The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Educational Value of Games.

by Rev. R. H. Hart-Davis.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 99-106

Paper read before the Reading Branch of the P.N.E.U.

To keep a healthy mind in a healthy body was acknowledged by the Romans, when at the height of their civilisation and power, to be one of the noblest and most important rules of life; and those nations of the world which have subsequently risen to be leaders in the progress of mankind have done so by obedience to this maxim. He has not reached the full perfection of his nature who has been debarred by taint of blood, or by misfortune, or by his own fault from attaining a happy combination of strength in both intellect and muscle. A wise and calm judgment shows us that the balance of perfect health is to be maintained only by giving to the growing understanding and to the growing frame just that amount of nourishment which each can assimilate and turn to good account for the common advantage.

The assumption will, I think, be nowhere seriously controverted by members of our Union, that neither mind nor body can be safely neglected in the education of our children. We agree that we must educate the mind, and we agree that we must educate the body. I will go a step further, and claim this also as common ground of agreement--a predominant desire among us for the intellectual rather than for the bodily development of our children--a predominant sense that, whatever pains and time may be given to bodily exercise, those pains and that time are to be valued, not so much in themselves, as by their object, by their indirect rather than by their direct influence, by their ministry to the higher part of our children's nature, their mental and intellectual faculties. We are at one as to the double necessity that lies upon us to educate mind and body, and we are at one that the education of the body must be subservient to the education of the mind. The body must be trained, but trained to be the servant, not the master, of the mind, a servant to be kindly used, and improved to the utmost. We are determined that our children shall not grow up to be no more than splendid animals--of health and strength thoroughly sound--proficient in bodily exercise, which, if it stand alone, profits little, with appetites keen and enjoyments lively, but in power of thought and in intellectual resource weak and sickly. Such products of humanity are not indeed by any means the worst of their kind. They may have kindly and attractive qualities. They have a niche in the world which they may usefully fill. They may do much to make the wheels of life run more smoothly. It may be in many cases that they are incapable of any higher service to their generation. They are the Esau's of society. Fond of the sports of the field, leaders in games and in athletic contests, but very thoughtless and untamed in mental discipline, yet with much of that warmth, generosity, and unselfishness of temper which often exist in an ill-governed mind. I feel sure that you are with me in claiming ours to be a higher aim than this, and in deploring the excess of adulation which the world sometimes lavishes on its "splendid animals," not of the Epsom or Doncaster race course, but of the cricket and football field, of the polo ground, and of the cycling and of the running track. But there will doubtless be room for difference of view when we come to apply these principles to the subject of this address, the educational value of outdoor games. We shall not be of one mind as to the proportional share to be taken by games in the education of boys, nor possibly as to the advantage of giving girls outdoor games at all, except of a very ordinary and simple kind.

All will allow, however, that a certain freedom must be given to the instinctive desire for play in both boys and girls, which is as truly born in them, and is as paramount a necessity of their nature, as it is in kittens, puppies, and lambs. There can be no need to bring the proverbial "Jack" into the argument. There must be play as well as work, if the young people are to be bright and happy. The infants school of the present day, with its spells of brief lessons, its many interludes of arm, hand, and lung exercises, and its opportunities of fresh air in the playground, is one instance of the trend of public opinion on this point. There must be means for recreation, the tension must be relaxed, the bow unbent, at proper intervals, and in due proportion, and these means must be provided in far larger measure than our parents thought necessary for us. Most schools and establishments for the education of the young, of both sexes, are managed in accordance with this prevailing sentiment. The provision of outdoor games, such as cricket, lawn tennis, and hockey in their season is common in a very large number of schools for girls as well as of schools for boys; while the boys have as well football, hand and bat fives, hare and hounds, and various kinds of athletic exercises. The gymnasium and the swimming bath must be mentioned as most useful for both sexes, and the racquet court for boys, but they are at the disadvantage of excluding outdoor air.

We agree, then, that there must be play for health's sake; that mind and body may duly minister the one to the other. Does anyone doubt it? Does he hesitate to believe that mental development is helped onwards by a fair share in bodily games? Does he think it a bad thing for a VIth form boy to be in his School XL at cricket, or in the XV at football? For the University scholar to row in the boat, get a place in the XL, to win his "colours" in some other of the many manly exercises now open to him? For a High School girl in the Upper form, or the holder of a Girton or Newnham exhibition to be in her cricket XL or hockey team? Let public school records, university triposes and class lists be questioned, and they will resolve any doubts on this point. There will be individual exceptions, which only prove the rule, and the rule is that where there is no excess in either direction, where mind and body are not both kept in turn to utmost stretch, then supremacy in games is the useful partner and friend of mental activity and success.

