter, that I should be only too glad to leave it in their hands, to see if they cannot further the cause of physical education in the schools of England.