The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Questions Proposed by the Royal Commission on Physical Education (Scotland) *

Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 268-276

From the Answers of the late Dr. Almond.

[These questions come from "Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland)." Great Britain. Royal Commission on Physical Training January 1, 1903, H.M. Stationery Office. It's online at Google Books here. The questions were not included in the Parents' Review article, perhaps because of space? Perhaps because the questions were already well-known to PR readers? They have been typed and included here from the document at Google Books because the responses make more sense when accompanied by the question being responded to. Note that Dr. Almond did not respond to every question, and, in some cases, parts of the document were left out of this article -- again, perhaps because of length.]

3.--(c) These exercises, jumping, running, etc., were once very prominent at Loretto, but have ceased to be so. I have come to regard long races, even 440 yards, as a frequently injurious strain on growing boys, and I consider competitive "athletics" (though I once thought otherwise) to be nearly as great an evil as competitive scholarships.

But in fine weather, in spring, the whole school have afternoons for jumping, hundred yards, and hurdles, and prizes are given for the attainment of certain standards, e.g., 5 feet for the high jump. But the main object of such athletics is to develop the naturally clumsy boy (not to produce "records"), just as the main object of school work is to do the best for the dull boy, rather than to attain what are called "successes."

(d) The country is not adapted for paper chases; and they also, in my opinion, often cause dangerous chills, from the hounds standing still, at fault, when overheated. But runs are most valuable. There are always runs for every boy on days too wet for games, about three miles on full school days and four and a quarter on others. On days not absolutely wet, but unsuitable for games from wind or sodden ground, the boys often go "grinds" (especially on Saturdays when there is not match) from six to twelve miles or more, according to circumstances.

(e) There are two carpenters' shops. Every boy on the modern side and in the two science classes has a box of tools of his own, and carpentry is a regular part of his school work, examined upon, and marked for at the annual examinations.

I hope soon to have appliances for blacksmithy and other handicrafts.

I regard the teaching of these as most valuable at school, so that boys may be learning what may be practically useful, at the same time that they are receiving the advantages of an all-round education.

(f) Every boy, who possibly can, leans singing. There is a resident organist and choirmaster, with a resident assistant.

The younger boys have daily practice, partly in voice exercises, and partly in vocal (chiefly sacred) music. Each part has also half an hour or more weekly practice; and there are three full practices.

Boys who do not sing have other prescribed occupation at these times, so that singing counts in lesson hours. About three-fourths of the school are in the choir, and most of the rest have been in it as trebles, or will be in it when their voices have passed through the breaking stage.

[4.--State specifically the time allotted to these or any of them per diem and per week.]

4.--Football, as a rule, goes on for three afternoons weekly from October to March, weather and ground permitting, for about an hour.

Big side plays twice a week, at the most, for 50 minutes.

I regret that the modern development of the game, in order to attract spectators and make "gates," has tended to make it too fast, and a great strain on growing boys, where it is played keenly. I have done my utmost to persuade the other schools to join us in making rules adapted to growing boys; and here I am strongly supported by our medical officer, and, I believe, by the medical officers of other schools.

There is also a good deal of drop-kicking, and often a kind of Association football, during our morning intervals, within the school grounds.

Hockey is played regularly before and after the football season, and for more days in the week and longer time than is possible with modern football. It is also sometimes played during the football season.

Cricket is usually played from 3 to 4.15 p.m., on three days a week; and from 2.15 to 4.15 on other two. The elevens also, especially the XI., have often "fields out" for half an hour before early dinner. But all boys have at least one day a week off cricket, and special exemptions may be gained by those who field keenly.

Gymnastics and Drill, &c.--All boys have half an hour daily in the gymnasium, or for out-door drill. Then half hours occur at various times in the morning or evening.

No boy may be in the gymnasium, or indeed anywhere in-doors, for any cause whatever, except doctor's orders, during the time set apart for out-door exercise in the afternoons.

On Saturdays when there are no matches, there are "grinds" for the whole school, as described before. On two Saturdays in the year there are longer grinds, usually one from Selkirk to Peebles, one from Pomathorn to Innerleithen, one across Muirfoots, and one up Carnethy or Arthur's Seat. The longer grinds are a privilege, gained by marks. As they extend to about forty boys, all VI. Form, school officers, and members of XI. And XV. are eligible. What counts most for the rest is having done a twenty-mile walk in the previous holidays.