Granting, therefore, that outdoor games should conduce to health, we will go on to consider whether they do not possess educational advantages of their own. This audience will, it is hoped, show what their experience has taught them. But the writer of this paper would maintain that outdoor games play such an important part in the moral training of the young that no teacher or parent can safely afford to do without them. It is difficult to say what moral quality those games in which many join, and for success in which united effort is necessary, do not help to develop. One can call up a long and splendid array. Courage (or pluck, as it is called, though the word is not to be found in this sense in any first-class dictionary), endeavour, decision, obedience, attentiveness, discipline, restraint, unselfishness, espirit de corps, endeavour, in the grand old meaning of the word, the putting forth full and sustained effort. Foreign nations sometimes laugh at us Britons for taking our recreations so seriously. It is just because we do so, because as boys and girls at school we have learnt how to play the game, how to play up and to play to win, heart and soul with all our energies, that our national character has in it that doggedness, determination and "grit" (to use another unclassical but expressive term) which carry us through so many difficulties at home and abroad. Many of us, when looking back upon our lives, must gratefully acknowledge that games filled a considerable and beneficent part in the formation of our characters, and brought out qualities which have served us well in the pursuit of our various callings. Ex uno disce omnes. [From one learn alle.] From one example let us learn all. The crisis of a cricket match and the crisis of a battle-field may be linked together more closely than we sometimes dream; the hero of the one comes to be the hero of the other. Hear the stirring song of a present Canon of St. Paul's:--

    "There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight--
    Ten to make and the match to win--
    A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
    An hour to play, and the last man in.
    And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
    Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
    But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote,
    'Play up, play up, and play the game!'

    "The sand of the desert is sodden red,
    Red with the mark of a square that broke;
    The Gatling's hammed, and the Colonel dead,
    And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
    The river of death has brimmed his banks,
    And England's far, and honour a name,
    But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks,
    'Play up, play up, and play the game!'"
    -- Sir Henry Newbolt

And now let a work be urged in favour of the participation of the elders in the games of the young--masters, mistresses, and parents also, as far as opportunity allows. There is no time when boys and girls are so real as when they are at play. Difficult creatures as they are to get at and to understand, half of these difficulties disappear in the freedom and "abandon" of the game. The influence of the teacher in the classroom, and of the parent in the home, is greatly strengthened by the sense of comradeship which springs from the common enjoyment of an exciting cricket match, of a close struggle at hockey or football, or of any other outdoor game of bodily skill. It is for this reason that we welcome the presence of the school staff of the master or mistress who, though not likely, perhaps, to rise very high on the purely scholastic side of the profession, combines moderate intellectual powers with a marked aptitude to lead in games. The ascendency thus to be gained over the young may be turned to invaluable use, and a knowledge of character and opportunities of training it may be more fully harvested in this than in any other field of school life. The young people themselves are quick enough to perceive who are their true friends, and the elder who, while delighting in the games for his own sake, for the pleasure and refreshment of the exercise, is yet more keen in keeping up the spirit, and in developing the excellence of them for their sake, is certain to win respect, gratitude, influence and affection.

There is no need to repeat what has been already said in deprecation of mere bodily worship. Now and again we may hear of schools and homes where it is an evil, where masters, parents and young people think of little else, and fall down in senseless adoration before the successful athlete. But there is abundant testimony that the evil is not far-spread. This is the evidence of Canon Welldon, late Bishop of Calcutta, himself an active mountaineer, and a short time ago Headmaster of Harrow:--

"There is a great deal of nonsense talked about sports at public schools. Certainly too much attention is not paid to them at Harrow. The boys have a half-holiday on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The cricket and football matches never begin till nearly three o'clock. In any case that time is for play. The only exception is when we meet Eton at Lords'. For that event we have two days. I wish it were more. Some of the boys here will have a great deal of leisure by-and-by. Had they not better love genuine manly sports like football and cricket rather than many of those less desirable forms of sport associated with betting? I have not found that the boys who are good at football and cricket fail at their books. No doubt that is because we play seriously, and that is why I encourage cricket and kindred sports. They bring out the most valuable qualities of endurance, discipline, and stamina, and all that goes to help to develop the manly men."

