Would You Hire Plato to Teach Physical Education at Your School?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Hire Plato to join your physical education staff? It may not be as crazy as you think. A man of reason, intellect, and analysis, Plato also held education of the physical to a level of importance unparalleled by most modern day philosophers and educators. Plato believed that philosophy laid the foundation for all other facets of education. To him, it did not seem strange to be both a philosopher and proponent of physical education. The goal of Plato 's physical education curriculum was the development of self-directed, life-long physical activity for both men and women; physical activity that would stimulate and foster intellectual growth. An early proponent of what we now refer to as "wellness ", Plato the philosopher was first and foremost an educator. If the name Plato, and the thought of having a philosopher join your physical education staff conjures up visions of ivory tower intellectualism, you may be pleasantly surprised by Plato's vitae. Take a few minutes to become re-acquainted with this friend of physical education before you toss his application.

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The advertisement for your opening in elementary physical education produced the expected deluge of applications. Some applicants are fresh from physical education teacher education programs at the nearby university; some have been serving as substitute teachers; and others are seasoned veterans who desire to relocate. In the midst of the application pile is an unusual cover letter and vitae. The applicant's name is Plato, and his degree and experience are in the area of philosophy. It would seem that this application must be misplaced. What could the ancient Greek philosopher Plato have to offer modern day physical education? The answer to that question may lie within your own attitude toward teaching and learning.

In recent years, researchers in physical education have asserted that the development of critical (higher-order) thinking in physical education teachers and their students is essential to life-long changes in attitudes and behaviors (Daniel & Bergman-Drewe, 1998; Fernandez-Balboa, 1995; Sebren, 1995). In order to reach the optimal level of critical thinking, and to move beyond simple acquisition of motor skills and rules (the "how") to understanding the "why", Daniel & Bergman-Drewe (1998) proposed an approach that has proven itself over the course of centuries: understanding and applying the core concepts of philosophy. Not the common misconception of philosophy as an ivory tower intellectual pursuit for the meaning of life, but rather a pragmatic, analytical application fundamental to the development of higher-order thought. Miller understood the use of philosophy as a foundation for physical education when he wrote (as cited in Daniel & Bergman-Drewe, 1998),

   Philosophy ... is useful in sharpening the tools of critical thinking,
   stimulating self-examination, helping resolve professional issues,
   providing a means for a better understanding of physical education, and
   elevating the wholeness of physical education's common enterprise. (p. 47)

If you view philosophy as a foundation for effective and life changing physical education, then Plato's unusual application will be worth a closer look.

Plato the Student, Teacher, Philosopher

Most scholars look at ancient Greek civilization as the birthplace of Western Civilization; a starting point for interpreting and understanding the philosophical and historical forces that helped to shape and define our culture. Although writers often give credit for today's educational philosophy to men such as John Dewey (Daniel & Bergman-Drewe, 1998; Wuest & Bucher, 1999), it is important for physical educators to recognize that the philosophy and teaching of ancient Greeks such as Plato had (and continue to have) a tremendous impact on current attitudes and ideas about physical education.

Who was Plato, and what connection does he have with physical education? …