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THE SWEDISH OR LING GYMNASTICS.
By G. B. PUTNAM, Principal of Franklin School, Boston, Mass.
The third wave of popular interest in physical culture has been rising rapidly of late in this country, and it is to be hoped that it may reach and effect for good all our public schools.
It is said: "We grant that gymnastics should be introduced at once, but what system shall be employed?" There is no American system. This is confirmed by Dr. Edward Hitchcock, of Amherst College, who says: "I have been working at physical culture for a quarter of a century. I do not, however, think that we have a system," and by Prof. E. M. Hartwell, of Johns Hopkins University, who says: "It is not calling a thing by a name that makes a system, and that is the point I wish to urge in regard to the so-called American system. We have none.'
The Germans have a system developed by "Father Jahn," who from love of Fatherland introduced turning throughout Germany, producing wonderful results among its youth in the early part of the present century.
His system was imported into this country, as early as 1826, by Dr. Charles Beck, at the Round Hill School, Northampton; by Dr. Follen, at Harvard University, and by Dr. Francis Lieber, at the Gymnasium in Boston. These were able, enthusiastic men and good teachers. All three were pupils of the illustrious Jahn, who said of the latter that he "possessed good moral behavior, was ingenious and clever, as well as a good leader and teacher of gymnastics," and yet their efforts failed of lasting success.
Many of the good features of Jahn's system have been appropriated by numerous teachers in our higher schools and colleges, as well as by those in charge of our city gymnasia. They have introduced them at random, with others from England, France, or Sweden, or among devices of their own invention, in order to establish a so-called American system. Some good results have followed, but there remains a crying demand for a system which is adapted to the felt necessities of public schools from primary to high-school grades.
I am persuaded that the Ling system of Sweden, as it stands to-day, is just what we need.
It has stood the test of seventy or eighty years, and its effects have long been visible.
A correspondent of the New York Tribune, traveling in Sweden thirty years ago, wrote as follows: "I attribute the superior physique of the inhabitants of this country, in a great measure, to the gymnastic exercises which they receive in the public schools. This kind of training is universal. Every school building has its large high room with earthen or matted floor, with all sorts of gymnastic implements. The scholars are not allowed to exercise on what they wish, but there is a regular scientifically arranged system. They are trained in squads and move and march at the word of command. The smaller or weaker boys begin with the lowest grade of exercises and follow up according to a scientitic system arranged to promote health. They all seem to go into it with the greatest relish and show well-trained muscular power."
A lady from Finland recently remarked that at her home they could always distinguish a lady from Sweden, for she walked a queen. Thirty years ago John D. Philbrick, the sagacious superintendent of Boston schools, saw clearly the needs of the pupils in the way of physical culture, and in his report of September, 1860, dwelt at length on these needs, and made suggestions for meeting them, saying, among other things, "The principal remedy I would suggest is
the introduction into all grades of schools of a thorough system of physical training as a part of school culture, in which every pupil shall be required to participate. I fully agree with an able author, that a universal course of training of this kind, scientifically arranged and applied, in connection with obedience to other laws of health, might, in one generation, transform the inhabitants of this land from the low development now so extensive to the beautiful model of the highest form of humanity."
The report was referred to a subcommittee of five of the ablest men in the school board, and they, largely through his influence, recommended the appointment of a competent teacher and the daily practice of gymnastics, and they say. after speaking of the injurious effects of certain violent exercises: "The system invented by Prof. Ling, of Sweden, which is called free gymnastics, is not liable to this objection. It consists of a variety of motions of the head, chest, trunk, and limbs, performed with energy and vigor, without the use of fixed apparatus. Indeed, most of the exercises, and perhaps sufficient for the purpose of our public schools, require no apparatus whatever, and no special room set apart for its practice. This system, in a modified form, it is deemed both desirable and practicable to introduce into all our schools, and it is recommended that it be made an obligatory branch of education."
But the school board was not then ready to follow the advice of their subcommittee, and a golden opportunity was lost.
Nearly thirty years have passed and Mrs. Mary Hemenway, who, in the establishment of cooking schools and the introduction of sewing, has been a real benefactor to the children of Boston, has turned her attention to the introduction of a system of physical culture that she may thereby benefit the schools of the city.
