In 1929 my mother sent me to Marymount, a convent prep Academy. The first year I was there the gym, big, bright and polished, held every piece of gymnastics equipment ever invented. And there was field hockey, a pool and track and field. At the start of my sophomore year at Marymount I went to the gym expecting to work out on the gymnastics equipment. My breath stopped. Parallel bars, side horse, springboard, ramps, beams, ropes and mats had been spirited away. The thieves had left only two basketball hoops and a ball. Gone were the excitement and the skills of strength, flexibility and coordination born of gymnastics. In its place were ‘safer’ activities called ‘Play’ and ‘Games’. —Bonnie Prudden
AND SO BEGAN the death of Physical Education, the crippling of Physical Education for girls and the ruin of the American body so apparent today.
According to Bonnie, in 1930 four elements came together which led to the undoing of fit American bodies:
- Population Explosion
- The Great Depression
Prior to 1930, Physical Education for girls was on par with that of the boys and they were expected to participate in the same activities. Immigrants, especially those from Germany and Austria-Hungary brought with them their own systems of physical training or gymnastics. Initially these systems had the ultimate goal of defending the country but gradually and by the time they made their way to America, they had evolved as community and social experiences as well as a way to maintain and exercise the body, develop strength, flexibility and enjoy the influence a healthy body has on the mind.
The German gymnastic movement, or Turnverein brought with it much of the equipment you see used today during competition: rings, parallel bars, balance beams, ropes, horizontal bar and pommel horse.
From Austria-Hungary came the Sokol. This Czech system was quite different from the militaristic German style. The Sokol was designed for the masses and for all ages. They held massive gymnastics festivals in open fields. These festivals were called slets. The Sokol brought calisthenics, marching drills, jump ropes, wands, Indian clubs, track and field and they used their own bodies to build pyramids and for tumbling and resistance training.
Then Along Came…
- Sigmund Freud
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a highly intelligent, rather quiet, entirely earnest man.
It was his interpreters of whom there were many who confused us. Freud contributed new thought to our world and a new vocabulary, but so new were both, and so untried, that people in the know, or who thought they were in the know, could take any point of view they chose, and there were few sufficiently educated in the field to gainsay them. It was a time of change anyway, and many people were willing to give up the old ways and accept anything so long as it was new.
Freud was no slouch and what he actually said was that some adult neuroses have their root in early childhood. What the educators heard him say was that unhappy children become unhappy, loused-up adults, therefore children must be made happy.
What makes children unhappy? Discipline which builds character.
What makes children unhappy? Boring un-American physical drills that build bodies.
- JOHN DEWEY
Dewey was an educator who felt that education should have more scope, that it should relate to life and “creativity.” What the educators heard was, there should be more creativity in teaching. We should get rid of all the basic boring stuff. And so progressive education, which turns out not to be so progressive, was born.
What makes children happy? Play and games.
What is more creative than boring un-American drills? Creative movement which was unleashed on little persons who had not been given a chance to either build their bodies or build a vocabulary of movement from which to create.
- THE POPULATION EXPLOSION
Helped along by immigration, a fertile population and industry the explosion hit its peak in the mid-twenties. Masses moved to cities where jobs were more plentiful and which led to over-crowding and lack of facilities…including school room.
- THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Prior to the Great Depression things were humming right along. There was plenty of money, jazz came of age, flappers Charlestoned, prohibition bred speakeasies and organized crime and German and Czech physical education instructors — along with their wonderful equipment — who understood the connection of fit bodies and fit minds were teaching in the public schools.
What Do You Do When You Have Lack of Money and Over-Crowding?
You put the UNAmerican, boring brown gym equipment in the closet, turn the gym into classrooms and use the outdoors for play and games. The trouble was, they only knew three ways to play: baseball, basketball and football.
Lying in wait was another destroyer.
With the help of the PHDs at Columbia Teacher’s college (mostly male), a woman wrote a paper proving that girls were delicate, and that if they jumped up and down, they would scramble their reproductive organs. In addition, breasts were discovered and could be heavy. It was the start of another way of thinking and in no time at all jump ropes for girls were outlawed, as was track and field.
Suddenly girls were not expected to do normal push-ups and chin-ups. The gym and the balls belonged to boys.
Misinterpreted by Freud and Dewey, the population explosion and lack of funds gave the powers that be an excuse to throw the baby out with the bath water. And what evolved was:
- Happiness instead of discipline
- Permissiveness instead of structure
- Playing instead of building the body when it counts and in a way that works.
As in so many other instances, throwing something out that works without filling the void leaves room for two things: exploitation and 100+ other ideas that not only don’t work but may very well be destructive.
Over the past 80 years we have failed to understand the importance of building the body starting at birth. It is called PREVENTION.
Now we have what you see before you today. What used to be considered HEALTH problems of the elderly are now rampant in the teen population: obesity, diabetes, cardiac arrest, back pain, poor posture, neuromuscular tension, high blood pressure, decreased adrenal-cortical reserve, fatigue, decreased vital capacity, muscle weakness and inflexibility.
So What Should We Do About It?
Bonnie said GIRLS are the key… Find out more in my January 2016 blog, Starting Anew: Girls Front and Center.
For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help.
Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®