I think that walking and hill climbing ought to be far more encouraged than they are.

[5. Are any of these taken in ordinary school hours?]

[6. What, in your opinion, are the respective merits and relative values of the various forms of physical training>]

[7. How far are those opportunities taken advantage of?]

When boys first come to us, a great many of them are much disinclined for any exercises which involve much exertion or discomfort, or the possibility of being hurt. They have been carefully trained at home to avoid such things. I think that fully a third would not take much advantage of the gymnasium, the swimming rafts, wet weather runs, long grinds, or Rugby football, if they could help it. But with us, unless medically exempted, they cannot help it. By degrees, nearly all boys become enthusiastic for Rugby football; and like gymnastics and long grinds and swimming. But, though with most of our upper boys, a wet weather run becomes such a second nature, and the absence of wet weather exercise produces such dullness and discomfort that I think most of them would take such runs in the worst weather of which this climate is capable, if left entirely to themselves, yet I cannot say what proportion of the others would be found hanging over a fire, and progressing towards a flabby condition of body and mind, if they were allowed to prefer immediate comfort to high-spirited health. Some, after a fair trial, are exempted from cricket, if they have other occupation, and take their turn of cricket fagging.

[I have answered the spirit rather than the letter of this question, as there is generally no option for boys in the matter of taking advantage of our physical system.]

[8. What, in your opinion, are the results of such physical training?]

8.--I give the first place to wet weather runs and the grinds above mentioned. It is evident, even to outsiders, that the conditions, physical, mental, and moral, of boys who have been thus engaged, is likely to be much better than if they have been sitting over fires, or roaming about and vitiating the air of schoolrooms, or reading-rooms. Such continued exercise, never violent, as it sometimes is in games, or intermittent, as in cricket, or sluggish and interrupted, as in golf, is eminently calculated to expand the lungs, oxygenate the blood, and impart vitality to throw off noxious germs, especially, I think, those of tubercle.

But more than this, those who have experienced the delicious afterglow resulting from such exercise, and contrasted it with the stagnant condition occasioned by an afternoon spent indoors, acquire a most valuable habit for life. Many a young man remains well and strong under the unfavourable circumstances of modern city life by having formed at school the determination that, in spite of all obstacles, wherever he is, under all possible circumstances of rain and storm, he will have his exercise. He may be too old for football; he may not be able to spare the great number of hours requisite to get sufficient exercise out of golf; the roads or streets may make cycling impossible, but he can always walk. And above all, if boys are taught at school that keeping themselves in prime physical condition is a moral duty, and that, therefore, the time daily allotted to it is nothing less than sacred from the interference alike of laziness and of impositions, the divine laws which have to do with health and well-being, and which are now more and more clearly revealed by science, gradually acquire a sanctity in their minds of which our forefathers never dreamt, and physical laziness and self-indulgence assume the character of physical sins. Circumstances and temptation in after life may bring about lapses, in this or in other ways, but the recollection of how their daily exercise, no matter what the weather, or the other calls upon their time, was made a paramount duty at school, will come back upon them with a force always strong, and often irresistible.

I have enlarged perhaps unduly on this point, because that exercise is in the first place a duty, and in the second place only an amusement, is the keynote of the present enquiry, as I conceive it.

Of all our games the most important is football. It obviously cultivates courage, dash, and alertness of movement. But its even more valuable points are not so obvious to those who are behind the scenes. Quickness of decision between a multitude of conflicting alternatives is one of the most valuable qualities in life; and it is eminently fostered by football. The issue of a game may depend on whether a player kicks up, or dribbles, or punts, or drop kicks, or passes. A mistake may be fatal, and hesitation is even worse. Those who talk platitudes about "muscle and brains" forget, or are ignorant, what complex brain processes take place in such cases, and how much a great player at football owes to his brains.

And again, football comes only second to rowing in teaching endurance and self-restraint. Endurance, as I have said above, is carried even too far by the game which the Unions have encouraged. When a boy gasps out at the end of a match, "I didn't know a fellow could go through an hour of that and live," he has had a training in one of the noblest of virtues, most necessary to a great or even a hale people; but it has not been altogether good for him. The gain in self-restraint, however, has no drawback. The boy who is in training for a match gains experience of the happiness and high spirits which result from eating and drinking what is best for him, rather than what he likes; and I am convinced that the most hopeful line of assault against both drink and immorality is the theoretical teaching and practical enforcement of the unnamed but cardinal virtue, which consists in the observance of physical laws and the avoidance of physical sins.