In the autumn of 1888 she secured a hall and employed as instructor a graduate of the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute of Sweden, which Prof. Hartwell pronounces the best school for training teachers of gymnastics in the world.
Classes were formed from among the teachers of the public schools, and they entered earnestly upon the task of fitting themselves to teach the Ling system.
The first public exhibition of it was given by a dozen ladies of the normal class at the conference on physicial training, in Huntington Hall, Boston, in November, 1889. Again its peculiar features were exhibited at Mechanics' Hall before some four thousand people on the afternoon of April 5, 1890, by a normal class and also by pupils of the first and fifth classes of the Franklin Grammar School. This exhibition was under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education, which was holding its annual meeting in the city.
But who was Ling?" I am often asked. Peter Henrik Ling was born in Ljunga, province of Smaland, Sweden, November 15, 1776.
His father was a clergyman, but young Peter was soon left an orphan, and in early manhood, prompted by a love of adventure, traveled over Europe. His journeys were apparently aimless and he was often reduced to extreme want.
He succeeded, however, in mastering several modern languages and finally returned to Sweden.
Soon after, while suffering from an attack of the gout in the elbow, he thought to cure it by exercise, and to this end he learned the art of fencing.
The remedy proved effective, and his success led to the idea that other diseases might yield to proper exercise. Hence the origin of the Swedish movement cure, as the author of which his fame has become world wide. It has been practiced not only in the leading countries of Europe, but in the United States as well. That he might be able the better to apply his theories he became proficient in anatomy and physiology, and not content with healing the sick he devoted himself to inventing and arranging a system of exercises adapted to the harmonious development of the bodies of children and also the physical perfection of those destined to the life of a soldier.
In 1805 he became professor of fencing in the university at Lund and later was appointed master of fencing in the Military Academy at Carlberg.
In 1813 the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics was established at Stockholm for the purpose of extending the application of his theories, and he became its director. Here he remained until his death, which occurred in 1839.
He received the rare honor of being made a member of the Swedish Academy, and the king conferred upon him the title of Knight of the Order of the North Star. The work which he laid down has been perfected by his pupils and successors, and, during these many years, patients have flocked thither for healing, and students for normal training in the three departments of gymastics.
Again, it is asked, "What is the Swedish system?" Let us first ask, "What is its aim?" It is based on the following proposition: "The object of educational gymnastics is to train the pupil to make his body subservient to his own will." This can only be accomplished by practice, regular and systematic. If the proper practice is secured, then activity, dexterity, strength, and health are quite sure to follow.
The Ling system has three departments, medical, military, and educational, and of the latter only do I write.
The exercises are classified as follows:
1. Introductions, or orders to gain attention and good position.
2. Arch flexions, or movements for the back and chest.
3. Heaving movements, or exercises in lifting the body by the arms or in extending them.
4. Balance movements, to give a correct carriage and general equilibrium. 5. Shoulder-blade movements, to flatten the back and pull the shoulders backward in their proper place.
6. Abdominal exercises, to strengthen the muscles of the abdomen and to aid digestion.
7. Lateral trunk movements, to strengthen the lateral parts of the trunk.
8. Slow leg movements, to increase the circulation in the lower limbs, to quiet the action of the heart, and to counteract palpitation.
9. Jumping and vaulting, to cultivate speed of motion and to effect the coördination of movements.
10. Respiratory movements, to increase the capacity of the lungs, to restore breathing to its normal rhythm, and to help counteract the evil effects of precipitate movements.
In each of these classes there may be scores, if not hundreds, of exercises of varying strength. From these a selection is made for a "day's order" or programme for the day. This provides exercise for the whole body. Nerves, muscles, and internal organs, as well as the blood vessels, have all received due attention.
Teachers do not usually take the exercises in their exact order, but make such selections as the special needs of particular classes seem to require.
Suitable exercises are available from these classes for years of work in free gymnastics, but as pupils become more advanced fixed apparatus may be desired even in our schools, and no objection would be made to a well-equipped gymnasium in connection with each, but this is not essential.
One of the features of special value in this system is that a "fundamental position" is first assumed, and whatever may be the subsequent posicions taken or movements executed there is an immediate return to this. Hence there is constant practice in taking and holding that position which presents the best pose and carriage that can be secured.
