Season One, Episode Four

What is “Phys Ed” Anyway?
Rousseau, Penmanship, Playgrounds, and
Other Educational Exertions

Transcript coming soon!

If you’ve attended school in the US in the past 50 years, physical education probably has an oversized influence on how you think about the school day — for better or for worse. As we are constantly reminded by popular culture, physical education has been a rite of passage for school children for generations. Today’s episode turns to Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to explore how eighteenth-century thinking about children’s bodies still resonates with how we imagine children learn. We then explore other iterations of physical education, including the contortions of handwriting class and the heady dangers of adventure playgrounds. 

image gallery

reading list

Allan, Marjory. “Why Don’t We Use Our Bomb Sites Like This?” Picture Post, November 16, 1946. 

Anonymous. “Education: Nation of Scrawlers” Time. February 10, 1947, p. 93. 

Borrowman, Kelsey N. “Rousseau on Health: A Study of Our Relations.”  Concept, Vol. 38, 2015.

Johnston, Lloyd, “Sports Participation and Physical Education in American Secondary Schools: Current Levels and Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 33, issue 4, supplement, October 2007, pp. S195–S208.

Kozlovsky , Roy. “Adventure Playgrounds and Postwar Reconstruction.” In Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space, and the Material Culture of Children; An International Reader, ed. Marta Gutman and Ning de Coninck-Smith. Rutgers University Press, 2007.

The Post-War Adventure (or “Junk”) Playgrounds Promoting Autonomous Play.” Architecture of Early Childhood, January 31, 2012.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Émile: or Treatise on Education, trans. Barbara Foxley, 1762, trans. William H. Payne, D. Appleton, ca. 1892.

Shier, Harry. Adventure Playgrounds: An Introduction. National Playing Fields Association, 1984.

Spencer, Henry Caleb and Platt Rogers Spencer. Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship. Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman, 1866.

Steller, Chris. “When ‘The Yard’ Was Minnesota’s Most Radical Park.” Minnpost, July 25, 2014.

Tierney, John. “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?New York Times, July 19, 2011.

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