Humanistic Physical Education

While my ideas on physical education have been influenced by an Arnoldian perspective (see Sport literacy), Don Hellison's book Humanistic Physical Education (1973) had a big impact on my development of the idea of sport literacy and Play with Purpose: Game Sense to Sport Literacy, and it continues to influence the ideas I have for the next edition of that resource. In this blog, I revisit some of the ideas that Don writes about in his book.

Historical Perspective
Physical education developed from behavioural perspectives connected with fitness and discipline. Around the turn of the C20th, physical educators began to connect PE, social development and wellbeing. Particularly influential in this development was Dudley Sargent. By the 1930's, the slogan "education through movement" was employed by a group of physical educators including Wood, Nash, Hetherington, and Williams to explain a shift in emphasis from the PE tradition of "education of the physical". In the 1960's and 1970's, efforts were being made to draw together the behavioural and psychological perspectives by physical educators like Arnold (1968, 1979), Cratty (1967), Ulrich (1968), and others. Hellison took a different path

Humanistic Physical Education
Hellison deliberately adopted a more vales laden perspective than Arnold and others at this time, and was 'up front' with his bias toward humanism and therefore above all else, a concern for social and emotional wellbeing. The thesis of his text was, therefore, that physical education programs progress through the following tenets:
- the major goal is to actualise one's own potential, to become what one can become;
- each individual is unique, and therefore there is no justification in moulding students to a
pre-determined "shape";
- how a person feels (self esteem) is more important than what a person knows;
- one must to an extent "selectively detach" from a culture to avoid mirroring it rather than
learning from it; and
- no one is better able than the person them self to determine how best they learn and what is   
meaningful for them to learn.

As "physical education programs and physical activity patterns provide a setting within which an individual develops perceptions of physical performance in a specific physical activity or general physical ability" physical education constitutes a "basis for evaluation of the physical self, or more accurately, of the physical ability self" (p. 10). Physical education programs, therefore, directly affect self esteem. Hellison suggested self perception, self esteem and physical education thus create a series of casual relationships, and he laid out of sequence of development for physical education.

Hellsion suggested that self esteem creates one's base of support for the feelings of competency, or the capability, of one's body. The first task of physical education is therefore self esteem development. "A person's base of support is widened each time they feel competent about a motor skill, or a fitness activity, or the capability of the body" (p. 110).

If the first task is self esteem development, the second task is the full realisation of each individual's unique physical potentials and a realistic perception of one's individual capability - a combination of ability, interest, needs and motivation. The development of one's unique potential Hellison suggested is related to the concept of self actualisation - the "growth toward fulfillment of one's specific potentialities and talents" (p. 111). This provides the "foundation for becoming what one is capable of becoming" (p. 14), leading to the third task, which  is the integration of these feelings and abilities into a meaningful lifestyle. This shifts the question beyond the typical physical education "Am I competent?" question to "Who am I?".

Once this stage is reached, the final task is to turn attention from the self to the self and others. This will require the physical educator to have an intentional focus on qualities such as cooperation, team-work, and sensitivity to others.

Thinking about the process of "being" physically educated through these four considerations is quite different from the traditional physical education method (Metzler, 2011). This method stresses organisation of group practice activities, direct delivery of ideas and concepts, order and control of the sequence of activities- which requires limited analytic and creative effort on behalf of the physical education teacher.

The goals of Humanistic Physical Education
Hellison set out four goals of humanistic physical education. They are:
1. Elevating self perception of one's physical ability to the point that self esteem is improved
2. Self actualisation in the dimensions which can be influenced by the physical education experience - physical development, creative self expression, and the feelings and meanings associated with physical activity
3. Self understanding through processes of introspection into the relationship between the individuals needs, abilities, and interests in physical education and one's life
4. Improvement of interpersonal relations

Hellsion concludes, that implementation of these goals require specific planning and behaviour by the teacher. He contends that the unplanned experience, because of the centrality of interaction in most physical activity settings, may lead to positive outcomes or it may lead to opposing outcomes. There is therefore a requirement of the physical educator for deliberate design, guidance, and nurturing of transfer of meaning.

Hellison was not one of the voices introduced to me in my physical education teacher education during the mid-1980's. It wasn't until 2004 that I encountered Hellison's work and the TPSR model, when I attend the ACHPER International Conference at the University of Wollongong where Don and Dave Walsh were presenting. Don's work provided another 'lens' on the world of physical education and enabled me to challenge some of the assumptions around the expected personal and social development outcomes associated with PE. Especially salient was the idea that physical education programs affect self esteem; whether as teachers we plan for it or not, or we are aware of it or not, it happens.

I have found reading Humanistic Physical Education again six years after I last looked at the book particularly interesting in light of the contemporary debates about physical literacy and meaningful physical education, and what I see as the narrow positioning of physical education to "just a subject"  and less so an established discipline/a field of knowledge. Corbin has written well on this matter elsewhere, and so I won't touch on it here except to comment that one thing my PhD taught me is that there is much wisdom to be gained by looking back over the physical education field of knowledge.

If you are interested in reading Humanistic Physical Education yourself, you can find it on Amazon


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