Another marked feature is its progression. It begins with the simplest movements which could not harm an invalid or the feeblest pupil, and by years of practice it leads on gradually, by movements stronger and stronger and of longer duration, to feats before which an athlete might stand appalled. Of course these would never find a place in the school room.
As has been shown, each "Day's Order" has its progression also. One cardinal principle is that not every possible motion or position is of value or to be permitted. Only such are selected as are adapted to accomplish some specific end. That end is clearly seen and its attainment provided for. No exercise is performed simply because it is "pretty."
Another is that movements are made in response to words of command, no music being employed. Ling's belief was that there is a rhythm of movement as well as of music, but there is an essential difference between them, and often no adjustment is possible. The rhythm of the movement must be sacrificed to that of the music if the latter is introduced, and for a large part of the movements music is an impossibility, since no musician could ever adapt it to them.
The use of words of command is to me one of the marked excellencies of this system, for if there is any one thing which our American children need it is the habit of obedience, and obedience so prompt that they are hardly aware that they are obeying.
I have read of a stalwart band of rebellious slaves, who once attacked their master, who was sick, alone, and unarmed. In tones of command he exclaimed: "Lay down your arms, you rascals, go instantly to your work or I will have every one of you flogged within an inch of his life." He was completely in their power, and yet, so confirmed was their habit of prompt obedience, that, to a man, they threw down their arms and fled from his prescace.
Our pupils are not our slaves, but it is for their good and ours that they render instant and cheerful obedience.
The habit early formed in their physical exercises will have its effect all along the line of school work.
A former major of a school battalion, recently informed me that he considered this habit of prompt obedience the best part of the military drill in which he had had so conspicuous a part. Because "dictation is contrary to the American spirit," is an argument in favor of "commands" rather than a valid objection against them.
In my student days muscle was the end and aim, and a powerful biceps flexor was the pride of its possessor and the envy of all who failed to secure it. Not so in the Swedish system. The nerves, respiratory organs, etc., receive even more consideration. The aim is not to acquire the strength of a giant, but that symmetry of proportion and harmony of development which shall best fit for a life work.
A distinguished physician recently said, "Show me one who has been an athlete, who is now more than 42 years old, and I will show you a prematurely old man. There is some justice in the remark, for of those of my associates who were excessively trained for the development of muscle not one is alive to day. From the Swedish system no such results need be expected.
To the best of my knowledge, the teachers, both male and female, who have received drill in this system are unanimous in praise of it, both for its good effects upon them, personally, and for its adaptability to the needs of the schools.
At a recent meeting of the masters, where for the third evening this subject had been under consideration, Mr. Waterhouse, head master of the English high school, said that in his opinion a system of exercises for our public schools should be, 1, simple; 2, light; 3, safe; 4, comprehensive; 5, progressive; 6, varied; 7, lively, and that, after a careful investigation, he was satisfied that the Ling system furnished all of these requisites, and was therefore what should be introduced. That the system will soon be authorized by the school committee of Boston I have no doubt.
Several cities in the vicinity have already adopted it.
[Extracts from the report of the director of physical training in the Boston, Mass., public schools (Dr. E. M. Hartwell), December, 1891.]
Boston has earned the right to be considered the most influential center in America of the movement for promoting Swedish educational gymnastics. This result, which has been brought about within the last three years, is primarily due to the wisdom, generosity, and public spirit of Mrs. Mary Hemenway, and secondarily to the discussions, reports, and votes of your honorable board precedent to its adoption of the Ling gymnastics for the public schools on June 24, 1890. The establishment by Mrs. Hemenway of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, which already has no equals and few rivals in the country as regards the genuine and thoroughgoing character of its training, is an event of capital importance in the history of physical training in America, and may well be ranked beside the gift to Harvard University of the Hemenway gymnasium, by Mr. Augustus Hemenway, her son.