I cannot place so high a value on drill and gymnastics as some do, though I believe that they should form part of the daily work of all schools. Drill is undoubtedly useful in giving a boy something of a soldier's training, teaching him to give prompt obedience to the word of command, and makes him hold his head up and avoid a slouching gait. And gymnastics do much in the way of developing the muscles, and of expanding the chest, though I think that the latter object would be equally achieved by the freer games, which are more conducive both to high-spirited health and to the development of individuality and initiative. In these remarks, I have been looking at things from my own point of view as the headmaster of a school in the country. In town schools generally, games, such as football, etc., are not attainable every day, and often not at all. In such cases drill and gymnastics are the first order of importance. Drill of an active nature should always, when weather makes it possible, be in shirt sleeves or gymnastic dress.

But boxing seems to me to be a better thing than either, and I am much inclined to give it the place once assigned to fencing and basket-stick exercises. Gymnastics and boxing both share with Rugby football the advantage of developing the muscles of the chest and arms; for which most games, including Association football, do little or nothing.

I thoroughly believe in what I know of exercises like Ling's for schools which have not abundant opportunity for gymnastics and various athletic games.

[Ling: Swedish Drill.]

Cricket and hockey are both admirable games. They can be carried on later in life than football, and are available in all parts of the English world. They are both far superior as a social training to all selfish games, such as golf, and also as a physical training to all games which involve no running or quick movement.

Of the two, I think, hockey is the more valuable. Cricket, especially now that, with improved grounds, innings have become so long, demands an expenditure of time which few can afford; and, personally, I confess that drawn matches or exhibitions of individual prowess, apart from the success of a side, have no interest for me whatever; and I think that the more games tend to become spectatorial, the less value they possess.

I think our eyes have been somewhat suddenly opened in this country to the great value of handicrafts. Such schools as Abbotsholme and Clayesmore have done a great service in this direction. Abundance and variety of occupation are not only useful in many ways which need not be particularized, but promote a healthy and vigorous life in those who might otherwise become aimless and frivolous. They also help to teach the dignity of labour, and form a most desirable link between brain workers and manual workers everywhere.

Voice Training.--I attach great importance to our work in vocal music. It is an excellent exercise for the lungs, and I think that the vigorous singing of robust music, such as the old Scottish and English Psalms and Hymn tunes, with a few of the best of modern tunes, Anglican Chants, Choruses from Handel, Haydn, &c., and Anthems of the old English school, with again a few modern ones, does much to cultivate a really sound musical taste, and to make vulgarity and sensational extravagance distasteful. There is also something most invigorating to the spirits and the character in the singing of a great Chorus; and I think that training boys to take a vigorous part in public worship is an important part of their education.

Every boy, I think, should learn to swim.

Hand fives, in open courts, [squash?] seem to me one of the most valuable of our games. It gives much exercise, not too violent, in a short time; it can be carried on late in life (witness Edward Thring); it does not demand much time, and it exercises the left hand and arm, as few of our games do. Bat fives and racquets are far inferior from the latter point of view.

I would like to see hand fives courts available for all our city clerks, and half an hour allowed for their use in the middle of the day. Its effects would soon be evident to those who care about our breed of men. But this I fear is an institution of Utopia.

[9. What are the effects, moral, physical and intellectal?]

8, 9.--The results are that, from a sound physical system, many weak boys become strong; nearly all boys with tuberculous tendencies (all, I believe, if treated soon enough) get rid of them, and many, possibly a majority, become imbued with more or less distinct notions of what I may broadly call physical morality for the rest of their lives.

I believe also that the supply of pure blood to the brain, which is the necessary result of regular and judicious exercise, both increases its power for all good purposes, and does much to prevent the character being injured by weak sentimentalism, or by morbid and pessimistic views of life, which rarely exist in those whose bodily organs are in healthy and harmonious action.

Many games also, as I have already said in the case of football, promote the rapid exercise of the reasoning powers under complicated circumstances calling for immediate action.

[10. Is a uniform system of physical training in schools desirable or necessary?]

10.--I certainly do not think that a uniform system of physical, or any other, training in schools is desirable. There is already, in my opinion, too great a tendency towards regulation and unification, and too little individuality.

