Knowledge and Understanding in Physical Education
reviewed by Bernard Gutin - 1972
Title: Knowledge and Understanding in Physical Education
Author(s): Committee on Understanding and Knowledge in Physical Education
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
Search for book at Amazon.com
Related to its development as an academic discipline, the field of physical education has been placing increasing emphasis on the use and transmission of verbal concepts. Part of this trend is the introduction of college service courses in which information concerning physical activity is transmitted by a combination of lecture-discussion and laboratory experiences. A number of recently published texts are designed for use in such courses. For example, in 1969 an American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER) committee chaired by Leonard Larson produced a manual, to be used at the primary and secondary levels, which purports to "represent as complete a presentation as possible at this time of all the concepts and knowledge basic to the accomplishment of the objectives of physical education."
A reviewer must first be permitted to gasp at the enormity of such an undertaking. Does the text include all the concepts needed by the teacher in order to foster the accomplishment of objectives in physical education, or merely all the concepts needed by the student? Surely the latter must be the case if a manual of 124 pages is to approach the ambitious level of inclusiveness claimed by the authors. Indeed, it does seem to have been the intention of Dr. Larson's committee to present concepts appropriate for students, even though the manual is designed as a source for teachers.
The book raises an old and significant question: What is the nature of the relationship between conceptual materials and educational goals in the physiological and motor skill domains? However, it responds with the all too familiar ambiguity that has characterized thinking in physical education for far too many years. Clearly, it is possible for a student to attain the physiological and motor skill objectives of physical education simply by following the directions of the teacher, without receiving verbal instruction about such things as the difference between strength and endurance or the approximate location of his center of gravity. Therefore, one could conclude that the concepts contained in the manual are intended essentially as background material for the teacher to use in guiding the student. Yet there are persistent hints that the authors want students to master the concepts contained in the manual as well as the physiological and motor components of the physical education program.
There may be legitimate reasons why students should learn conceptual material, but the authors do not seriously attempt to confront the matter. Their lack of clarity of purpose will make it difficult to evaluate the success of the manual in any of its possible applications.
I will assume, therefore, that the justification for including cognitive material in the physical education lesson lies in the influence of such content on the student's ability to make decisions about physical activity. These decisions involve such questions as whether or not to take part in physical activity, in which activities to participate, and which forms of training are appropriate for particular sports. These decisions may be made for one's self, for one's family or even for the community (e.g., voting on bond issues for public recreation facilities). In other words, knowledge might be presumed to be a necessary component of physical education when the ability to make intelligent decisions about physical activity is made a teaching objective.
One can easily imagine a program of physical education in which the student's growing understanding of physical activity would accompany his evolution from decisions made within a framework organized by the teacher to completely independent choices made as a responsible adult. Certainly, a manual which presented all the concepts and knowledge needed by this kind of physically educated person would be a significant document by any standard.
Although the AAHPER manual does not fulfill this expectation, it certainly will serve as a valuable entry point to the appropriate bodies of knowledge. I doubt seriously, however, its utility in the classroom, since it tends to present concepts as flat assertions without establishing a framework of theory, research, or reasoned logic.
A compendium of "facts" has its uses, but, like a dictionary, it also has its limitations and, hence, it misuses. At some points the authors seem to invite a dangerous kind of misuse: "The 'translation' of the statement into language that the child can understand is the responsibility of the teacher." It is precisely in such translations that teachers with a superficial understanding of the concept get into difficulty. If this manual leads teachers to introduce conceptual material for which they have inadequate comprehension, it will not result in an enhanced physical education for their students.
The manual is organized into three sections. Part I deals with activity performance and includes such areas as basic sports skills, body mechanics, rules, and safety requirements. Part II is concerned with the effects of activity, both immediate and long-term (including everything from health to self-realization). Factors modifying participation are discussed in Part III. These include age, sex, skill, fatigue, physical condition, smoking, and alcohol. The manual ends with a short discussion of the nature and use of standardized tests, specifically those developed for AAHPER by the Educational Testing Service.
The committee undoubtedly worked hard to develop the organizational plan for the manual. Its efforts have been rewarded by coherent presentations in the first two parts of the manual. The factors contained in Part III, however, seem relatively unrelated to each other and, in some cases, would have been more appropriately placed in other sections. For example, the discussion of fatigue and conditioning in Part III could have been easily integrated into the section concerned with the long-term effects of activity. The more familiar categorization of material into mechanical, physiological, psychological, and sociological foundations would have been less elegant but more utilitarian. Such straightforward organization would have facilitated the actual use of the manual by the teacher in assembling background information for the construction of lesson content.
For each area of the manual, a general concept is followed by several more specific concepts, labeled elementary, junior, or senior according to the level of complexity involved. This procedure seems to work quite well as a vehicle for suggesting materials appropriate to various grade levels. In the section on basic sports skills, however, either the system proved inadequate or it simply was not followed. For each statement about particular skills several mechanical laws are cited. However, some of the statements do not seem to be related to any sort of mechanical law, and some of the laws seem unrelated to the preceding statement. Many times this reviewer found himself more puzzled than informed by the discussion.
A more coherent way to present the same material might have been to start with the general mechanical principle and then follow with specific examples pertaining to various movement activities, a procedure which was followed in the section on body mechanics with satisfying results. This format can be used by the teacher to encourage the process of discovery. The general concept can be treated as an hypothesis and the specific concepts as deductions to be tested in class activity wherever possible. Such an approach is consonant with the idea that physical education should involve the study of movement at all levels of education, not just at the level of professional preparation. Finally, the use of such a format might have encouraged more careful selection of the concepts included in the manual, not all of which presently qualify for the designation "firmly established."
This latter point raises the question of what knowledge should be included in a document of this kind. Should only those concepts supported directly by research evidence be accepted? Alternately, should the authors attempt probability statements based on existing but incomplete knowledge? It seems that the committee chose to stay close to research-supported material in the sections where we are most advanced (e.g., mechanics and physiology), while settling for more adventuresome material in areas where behavioral science, philosophy, and popular values are the prime sources. For example, in the section on players and spectators, the authors assert that, "There are democratic means by which rules can be changed if they are not acceptable." Is it really true that players are involved in making and changing the rules of competition? Perhaps if the word "oligarchic" were substituted for "democratic," the statement would be a more accurate description of the decison-making process in athletics. The desire to support certain values and to admonish teachers and coaches seems to play a larger part in "concepts" such as these than does knowledge and evidence.
One serious weakness of the manual is the spotty treatment of the field of motor learning. The few references to principles of learning are scattered throughout several sections. Surely it would have been more fruitful for most readers to have such important topics as feedback, transfer, and distribution of practice given direct treatment.
In sum, this manual should be helpful to teachers who are seriously trying to achieve intellectual objectives in physical education. Where physical education is presented as the study of movement, the text will be an ideal companion to the standardized tests now being developed. On the other hand, it would be unwise to think that any teacher could rely solely on a manual of this kind as a resource for teaching conceptual material related to physical activity. Knowledge and understanding must first be the possession of the teacher if they are to be a reasonable goal for the student. Only teachers with strong backgrounds in the scientific and philosophical foundations of physical education can use this manual appropriately—as a guide, rather than as a basic source.