The Boston Normal School of Gymnastics had its beginning in October, 1888, when, at Mrs. Hemenway's invitation, a woman's class, composed of twenty-five public-school teachers, was formed for the purpose of testing, under the instruction of a trained Swede, the adaptability of the Ling gymnastics to use in the Boston schools. The experiment proved so satisfactory that on April 25, 1889, Mrs. Hemenway offered to provide similar instruction for one year, without expense to the city, for one hundred teachers of the public schools who should be permitted to use the Ling gymnastics in their several schools. June 25 the school board voted to accept this offer, and in the ensuing September the class was formed. On September, 1889, the board accepted "with grateful appreciation the generous offer of Mrs. Mary Hemenway to provide a teacher of the Ling system of gymnastics, for service in the normal school, free of expense to the city." Mrs. Hemenway's further offer to provide free instruction "for those masters and submasters who may desire to make a thorough study of the Ling system for the benefit of the Boston public schools," was accepted by the board
on October 22. Mrs. Hemenway continued to maintain the "masters' class" and to provide the normal school with a special teacher of Ling gymnastics throughout the school year 1890-91. The "masters' class" numbered 50 in 1889-90 and 57 in 1890-91. In 1889-90 there were 190 women engaged in teaching in the public schools who received instruction in the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. In 1890-91 the number was 140. Its first class of graduates, numbering 33, was graduated June 6, 1891. The demand for the services of graduates and pupils of this school, as special teachers of Ling gymnastics, greatly exceeds the supply.
October 8, 1889, the committee on hygiene, which had been given full powers in the department of physical exercises (on March 12), presented a well-considered "report of the board of supervisors on physical training in the public schools." (School Doc. No. 10, 1889.) The concluding recommendations of the supervisors were as follows:
1. That the Ling system of gymnastics be the authorized system of physical training in the public schools and that it be introduced into them as soon as teachers are prepared to conduct the exercises.
2. That a competent teacher of this system be employed to train the pupils in the normal school and the teachers in the public schools.
"3. That for the coming year provision be made for training at least the pupils in the normal school, and the teachers of the first and second classes of the primary schools, and the fifth and sixth classes of the grammar schools."
These recommendations were approved by the majority of the committee on hygiene and a minority report was made by Miss Hastings. Both reports were tabled. December 10, "the whole subject of physical training in the public schools was referred to the next school board."
Meanwhile on November 29 and 30, 1889, Boston was the scene of the largest and most notable conference on physical training ever held in the United States. Dr. W. T. Harris, the United States Commissioner of Education, presided over its deliberations. The call for it was signed by John W. Dickinson, secretary of the Massachusetts board of education; E. P. Seaver, superintendent of the Boston public schools; Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and by the presidents of Boston University, Colby University, Maine, and Wellesley College, as well as by many members of the Boston school committee and a large number of physicians and others prominent in educational circles. The audience at each of the four sessions of the conference numbered from fifteen hundred to two thousand persons. * * *
The programme, which embraced papers, discussions, and illustrative class exercises in gymnastics, was a varied and interesting one, and served not only to set forth the general nature and effects of muscular exercise, but also the salient principles and characteristic methods of the German and Swedish and so-called "American" systems of school gymnastics. Similar discussions and illustrative gymnastics on a large scale signalized the fifth annual meeting of the A. A. A. P. E., held in Boston in April, 1890. The public and educational mind was much awakened and not a little enlightened by reason of so much discussion and exposition.
January 16, 1890, a standing committee on physical training was appointed. Dr. W. A. Mowry, its chairman, made an exhaustive report on June 24, embodying the results of a wide tour in the West and South to observe the peculiarities and workings of various systems of physical training in public schools. The committee, without a dissenting vote, recommended the following:
Ordered, That the Ling or Swedish system of educational gymnastics be introduced into all the public schools of this city.
Ordered, That the appointment of one director of physical training and four assistants be authorized.
Ordered, That the salary of the director of physical training be $2,640 a year and that the salary of each assistant be $1,080 a year.
The following order was substituted for the second and third orders appended to the report:
Ordered, That a director of physical training and one or more assistants be employed, the total salaries for the same not to exceed the sum of five thousand dollars ($5,000) per annum and that the committee on physical training be authorized to nominate suitable persons for these positions, to commence at the beginning of the next school term.
In accordance with the above orders, the present director of physical training was elected on November 25, 1890, at a salary of $3,000 per annum, and the present assistant instructor was elected March 10, 1891, at a salary of $1,680.
I re ntered the service of the city of Boston on January 1, 1891, after an inter