This is what Dr. Welldon thinks, and though some of us may wax indignant over the homage paid to games, in my belief the theory that the nation is suffering from the worship of athletics will need a deal of proof. As someone has well remarked, "We don't bury our cricketers in Westminster Abbey just yet."

Now, when we turn more particularly to one branch of our subject, outdoor games for girls, we may expect to find some divergence of opinion, more especially among those of us who are of middle age, and have been brought up to consider such a thing as a good honest, hard-fought game a desecration of tender girl-nature. But woman has won her way to new fields and empires, and holds it with success. One such field from which it will be hard to dispossess her is her right to play with her kind under the open sky without any forfeiture of the good opinion of men. I am free to confess that I share the hearty dislike of many to mixed games of girls and boys, and still more to mixed games to young men and young women. They are to be objected to on many grounds. You cannot, for instance, do what you will, make equality in the combatants. The girls must be at a disadvantage with the boy of her own side, unless he be a hopeless duffer; and hopeless duffers are not welcome or useful participants in any game, and should be treated by themselves. And a girl's pride naturally kicks at the good-natured sufferance of the boy who gallantly enough plays below his own powers; while, on the other hand, should he exert himself to the full, she is thrown into the shade, and the game, thus monopolized, loses zest for her. Again, though they may not the least intend it, an element of roughness is inseparable from the participation of boys, and this is most undesirable from every point of view. But when girl meets girl, and there even come, as in the meeting of Greek with Greek, the tug of war, in the sense of a stubbornly contested game of cricket or hockey, on turf duly cared for and marked out, under well-understood rules, with proper equipment of both dress and implements, and within suitable limits of time--in short, under the same advantages which boys enjoy of expert advise and management--I, for my part, am convinced that nothing but good should be the issue. That this result can be reached in girls' schools I am able to bear testimony. In most of the High Schools of the country the scruples of the more old-fashioned of the head mistresses have been forced by the public opinion of the parents, supported by the advocacy of the younger mistresses, themselves experts in games, to give way, and there has been nothing to regret from the change.

For young girls who are not at school, but are taught at home, and who must look for help in outdoor games to parents or others, there are more difficulties in the way. The family is seldom large enough to provide a side. Arrangements should be made for other young people similarly circumstanced to join. Parents may be engaged in business and have little time; but summer evenings are long, and there is the weekly half-holiday throughout the year. At the least they can give advice, encouragement and aid in organization.

For older girls, who have passed through school or the home schoolroom, there are clubs for hockey and tennis to be found very generally in towns and not unseldom in the country as well, which, when well managed, provide the healthful exercise and pleasant companionship, which should re-create both mind and body.

Now, perhaps, an objection may be raised which some people consider a fatal bar to organized games for girls who are not of the same social standing. It is held to be neither wise nor kind to encourage games in which there must of necessity be an uncontrolled freedom of intercourse between the young people to a degree unparalleled at any other time. The argument, f it be good, should apply equally in the case of boys. But I doubt whether any one of us has heard it seriously raised. It has never prevailed, so far as I am aware, to prevent games at public schools for boys, where there is always a very decided mixture of classes. It would never occur to most of us to think that either boy or girl could receive any moral harm by playing with equals in bodily activity whose blood might not be equally "blue." The argument indeed would seem to run the other way. For if it be true, as I have ventured to assert, that there is no opportunity like a good honest game which so reveals what stuff folk are made of, what are the qualities of their nature, what is their inward character, it must also be true that it is of the utmost value in enabling those who join in it to discern where they may form friendships, and when they should hold back. The instinct of the young people will be exercised unconsciously to themselves, but really and effectually, to open out their affections towards those whom they find to be, not merely successful players, but courageous, good-tempered, fair and honest opponents. The playing field is, in fact, but an illustration of the wider world into which they will have to pass, and the training there provided, in the necessity of choice and in the power of making it well, is of life-long importance.

The fringe only of a large subject has, I am well aware, been now touched; but perhaps enough has been adduced to start a discussion which will fill up the deficiencies of this paper, and present new points of view. But if I may be hardy enough to prophesy, I shall venture to say that the general sense of this meeting will allow to games an educational value which we cannot afford our children to lose.

[There is a follow-up article about Indoor Games]

Typed by happi, July 2019; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020