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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Necessity for Exercise

The Necessity for Exercise.

Another head-master (Mr Cottrell) said that the dangers in the life of the average young man began after his office hours, and the test of the education he had undergone was How had it fitted him to spend his leisure time? Had it resulted in making him an ardent believer in and practiser of daily outdoor physical exercise as a necessity for a wholesome and healthy life? That is had he not only taken such daily exercise at school, but had he got whilst at school to regard it as wrong not to take it ? Had the thing become part of his principles? Did he regard the taking of daily vigorous outdoor exercise in the same light that he regarded the taking of his daily cold tub? Had it become to him a necessary daily habit, the neglect of which would make him feel discomfort and something like shame? If this were so, then, indeed, had his school done much for him; it had bestowed upon him a gift the value of which—physically, mentally, morally—was incalculably great. This was a strong statement for physical exercise, and its lesson was that an education system ought to accustom boys and girls to physical exerise at school—not merely formal gymnastics, but those healthy associative games which could only be carried out effectively in extensive open-air spaces.

[Refer to Chart A, Page 52.]

Taken broadly, there were three great educational periods to be considered. The first period was the 500 years before and after Christ; the second the period of the dark and middle ages (another thousand years); the third, the period of the Renaissance and of modern education—really one period, for we ha've not yet shaken ourselves free from the errors of conventional pedantism which Montaigne so scathingly denounced over 500 years ago. We still hold men memorising to be learning, and we still esteem the learner above the thinker and the doer. Montaigne said :—

The evil comes of the foolish way in which our instructors set to work; and on the plan on which we are taught no wonder if neither scholars nor masters become more able, whatever they may do in becoming more learned. In truth, the trouble and expense of our fathers are directed only to furnish our heads with knowledge :not a word of judgment or virtue. Cry out to our people about a passer-by "There's a learned man!" and about another "There's a good man!" they will be all agog after the learned man, and will not look at the good man. One might fairly raise a third cry "There's a set of numskulls!" We are ready enough to ask "Does he know Greek or know Latin? Does he write verses or write prose ?" But whether he has become wiser or better should be the first question, and that is always the last. We ought to find out, not who knows most, but who knows best.