Recently I sat around a table with my old school friends discussing how rugby had and continues to enrich our lives. We exchanged opinions on a wide range of ideas that included building confidence, joyful memories, a sense of belonging, cultural capital that provided further opportunities, self-identity and preparing us to deal with the realities of life. Not one of us ever mentioned fitness, health, weight management or increasing the duration of our lives. Yet time and time again these are the answers I get from children when asked about the importance of movement in their lives. Why?
Richard Tinning in Pedagogy and Human Movement suggests that this might come from a perceived threat of irrelevance of Physical Education. Two of the key problems in modern Western society are diseases caused by sedentary behaviour and the obesity crisis. By defining health as a problem that can be solved, through movement and activity, the PE profession can be a front-line answer to these problems as a site for the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Irrelevance averted. However, framing PE to ensure its pertinence might lead to unintended consequences.
Framing is a way of organising our experiences. When one seeks to explain an event, the understanding of that event often depends on the frame given to it. In PE we teachers focus our pupil’s attention on certain important features of movement and physical activity to help them place it within their own fields of meaning. That meaning though is often the meaning we give to the relevancy of Physical Education’s place in the curriculum. Many of them would be covered by Guy Le Mausier and Charles Corbin’s Top 10 reasons for quality PE:
|Top 10 Reasons for Quality PE|
|· Helps to prevent disease|
|· Promotes a sense of well being|
|· Aids in the fight against obesity|
|· Promotes lifelong physical fitness|
|· Enhances the likelihood of activity persistence|
|· Provides health-related self-management skills and motor capabilities|
|· Does not detract from academic objectives (may even support them)|
|· Makes economic sense|
|· Is widely supported by a variety of governmental, health and academic organisations|
|· Fosters whole-child education|
I can’t think of a day that goes by where I don’t use one of the above reasons to frame PE, movement and physical activity to children, colleagues or parents. They are based on good research, science and evidence. We have known about these benefits for many years and they have been influential in how I frame the importance of movement to children, so why then hasn’t it worked? Michelle Seger in her book No Sweat shares research that future health benefits, such as disease prevention, are just too abstract to make a difference. Bio-medical frames for the importance of movement to people, especially children, are irrelevant as they aren’t motivated by them. Logic doesn’t motivate us, emotions and feelings do. Both Tinning and Seger suggest that by framing movement as a duty or obligation rather than a ‘gift to unwrap’ we are unwittingly undermining the very thing we are trying to promote. So how could we frame movement and activity instead? Scott Kretchmar offers Ten more reasons for quality physical education that may give us an answer:
10 More Reasons for Quality PE
|· Movement is fun|
|· It is also delightful|
|· It is personally meaningful|
|· It is a primary source of identity|
|· It offers a refreshing playground, something to look forward to|
|· Movement can develop the freedom to explore|
|· Movement can develop the freedom to express|
|· Movement can develop the freedom to discover|
|· Movement can develop the freedom to invent|
|· Movement can develop the freedom to create|
Essentially we have a framing battle within Physical Education. Movement is one of the most fundamental human activities there is. We can approach movement through two competing and contrasting frames. A highly scientific frame which is dominated by a biomedical model, or a much more humanistic one which focuses on the lived experience. They do seem to come into tension but that’s okay as Roger Scruton observes in Human Nature neither frame can be rejected as reality is often paradoxical. I’m not calling for a complete rejection of the scientific frame within teaching movement and physical activity, but perhaps we need a transition from frames of the quantity of life to frames of the quality of life. The question I think we need to ask if should we privilege science as the way of framing the importance of movement in children’s lives? What would happen if they understand the human endeavour of movement, though its varied cultural forms, in terms of its emotional and social meaning just as much as its biological cause and effect?
We have a duty as teachers to ensure our pupils are well informed. However, I am beginning to think that many of the problems caused by PE Teachers are through trying to reduce movement to the narrow biological advantages that it provides rather than as a wider view of an emergent way of being and flourishing. Even better if we can help the children we teach to frame movement in their own personal way. A personal frame eludes a scientific one in just the way that being a rugby player eludes the theories of skill acquisition, fitness and health.
Framing cannot be avoided. Therefore choose your frame wisely, lest we become trapped in it….