Philosophy of Physical Education
Many physical education teachers in the United States follow curriculum content standards and outcomes. You may wonder, then, why a physical education philosophy is important if you will be teaching to the standards. A personal teaching philosophy helps shape your values and areas of emphasis. What is really important to you about physical education? What value does it hold for you? Philosophy is the pursuit of fundamental truths and wisdom that will provide a clearer focus and understanding of what you do (Kretchmar 2005).
Philosophy is usually derived from two areas: values and science (Zeigler 1964). Values involve speculation, or what you believe has meaning and value (axiology). Your speculative side is usually guided by your present values of what is right or wrong, good or bad, or even beautiful or unattractive.
Your values may be derived, in part, from what you believe about reality (metaphysics), such as evolution or creationism, religion, higher orders, or harmony within the universe. Part of your philosophy is also determined by what is critical—in other words, the attainment of knowledge (epistemology) and what seems logical or makes sense (logic). Often you determine what makes sense based on your past experiences and what has worked for you or not. Your philosophy also is informed by what you know, the importance of that information, and how you learned it. The process of how you learned throughout the years will play a part in your professional teaching philosophy (see figure 2.3).
Your philosophy is more than just your thoughts and opinions, however. Your professional principles of physical education will become a source of direction that will determine the aims and values of your thoughts and actions. Thus, your beliefs will mirror what you do (Cowell and France 1963). For example, if you full-heartedly believe that being a skillful mover will help students become physically active adults, the majority of your physical education content will involve learning, practicing, and applying skills to various activities. If you truly value fitness and health, your program will be geared toward helping students reach higher fitness levels. If your belief is that students need to ultimately get along with others and work cooperatively to solve problems, then your program will consist mainly of group work and shared learning situations. In addition, developing a philosophy will help you articulate the meaning of physical education, the purpose and role physical education plays in the overall scheme of education, and the value and worth of learning physical education content (Davis 1963b).
Philosophies Connected to the History of Physical Education
You know that your professional philosophy reflects what you believe is most important; however, it also has to be logical, sensible, and linked to the historical philosophies of physical education (Siedentop 2009). Some of the past social and educational philosophies of physical education were presented in chapter 1. Past leaders based their programs and ideals on the philosophies of the time. For example, the German and Swedish gymnastics systems were both built on a nationalist philosophy, one that provided a unified sense of being and purpose to a nation. World Wars I and II ignited a desire to improve the physical fitness and health status of youth and adults. The importance of physical training and fitness reflected the philosophy of physical education at the time.
During the development of the United States, there was also a popular belief that physical fitness and competitive sports were important ways to develop the moral, mental, and religious qualities of men (Mechikoff and Estes 1993). This philosophy was called muscular Christianity. In a sense, the work of Robert Roberts and the YMCA helped to spread this type of character education across the country and had a great impact on the development of physical education and sport programs.
Thomas Wood developed the new physical education as a result of the progressive education movement of John Dewey. As you recall, his philosophy was based on a child-centered and natural educational approach, which was influenced by the attitude of social reform of the time. Within this philosophy, physical education was seen as an important way to allow students to play and participate in sports and games to achieve positive social goals.
Another example of how philosophy guided physical education in the past involved play and recreation. Luther Gulick’s main passion was the importance of play. His philosophy of play was part of the movement that helped increase the development of playgrounds and recreational pursuits, which led to the inclusion of lifetime sports and activity offerings in physical education. Many physical educators believed that play and lifetime pursuits, along with positive social interactions, should be the primary focus of physical education.
Read more from Introduction to Teaching Physical Education.