Circumstances and surroundings differ. For instance, a school of 400 ought to have an excellent rifle eight, and a high standard of rifle shooting generally. It ought also to have a very good band, glee club, pack of beagles, and other organizations. But if a school of 140 attempts all these things, the same set of capable upper boys have too many calls on their time and energies. Again, I think it a misfortune for a large school not to be near a river. Eton would have twice as many spectators lounging about the cricket field were it not for the Thames: and rowing ranks with football as a training of the qualities of endurance, pluck, and determination. But a river would hopelessly divide a small school.

But, to take a wider line, originality is a necessity of true progress. And uniformity crushes out originality, and makes everything tend more or less towards the ideal which China has reached, and at which Germany appears to aim.

The only uniformity which there ought to be is a determination on the part of whoever presides over a school loyally to follow nature and truth, wherever they seem to him to lead.

[There is no question 11.]

[12. What is the relation between mental study and physical training?]

**12.--This is a question on which it is easy and common to express unverifiable opinions, but there are no data on which to come to a decisive and balanced judgment. There are, however, a few points which seem to me indisputable.

(a) An abundant supply of pure blood must be as conducive to a vigorous and normal condition of the brain as to that of any other organ of the body.

(b) Numerous instances may at the same time be quoted of men who have been and are eminent not only in literature, science, and politics, but in positions requiring the exercise of those qualities of nerve, will power, and initiative, which would seem to be most nearly allied to physical vigour, who yet have not had any physical training worthy of the name, and in some cases, have not been capable of it.

(c) There can be no doubt that the vigorous employment of the mental faculties produces very similar results on the circulation of the blood, and consequently on the bodily health, to those of physical exercise.

(d) This latter cause would be more evident in its operation than it is, if the work of brain workers was always performed in as pure air as that which is usually inhaled during physical exercise.

(e) Physical exercise, when excessive, as that of the ambitious athlete, often exhausts the system, and actually deprives the brain of a full supply of blood, by the undue demands made by the limbs and muscles.

Unfortunately, anything like an inductive investigation to determine the actual resultant of all these causes is impossible. The subject is surrounded by a multitude of side-issues and cross considerations.

I shall merely give, for what they are worth, some facts which have come under my own notice.

I have carefully summed up all the honours of what I may call a First Class which have been gained by Loretto boys during my Headmastership of forty years . . . Considerably above two-thirds of the entire list have been members of our first Football XV., which ranks highest with us as an athletic honour, and is the most closely connected with physical training of all our games. I have not included those who have passed into Woolwich and Sandhurst, because a large number of these have left too young to be in our XV., though several of them have gained that position before they left us.

When I was at Oxford, rowing occupied the place which football does with us. In our Balliol Eight, I remember there being four first class men at one time, and I may say for myself, that being at the time in boating training was an immense assistance to my clearheadedness and vigour in the Oxford Schools.

In a most instructive paper in Vol. VI. Of Government Educational Reports, by Mr. James Sharples, on "Physical Education in the English Board Schools," there is abundant testimony to the effects of such physical training as is inseparable from good football. Many of the teachers of Primary Schools have organized matches between the schoolboys of the large towns, and they speak decisively as to the effect, not only on the complexion and physical health and development, but on the character, language, and schoolwork of those who play.

At the same time, I have a great dread of overdose athletics and "record" making of any kind.

Not only are the physiological effects of excessive exercise, and even of abnormal muscular development, calculated apparently to impair the general health of mind and body, and to shorten life, but to engender a feverish condition of excitement and dislike of all steady work, as well as bad habits of various kinds which I need not particularize. It is the typical athlete, from the days of Euripides to the present, who brings discredit upon physical training.

(To be continued.)

* The late Dr. Hely Hutchinson Almond, the profoundly regretted Head of Loretto, was, quite recently, good enough to give us permission to publish some of his illuminating and instructive answers to these questions. It does not seem necessary to print the questions. The following is extracted from the notice in The Times Tuesday, March 10th:--"By his death a prominent figure has been removed from the ranks of educationists; and no headmaster in the country has been so daring in the emulation of Spartan methods for the physical development of boys entrusted to his care. . . He was himself an athlete, a keen cricketer, and a great walker. He was also hon. President of the Scottish Alpine Club, and was referee at the first international Rugby football match between Scotland and England. Dr. Almond did a great deal to make that game popular in Scotland."

**12.--What is the relation between mental study and physical training?

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008