Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Never mind the Olympics - what about School PE?

This article was written for publication in the Staffordshire Sentinel on Wednesday August 8th 2012. It is adapted for my homily of Sunday August 5th

Never mind the Olympics, Usain Bolt's 9.63 seconds and all those medals for Team GB - what do you remember about your own participation in sport - School PE lessons? 
I think for most of us, me included, it was a mixed experience. 
At primary school there was sports day, our own little olympics. I was allowed a go at the egg and spoon race or the sack race, but being rather large - even then - my most important contribution was less exciting: I had to lie flat on the wooden benches so that they would stay in place when the fitter, more athletic children crawled underneath  in the obstacle race. I loved playing football, and was proud to be chosen for the school team - only to be dropped a week before we played in the final of the Congleton Primary Schools' cup. 
Secondary School was sometimes better. Being big and heavy, such a disadvantage in football, proved a positive asset in Rugby. However, I detested swimming (I just couldn't do it - and still can't). And Cross Country? I was terrified that I'd arrive at school to discover it was Cross Country day and I'd forgotten the undated note from my mother saying I had a cold and am unable to do PE. 
The Olympics have provoked renewed debate  about schools and sport. It has been noted that many of our medal winners were educated not in state schools but in the private sector. There have been calls for more funds for school sports. It is not so simple, though - after all, its unlikely that state schools would ever be able to teach sports such as sailing or dressage. And let's not forget that many medal winners are from state schools, including Mo Farah, who arrived here as a Somalian refugee and asylum seeker. 
Political points aside, everyone seems to agree that sport has an important role to play in education. And that is very significant.
Education is not just about the intellectual. Education means “growth” and we grow not just in our minds but in our bodies too. Of course, some people are more practical, others more intellectual. Some excel at both, many are more inclined to one or the other. But no one is all mind, no one just body, both are essential - and we know only too well that if we are ill, then it affects not only our body, but our concentration, our attitudes our general well being. 
This idea - that mind and body, thought and action, physical and spiritual are one - is a Christian insight. It is rooted in the belief that Christ is Word made Flesh, the perfect unity of the spiritual and physical. It inspired the ancient monasteries and universities, great centres of academic study, where physical work accompanied prayer and study. 
Christian ritual, the pouring of water, the smearing with oil, the eating of bread and wine, makes clear that the action of the body goes hand in hand (literally) with the communication of ideas. 
If we lose this insight we make serious mistakes, perhaps supposing that high intelligence can be developed in "ivory towers", remote from everyday life and without compassion, that faith is irrational and that belief is the release from the pains or struggles of daily life.  Or at the other extreme, we may suppose that the books and reading are a waste of time, that the physical world is complete in itself, that science can answer every question and solve every problem. 
Neither view satisfies. 
Intelligence must serve humanity, prayer inspire action, sport infuse education.
And PE should be fun!

No comments: